Of the many I have read about Vietnam, none have captured what my heart tells me is true about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the first few pages of this book, called ”The Dream.” It was shocking, horrifying and heart breaking. I was moved to tears and memories of my own work as a firefighter when I myself would sit alone and wonder why God had chosen me to do the things I had done. I would go over and over a particular event trying to figure out exactly where it had gone bad or what I should have done differently. The author has done this for many years. It was easy to relate to his words, feelings and memories. So much so that throughout the book, but especially in “The Dream,” I could actually see the helicopter coming over the hill, see the faces of the men sitting, waiting and then reaching out to him to take him back to the war nearly 30 years now in his past. When he spreads his arms, almost in an embrace of surrender to this recurring image, it placed an image in my own mind, an imprint on my heart that I will have forever. I know men who have surrendered to warriors that no one else can see. They have opened their arms that way and fallen on their knees. Men who have survived war and fear and sadness and leaches and mud and pain, who have dodged bullets and mines, but cannot seem to elude the enemy within themselves. Mr. Tripp hit the nail on the head. I believed every moment of his dream because I could see, hear and feel his utter sense of despair at the realization he would never be free. I could not help but wonder throughout the entire book if this was the life other veterans have led?
This is a complicated book. It is spellbinding but not because it takes twists and turns unexpectedly. No, he looks you squarely in the eye and doesn’t even blink while he tells you straight on, no punch lines or slight of hand. He does not use big words or solve any great mysteries, but he describes the heart and soul of a father, soldier and son. Often the three are mixed up, because he is all of those men and indeed he writes in the present, past and future all in the same paragraph or sentence sometimes. But isn’t that truly the way we live our lives? Spending much of our lives in the past, while living in the present, trying to decide what to do in the future? We are all complicated and he is no different.
The difference between Nathaniel Tripp and a person like myself is that the complexities that have happened to him have been so dramatically life altering: a young boy abandoned by his mentally ill sailor father to grow up basically fatherless. A young man who later joins the service and is sent to Vietnam feeling more frightened than even the other young men he is sworn to lead. A young officer who sees the war falling apart all around him and sees other young mean falling all around him, dying for reasons he cannot accept , understand or explain to those who looked to him for help. He goes home an "old" young man to marry several times, raise children and tell this story that is truly worth reading.
I enjoyed the book, though it was hard for me to read because more than once, I felt as if he had hit me with a line drive baseball, right in the middle of my forehead. Hours after I placed the book on my night stand for the evening I could close my eyes and see the pictures he painted with his words. Be prepared, you may even dream his dreams, I did. I woke from one dream and wished I could make my dream come true for him and his men, because I dreamed a better dream with a heroes ending.
If you are a veteran, approach this book with the possibility that it might take you right back in Vietnam again. If you don’t mind going back, or feel there is something back there that you need to find, this is the book you should read. If you are not a veteran, approach this book with the idea in mind that life is not always tidy and there is not always a beginning and end to a story that is clearly defined. In this story the end was many years ago and yet many men and women continue to do battle for their very lives, which sort of makes one story, the end of the war, only the beginning of this story.
If this book leaves you with any message at all, I hope that it is that the Vietnam War is not really over at all. It will be proven by history to be the longest war we have ever fought. The battle still rages, but not on a battlefield with M-16s or mortars. It still rages all the same. I wonder if perhaps it has taken more prisoners since its official end than it did the entire time it was actually fought? Mr. Tripp knows what it is like to battle a foe from a past that never rests.
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