Genial war adventures without the drama.
I must say from the start that I met the author in a social networking site and he was offering his then work-in-progress novel to people who might be interested. Having completed a degree in American Studies and being fascinated by the US involvement in Vietnam this was an offer I could hardly refuse. When I got the book I can say it was a welcome and refreshing surprise. Although I don’t know Mr Payne personally, after reading his memoirs I felt as if I had met the man himself. What comes across strongly throughout the book is the author. He explains in the introduction that he had not thought about writing a book on that period of his life until he gave a speech at a Toastmasters club and he decided to talk about his experience of his two tours in Vietnam, in part to dispel the myth that everybody who had been in Vietnam had been ‘screwed’ as he puts it. The speech was a big success and people kept asking him for more.
The origin of the book is clearly reflected in its pages, because you can nearly hear Mr Payne talking. It is written in a straight forward, colloquial style, peppered with anecdotes and full of personality. This is neither a critical in depth analysis of the US intervention in Vietnam, nor a factual and neutral account. This is Mr Payne’s narration of his experience and adventures during his two tours in Vietnam, and he does not shy away from offering his opinion on peers, operations, celebrities, news…You might agree or disagree with him, but I get the sense that although he believes everybody is entitled to an opinion, he won’t change his easily.
Mr Payne thanks his guardian angel (Gabriel) for surviving his two tours, acknowledges the losses with regret, portrays funny and scary episodes that deserve several movies, and tells the story of a tenacious and stubborn young man who knew what he wanted and got it through sheer determination and bloody-mindedness. His eyesight wasn’t fantastic but he managed to get into pilot training. He wanted to fly Cobra helicopters and he did. There are touching (although understated) moments, and instances of self-discovery, but the author does not dwell on them. There is no romanticising the experience and no dramatisation either. You are there to do a job, your duty, and you then move on.
I recommend this book to anybody who is looking for a personal account of the Vietnam experience and is happy to read an unusual, but not less valuable, take on events. ‘Vietnam Veteran Memoirs’ proved an unexpected read for me. I will never forget some of the vignettes he narrates, and I definitely will never forget Mr Payne.
I was offered a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.