I have always enjoyed reading war stories, there is something about them that I like, the action the intensity, it just really draws me in. In college I took a class that more or less changed my life and if it was not for that class I would not have this blog, or have started writing nor written my own graphic novel. So I owe a lot to that class and to that teacher. But I wish I had some cool story as to how I found out about this one, but like usual it just popped up on my Amazon feed. The title sounded cool and most of what I read related to war is mostly nonfiction. So I was very interested to check out an actual novel about war.
Gene Wentz is a former Navy SEAL who served during the Vietnam War. For his service he received a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Presidential Unit Citation. According to Wikipedia he participated in over 350 raids during the war and later became a BUD/S instructor. I would have loved to have interviewed Gene but I could not get in touch with him. He is truly an American hero in my opinion. This is the only novel he has published. I could not find anything about the other author of the book B. Abell Jurus, I am not sure who this person is. My guess it is a pen name for someone else that Gene served with, but I have no evidence to back that up.
This one starts our right in the thick of it, Gene’s (this is both the author’s name and the main character) SEAL team is right in the middle of an operation. To the reader Gene describes the destruction that they left behind. From there you get a glimpse of life for his SEAL team during the height of the Vietnam war. When they are not operating (what they call being out on a mission) most of their days are spent playing cards, drinking beer, and grab-assing, just guys being guys. But when it is time to operate Gene and his team are deadly serious and focused on completing their mission, especially when it comes to finding an North Vietnamese general who has committed unthinkable atrocities on the Vietnamese people. Gene will stop at nothing to capture this evil tyrant, even if it cost him his life.
The more I think about this one the more I realized how much I enjoyed it. There were nights where I struggled to fall asleep afterwards because I was thinking about Gene and what had happened in the story. This is one of the few novels I have read that deal with war, most of what I read is nonfiction so this one was a little different. I have to say that I enjoyed it.
From the beginning I was a little taken back by the story. It seemed to be very simple, and not much depth, but as the story progressed the reader gets to see how the characters change. More importantly how the war changes them and of course the atrocities of the war as well. The beginning was a little slow and strange to me, but how do you start a novel, any novel for that matter. It starts just after the team has more or less destroyed an enemy outpost or camp. So the reader is seeing the aftermath, which is fine, but again I thought it was a little strange to start the novel that way. It was not quite into the action and just seemed an odd start.
There was one chapter in the novel that I felt could have been an entirely different novel in its own right. What I mean is that while reading, just this one chapter, I felt like I had read a completely different novel about the war but dealing with the same characters. It was truly strange, but not in the sense that this chapter did not belong. I think this was one of the more interesting chapters in the novel, the reason being was that there was not even a fire fight or any battle scene in this chapter. The chapter dealt with Gene going to a hospital to see a friend that had been hurt badly. To me this one chapter really drove home some of the different emotions that come with a war time scenario. Again, I think a whole story could have been written about this one chapter, it was almost like a short story within a larger story extremely deep and complex in its own right. It was certainly interesting and showed a different side of the main character. This was also the first time that you realize that this guy the Navy SEAL, the best of the best, was in fact human, and that he made human mistakes. To me this one chapter was a war story that had little to do with actual war, but more of the effects that war has on people that anything else. How do you adjust and react to seeing death every single day in one form or another?
That is something that I think this story did a really great job with. While the SEALs certainly have an other worldly persona, as they are the best of the best of the best, and during this novel you got to see that they certainly were some of the fiercest and best trained warriors out there. But on the other side you also go to see that they are still human, they have human emotions, feelings, and thoughts. That is what is most interesting and important to me. Not only seeing someone at their best being laser focused in the jungle, but when things have fallen apart emotionally, and that is what the author also showed the reader. What is also important was how it was handled by the characters. That really made for a much more complex story as well.
Obviously the main draw for the this book is the action. There is tons of action in this book, almost every chapter has some grand fire fight where bullets are flying past the characters as they unload magazine after magazine into the dense jungle. The author did a great job of setting the scenes right before they erupted in explosions and flying bullets. He also did a great job of describing the intensity of the men during a fire fight. Even though there is chaos all around them they are mostly collected and know exactly what to do. What is really cool is that they all have a job to do and if one does not do their job the whole team is in jeopardy. They are a unit, a machine, if a part breaks down the entire machine is in trouble. That is why there is an unbreakable bond between the teammates, and it was really cool to see this in action throughout the story.
The author being a real Navy SEAL also spent a lot of time and attention on the equipment that each soldier carried. Being a history and gun enthusiast I found this interesting. What I found especially interesting, was that during the Vietnam War the M16 was introduced as the new weapon of choice for the military. What I did not realize was that the all the Special Forces including the SEALs usually carried the Stoner 62 or 63 and not the M16. Also the author went into detail about what each SEAL carried on particular operations as far as sidearms, grenades and other explosives, and extra ammo. This was really interesting and certainly added another level of detail to the story, one that could have easily been overlooked.
One thing I felt hard to visualize was the scenery. I like in Kentucky far from any jungle, however there are plenty of woods with thick brush and thickets. When the author describes a jungle setting where they were literally feet from the enemy yet remained unseen it hard for me to visualize. I had to Google pictures of the Vietnamese jungle to get my mind to comprehend the scene. The author also described the heat of the jungle and on ops just sitting in their wet sweat soaked clothes for hours on end. It truly sounded miserable, not to mention the bugs and mosquitoes. I could not stand that, I guess I could take the heat but those little blood suckers would drive me crazy.
It is no secret that the Vietnam War was a wildly unpopular war both politically and socially. Regardless, Wentz made no mention of this in the book which I found interesting. I am not sure why but I think that he wanted the focus to be on the characters in the moment and not on the politics of war. This certainly put a different spin on the war as I am sure many people including myself have opinions about the war. But at some point you have to put your political ideals aside and see what the soldier on the ground is going through. I think that is what Wentz wanted to show, that and the raw emotion that the soldiers go through during war.
I highly recommend this book because there is something for everyone in this book. There are great action scenes and fire fights with hand to hand combat. There are heavy emotions and wild swings of joy and depression that the reader is exposed to. This is a great book on so many levels. To a certain point I feel like a book with a war time setting drives so many more emotions and thoughts because of the extreme nature of war. It is literally life and death, so when you get to see that first hand through the characters eyes it really drives home those extreme emotions. This is a great book and I highly recommend it. Check this one out if you get a chance and as always support the troops.