Book Review: Vietnam Reflections

Vietnam Reflections by Steve McKenna

Vietnam Reflections by Steve McKenna is a collection of short stories about the experiences of several Vietnam Veterans. McKenna is a decorated Vietnam Vet and former middle school teacher. This is his first book.

Violence and war and are dark and malignant things. They represent the failure of human beings. It is more than just killing another man it is the wanton killing and the dehumanizing of the enemy. McKenna opens the with near poetry of the violence, death, and destruction seen in war. It is more than just telling a story, the reader is inserted into the war much like Wordsworth inserts the reader into the scene of Tintern Abbey. But unlike the happy reflective, there is a dark imprinting. There is a deep personal feeling to the violence, a horrific beauty to it. Images that scar for a life time. It is the scars that the book tells about and the healing process that changes open wounds to scars.

I received the book as a non-fiction item and was very impressed with the telling of the war and the countdown of days to the plane ride back to the states. It was when the narrator returned to The States and began life as a civilian that I began to doubt the nonfiction label. There are some extremely lucky, or improbable, events that sent up red flags in my mind. I did a little research on the book and found that it was historical fiction and not nonfiction. With that discovery I was able to enjoy the book for what it was. The improbable became accepted as a vehicle to carry the real message of the story.

The stories, one long and several short, attempt to show the effects of war on those who survived. Different people react differently, some recover, some struggle, and some lose the battle. People in combat were caught up in the war, day in and day out of constant danger changes a person. Returning home exposes these changes. The loss of the rush of constant danger is not a relief, but a withdrawal. There is guilt from actions carried out in the heat of battle. There is, in many, the need to atone for the past. For others, there is a need to stop the nightmares. For parents and loved ones, on both sides, closure is sought.

McKenna captures the intensity and the mind of Vietnam veteran. Here was a war that we lost with a death toll of almost 60,000 Americans. It was a war where we fought an enemy that won battles and overran American positions and eventually ran America out of the war. It not only carries the burden of war but the weight of defeat. That load is carried by many veterans who found themselves just as unwelcomed at home as they were in Vietnam. This is not just another ‘Nam book.

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