The dinner table at our house was centrally located, with the kitchen behind my dad, and the living room television directly behind me. There was a definite routine to it. My brothers and I sat in the same places and the television was always on, permanently tuned in to the evening news, which was the closest I ever got to Vietnam.
I have several close relatives that served in the military in Vietnam, and not one of them was willing or able to say much about it. But Dean Ellis Kohler and Susan VanHecke do in the new young adult memoir from HarperTeen, ROCK 'N ROLL SOLDIER.
It's a good thing my family is pretty self-sufficient, because I had to force myself to put this book down. VanHecke and Kohler had my undivided attention from page one. I truly felt the grit and visceral emotions of a kid just out of high school as he lands knee-deep in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, a newly trained nineteen-year-old military policeman.
Before Vietnam, Kohler, like so many young adults, had dreams of making it in the music world, in a legitimate rock and roll band. And he was living his dream, having landed a national record deal. But his life was one of bad timing, because before he and his band could set foot in the recording studio, Kohler received his draft notice.
But he never feels sorry for himself. He sets out to get a band together-- a fully-functioning, touring rock band in the middle of the muddy, mosquito-infested war.
So here is what kept me reading...it wasn't just the fast-paced action that held me...it was the incredible voice. I was there in Vietnam like I'd never been during the evening news at my dining room table. I was in the makeshift club, listening to Kohler's band, The Electrical Banana, wanting to go put their record on my stereo. Kohler and VanHecke gave me an unusual glimpse of the humanity of the war, from pondering who the not-so-obvious enemies were, to coping mechanisms the young soldiers would acquire to keep from losing themselves.
This book will stay with me for a long while.