SERIES / Themes & Premise

What is the Gist of Your Story? #16

Members of the military police keep back protesters during their sit-in at the Mall Entrance to the Pentagon (This image is in the public domain) NARA, US Army, 10/21/67

Members of the military police keep back
protesters during their sit-in at the
Mall Entrance to the Pentagon
(This image is in the public domain)
NARA, US Army, 10/21/67

When it comes to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, many excruciating stories have emerged about the long, costly and contentious conflict that played out against the backdrop of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Still, a lot of tales remain untold because many Vietnam Vets were left too traumatized to remember the details or they’ve never been interested in, or willing to, reveal the sights, sounds and sentiments they had to deal with.

At the start of the war I was yet to be born and a teenager when it ended. In South Africa, we got our fill of the hostilities via Hollywood, films like The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Taxi Driver, Born on the Fourth of July and many more— stereotyped portrayals of blood and gore, the American superhero, anti-war protests and traumatized victims of war.

However you look at the Vietnam War—be it as a soldier who was there and survived or a family member of someone who did not, or whether as a complete outsider—the impact of that saga has been immense: eradication of Vietnamese villages and infrastructure, loss of life on both sides of the enemy line, war veterans left without limbs and means to support themselves, post-traumatic disorder syndrome that’s ongoing to this day. The list goes on: more than $120 billion in American military spending that led to widespread inflation; shattering the myth of an indomitable world power; a bitterly divided United States; global upheaval that’s become the default condition of our time.

I’ve just read and reviewed one of the latest memoirs of the Vietnam War:
Seven in a Jeep
by Ed Gaydos

UnknownAuthor’s bio

Ed Gaydos studied seven years to become a clergyman, a result of him idolizing all three of his dad’s brothers who were Catholic priests. During a program of spiritual formation at St. Joseph’s Seminary, he struggled with the notion of disciplining the body as a reminder of one’s essential spiritual nature. But it was only later, studying philosophy and theology at the major seminary near Oconomowoc in Wisconsin, when he realized that the job would include a life of celibacy. He promptly joined the military, where he quickly learned there were also very few women.

After a stint in Vietnam, Ed returned home to continue his education, earning master’s degrees in philosophy and counseling psychology, and ultimately a PhD in industrial psychology. He worked at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis for twenty-one years, after which he spent seven years with Limited Brands in Columbus, Ohio. Now living in retired bliss with his wife, Kathleen, Ed coaches young executives and provides the occasional consultation, as well as works on a sequel to his memoir. He can be contacted here: website / Facebook.

SeveninaJeep_LgThe background to Seven in a Jeep

Ed met his future wife nine months before leaving for Vietnam. From his training assignments all the way through his tour in Vietnam, he wrote letters to Kathleen and his family. These letters were converted into his book. The impetus to write his memoir came at a family get-together when his nephew showed off one of his prized possessions: one of Ed’s Vietnam fatigue shirts that had become rather threadbare over the years. Ed thought, Would this be my legacy, a fatigue shirt with no name, the history it held gone forever and soon to become a rag?

The premise of Seven in a Jeep

The stories of each generation become the legacy of the next generation. All untold stories end up in the grave of its keeper. When Ed Gaydos discovered that the website of his old artillery regiment is littered with pleas for information about loved ones who are either dead or frozen in silence about Vietnam, he realized it was time for him “to start talking and to leave something for the next generation beyond dates on a tombstone and an old fatigue shirt.”

The book’s themes and their promotional potential

Seven in a Jeep is essentially a celebration of the soldiers of the U.S. military and the real men of Vietnam. It is thus a perfect fit for any national commemoration. This is what I’ve been able to ascertain regarding the author’s promotional activities.

  • The author was on hand at the 2013 New Albany Founders Day celebration (May, 18th), where he met and greeted readers.
  • The Kindle version was on offer at a 40% discount over the 2013 Memorial Day weekend.
  • On June 14, 2013, the Kindle version was on sale at the reduced price of only $2.99 in recognition of Flag Day.
  • Ed Gaydos recently went on tour through northern Ohio and Michigan to meet with guys who fought with his old Vietnam artillery battery.
  • He has been booked to speak at a number of locations around centrial Ohio in the coming months, the most recent event taking place at the Wild Goose Creative in Clintonville.

