WEST OF HUE

By James P. Brinker

Reviewed by Joni Bour


Sometimes a person is not aware that his/her body is fighting an illness or a disease until that condition declares itself and takes a stand causing a fever, cough or pain. This is something like some cases of post traumatic stress disorder. The person who has it has it plain and simple and it has been cooking all along, maybe even for many years. But they don't always know it, until something happens; until something clicks off the safety and pulls the trigger.

PTSD was there all the time alright, preventing the sufferer from sharing feelings, memories, causing him to react strangely to situations that others took for granted. But still the sufferer was quite often highly functional most of the time. Until something changes, it may be only a tiny noise or incident that triggers a memory of something totally unrelated and then the floodgates of the past open up. One thought, one recognition, leads to another until not just one thing but all sorts of things happen. Then another war, a different sort of war, one that is fought for the heart and soul, begins.

Such is the case of our author. When he came home from the Vietnam War he didnít go looking for a parade or even a space on the wall to hang his memories. He looked for a box, both literal and figurative, where he could stuff photos, ribbons, medals and pain. He folded them up so tight and shoved them down so deep it took nearly 30 years for them to bubble to the surface. In the years since his service in Vietnam he had become quite successful - a scientist, in fact, which was nothing resembling the man he had once been. He raised a family, wrote papers, held prestigious positions and led a productive life that was probably the envy of many. But the part people didnít know much about was his year in Vietnam. He had long ago decided to kick that box to the back of the closet both in his home and in his mind. It worked too, for a while, until one day a series of events unfolded that little plan and left his spirit in a heap like an unfolded map on the dining room table. This is what the story is really about. The heap your heart and spirit can be left in when you hold down what you need to release.

This is a powerful story about the soldier and the veteran who survived his service in a war that the world still debates. The book speaks of what surely must be common among those men and women who served our country during the Vietnam War. The leading of lives disconnected from the past, the destruction of the spirit and the will to survive. It touches on why this war had such a profound impact on the hearts and minds of so many. The author will tell you his story on paper the way I suspect he would while sitting in your living room. The difference is that at least when you read the book you can set it down for a while, absorb its heart and decide what you think, in a way you would not have the luxury of doing if he was sitting on your old chair and drinking a cup of coffee.

As much as I would feel privileged to meet this author, his story is really too much to bear all at once and it was as much a curse as it was a gift that he too had to think it over 30 years later, a bit at a time. West Of Hue will leave you questioning not whether the Vietnam War should have been fought but what we could have done differently as a nation so that so many men and women could have lead a better life. Our author was more fortunate than some. He has three grown sons and a wife and has had many successes in his career. But what he has not had until the experiences that precipitated this book was a year of his life in Vietnam. One year of his life that earned him a lifetime membership in the brotherhood which few can claim. One year stuffed in a box that changed his life in a way he could not share or express even to himself. That is a travesty. His story made me cry, because I knew when I closed the cover that we could have prevented the box being kicked to the back of the closet but we didnít. We didnít. What do we do now? Should we not correct our wrong?


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Posted 4/10/06