By: Dick Stanley
Publisher: Cavalry Scout Books
Publication Date: September 2006
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: December 2009
So many Vietnam veterans found their lives, thoughts and minds were suspended in time, but not because of a joyous event like the birth of a child, but because something inexplicably pulled them back . . . back to a place they never wanted to be. It was a place that ridiculed them, tore at the very fiber of their being, and sent them home with a living hell that would haunt them for a lifetime. It was Vietnam. Places like “The Wall” were meant to “symbolically bringing the past and present together,” but with so many living with PTSD that simply wasn’t going to happen. Vietnam combat veterans pepper the American landscape, forgotten by most and inexplicably despised by others. Many are silent, but cannot silence the demons in their heads. In Dick Stanley’s hauntingly real Leaving the Alamo, you’ll meet sixteen Texans and will become privy to the voices they hear, but cannot reveal to others because no one cares to listen. Do you?
* Ben Caldwell stood at the deathbed of John Garrett, a former Officer Candidate School classmate. He was dying of AIDS, but it didn’t matter. Loyalty to a fellow soldier was of utmost importance to Ben. A nurse later closed the door, saying that only family would be allowed. A fellow soldier was family. He soon would travel to The Wall to visit with the others where they say the past would merge with the present. But could it?
* Sometimes men took souvenirs from the bodies. A Southern sergeant took the belt buckle from a Northern lieutenant. He was later told, “You’ll get used to it.” He put the “five-pointed star” in his pocket and left the memory of the man lying without dignity in the “foul paddy water.” Or so he thought. Would the buckle and the memory travel with him until his last dying breath?
* The civilian kept asking Glen about the location. It was something he didn’t want to think about, let alone talk about. The “government was still trying to track down evidence for all of the Americans missing in Vietnam.” He had a picture in his hand and the Pentagon man pestered him with a map printed off the internet. There must have been two hundred guys. Why with a war on terrorism going on were these people still trying to “dig up bones?”
* After twenty-eight years Thuy Carter, a disabled woman, had found her aging parents in Da Nang. There was a collection jar at a convenience store so she could make the trip. They’d “hardly collected enough for gas to San Antonio, let along a roundtrip ticket to Vietnam.” Ed and Tim put in a couple of twenties, but would they just be able to walk away from that pickle jar and Thuy?
The evolution of Vietnam memories was captured perfectly in these unique short stories. It is as if the reader became a part of each protagonist and was able to slip into their minds and understand why their quirks and unusual behaviors came to the fore in certain circumstances. For many people Vietnam was and is a forgettable war, eclipsed by the war in Iraq. Vietnam vets did not come home to ticker tape parades, but rather were often scorned. Memories were seldom talked about, but this book perfectly captures the pain of men who were there. The writing is uncannily eerie and no one can write like this unless they have somehow experienced combat in Vietnam up close or have been with men who have. Stanley made me remember and feel Vietnam once again because I once again could hear the voices of my peers as they returned home and remembered my own time in S. E. Asia watching B-52s take off, one after the other. Memories don’t die easily.
Quill says: This is an important book about a time most people would rather forget. Let’s not.