My review of Seven in a Jeep

It’s clear from all that has been written about Vietnam that U.S. war veterans have strong feelings about their experiences. Although each soldier’s memories bring a different perspective to this crucial time in the nation’s history, and while some of the details might’ve faded over time, the sense of camaraderie will obviously never be forgotten—it helped them to stay sane, and you get from Seven in a Jeep that looking out for each other was vital to their survival.

Written in vignette style, this war story is easy to read. As Gaydos advances from military training to combat service at Landing Zone Sherry, a grim artillery firebase in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, his values about the sanctity of life quickly transforms to a willingness to kill. But the author seemingly doesn’t take himself too seriously and it’s as easy to laugh at his insights about the day-to-day boredom as his witty accounts of the terrifying mortar attacks on their base.

Expect to find lots of the dark stuff in Seven in a Jeep: keeping the dog population under control, mismanagement of paper work, soldiers diagnosed with STD, illegal dealings of all sorts, politicians and the Pentagon abusing the situation for their own benefits.

Some of the actual letters Gaydos wrote to his girlfriend and family made it into the book, which is a nifty literary device in terms of lending authenticity to his accounts. While the author’s writing might seem devoid of emotion, the blatant specifics don’t fail to move you: the hazards of the jungle, swamps and monsoons; the Viet Cong using defenseless children as bait; the U.S. solders’ paranoia about getting killed; the practical jokes that serve to sooth their misery.

Seven in a Jeep is a great book!

In conclusion

Despite the excitement, boredom, fear and anger of those years, Gaydos concludes that he feels “pride at having played a part in the country’s military history” and that he had done his “poor best to honor our country’s fundamental nobility.”

The Pentagon has had their fair share of scandal, though, and the latest debate of military sexual assault shows that “men are overlooked victims.”

More criticism against the Vietnam War, and the concept of war per se, is launched from a different angle: another author, historian, and U.S. foreign policy critic—William Blum— who says, “Over the past four decades, of all the reasons people over a certain age have given for their becoming radicalized against US foreign policy, the Vietnam War has easily been the one most often cited.”

What about you – how did you perceive the Vietnam War at the time?
Looking back, has your opinion about this historical event changed?
What are your feelings about war in general – will world peace will ever be a reality?

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20 thoughts on “What is the Gist of Your Story? #16

  1. I lost a few good pals in the Vietnam war, Aussies as it happened, but their nationality hardly matters. Ed’s book comes just as western countries are once more trying to crawl out of an unnecessary conflict from which they will, inevitably, leave nothing but wreckage and ill will behind them. It will therefore be interesting to read Ed’s perspective as a r participant in a former conflict. I salute his courage in raking up what can only be unpleasant memories so others will know what hell really is like and what families have to cope with when their young men – and now young women – are sent into a conflict few believe is right.

    • I’ve just done developmental editing on a beautifully written story that aims to promote good will between two nations (details are confidential). The author is extremely well-educated and has spent time ‘on the inside,’ so she speaks with authority. The response from literary agents has been that the story is ‘too quiet,’ meaning not sensational enough (meaning it doesn’t stand to make a big publisher enough money).

      I rest my case. Get your local witchdoctor to put a spell of compassion on the media, Ian.

      • It really is time for both Agents and Publishers to get off this sensationalism horse. Good literature doesn’t have to be sensational. It gets attention and holds it by being interesting, well written and actually having a story to tell. All this hype about sensationalism only produces souped up rubbish, most of which is not even thrilling and appeals to largely people who buy books to read on the plane or bus and then leave it behind unfinished when they get off.
        Sensationalism doesn’t win Booker Prizes or Golden Dagger Awards or Pulitzer Prizes – good writing does. Inspiring stories like Pat’s or Ed’s should win prizes too for the tales they tell and the inspiration they give to others to survive and succeed.

    • Ian,
      Thanks for your post. You are so right that the people who make the wars seldom have any personal experience of the devastation they create. Hope you enjoy the book.

      I’ve a sequal coming out August 1 about my life after Vietnam and how that experience shaped my views on leadership, friends, enemies, fear and a host of other topics, to include war.

      Ed Gaydos

    • Victoria,
      I went to McBride High School, taught by the Brothers of Mary, up on North Kingshighway and Cote Brilliante. The school closed years ago. By your question alone I know you are a St. Louisan.

      Gary Gaydos is my first cousin. In fact I saw him recently at a family picnic, as full of life as ever.

      Ed Gaydos

      • My goodness, Ed. You had a classy education. i started at a mission school outside Lusaka in what was then Northern Rhodesia. I hated those nuns. Well, most of them.
        Victoria – I’ve started reading Ed’s book and it’s a gripper! Do read it!
        Belinda – Thanks for introducing Ed to us. You’re a gem. So’s he!

  2. Pingback: Praise from Author Belinda Nicoll | Seven in a Jeep News, Updates and Author Blog

  3. During the Vietnam War I lived in Mexico where it was not front page news.. My main insights about it came from the anti-war brigade (Vietnam vets, students, draft dodgers, hippies, etc.) who came seeking refuge from the war, not as much the one in Vietnam as the one ripping apart their homeland. I applaud the premise of this book–to leave something for the next generation beyond a date on a tomb. The only legacy some of those Vietnam War vets may leave are the stories that someone like Ed writes about them.

    • Susan, that is so interesting about Americans seeking refuge in Mexico during the Vietnam War when, so often over time, it’s been the other way around. The two countries sure have an interesting relationship / mutual history.

      I agree about writers leaving legacies that speak broadly to a specific population or a period. I guess not all people can, or want to, be writers.

      Thanks for stopping by; always nice seeing you here.

    • Susan,
      How right you are. I am traveling around the country gathering the stories of the guys who served with my artillery battery in Vientam. For most of them their stories would die with them. Some are disabled from Vietnam and under the care of the VA; others carry emotional scars. However all of them are proud of their service. Their stories are much like mine: full of humor, crazy characters, wild adventures and armed conflict. I am putting them into a book called the Boys of Battery B, which is at least a year off. In the meantime I will be posting their individual stories on my blog as they come off my keyboard.

      Thanks for your comments. Ed Gaydos

  4. Thanks for swinging by My Rite of Passage, Ed. I’ve passed your book on to a book club and was wondering if you’d be interested in meeting with them for a book signing (in Westerville)? The coordinator, Alice, is very enterprising, so I bet she’ll try and get a group together that extends beyond their book club and set something up in the community club house. Let me know.

    Thanks to y’all for your wonderful contributions. I was delighted to see that you kept the conversation going in my absence over the weekend. I’ve just come back from Michigan Lake, where we celebrated the 4th of July with friends and attended a fish boil – another cultural experience for my journal :) You can see photos of it on Facebook – feel free to send a friend request if we’re not connected yet.

    • A Fish boil? That sound like a nasty affliction suffered by Job!

      Back to Ed’s book: I had a number of friends serving in Vietnam and one or two didn’t come back. Most of them were in the navy or air force, so their perspective was different and more distant. Ed’s book lands you right in the middle of it, showing all the arrant stupidity, massive wastefulness and mindless bureaucracy which all go hand in hand with incessant tension. I’ve been in war zones myself and this rings true. So much so it even brought back memories of events I saw and had largely forgotten through the passage of time.
      A brilliant contribution, well written and disturbing. I look forward to seeing the follow up volume.

      Oh, and a belated Happy Independence Day to all you bloggers in the USA.

        • I was down in Angola soon after the war ended. We came across the northern border from Zaire, wanting to go down to the Skeleton Coast (a prescribed area at the time, but what the heck). We spent ages driving round to find ways through the minefields and were eventually wrecked – by a buffalo! It took exception to having its photo taken and charged, mashing the back of the Land Rover so badly it took hours to pull and bash it back into shape enough to drive. The darned thing never drove straight after that. The buffalo wandered off to nurse its headache.

          • What irony to dodge land mines only to be battered by a buffalo. And the moral of the story is … ? Ask permission before you take a photograph!

            Once, on our way to Europe, our plane landed unexpectedly at one of the airports in Zaire; within minutes, the aircraft was surrounded by fierce-looking solders, guns at the ready … scary, to the say the least.

          • She only moved when the camera shutter went ‘clunk’. It was at least twenty feet from her nose!

            Your Zairois soldiers only wanted to make sure your plane flew on without leaving anyone behind. The guns were to protect you!

  5. Pingback: The Gist of a Great Blog Series | My Rite of Passage

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