Wednesday 3 January 2018

Arizona Moon by J.M. Graham

A Novel of Vietnam 

Amazon UK £9.89 (Kindle) £25.00 (hardback)
Amazon US $12.96 (K) $22.77 (Hb)
Amazon CA $33.70 (Hb)

Vietnam War 1967

(HH: strictly speaking this is outside the DDRevs historical period of pre-1953… but it is one worth reviewing – and reading!)

In October 1967, Marine Corporal Raymond “Reach” Strader leads his squad, part of Golf Company’s 1st Platoon, through the Arizona Territory. The 20th Viet Cong Battalion controls this section of Vietnam, but for five days, no one has encountered a single enemy in this heavily mined region – and that’s not a good sign. Since every step taken might be his last, Reach tries hard not to think about the fact that he is only “three days and a wake-up” from going home. Which is why the lieutenant tells him to get aboard the supply chopper for a flight back to An Hoa base. Reach doesn’t want to abandon his men, but Lt. Diehl offers him a choice – get on board, or Chief will shoot him – and while he doesn’t believe Diehl would follow through on the order, Reach isn’t quite sure about Chief.

Lance Corporal Noche “Moon” Gonshayee is a Chiricahua Apache. A few men in the squad think he might be crazy, but so far he’s not actually attacked anyone but the enemy even though they insist on calling him “Chief,” a name he despises. After Reach flies away, the platoon continues their patrol until they arrive at a spot to rest for the night. Moon, another man, and one of the new replacements from the chopper are posted as sentries farther ahead in case the Viet Cong decide to attack.

Higher on the mountain, Nguyen Xian Tho leads his unit on a special mission. They must avoid the enemy at all costs and deliver the weapons and ammunition they carry to a designated rendezvous before the Lunar New Year Tet celebration. Most of his men have been with him a long time, but two new members are students who left university to fight the enemy. One is Truang, who loves to read and always cheers for the Indians in the Zane Gray westerns he carries with him. Nguyen soon realizes the Americans have strayed too near to where he and his men presently rest. They can’t move without being heard, but to wait until morning guarantees a fight. There is only one option, one that is extremely dangerous with little chance of success, and so he entrusts several of his most experienced men with the assignment.

In the morning, after one of his men hears a noise, Lt. Diehl sends a squad to check on the sentry post. They find two Marines dead and Moon badly wounded. The position of a broken rifle suggests that he killed his companions. A call goes out for a medevac and guard to collect the dead and wounded. Unfortunately, Reach is in the wrong place at the right time and is ordered to accompany the chopper and bring back the prisoner; but he’s not permitted to properly gear up before taking off. On the return flight, enemy fire hits the chopper and it goes down. Reach and Moon are the only ones who escape, but with the enemy in pursuit the only place to go is deeper into the Arizona Territory. Hampered by the severity of his wound, Moon urges Reach to backtrack to where rescue troops will land near the downed chopper, and Reach reluctantly agrees. But the closer he gets to possible rescue, the more the Corps’ motto of leaving no Marine behind forces him to turn back, only to discover Moon is no longer there.

This novel allows readers to view the war from both perspectives, and the two sides unfold individually until circumstances bring them closer and closer together to the inevitable point where they clash. The mix of three cultures makes the characters more human, more realistic, rather than simply letters printed on the page. The author pulls no punches, never once glorifies war, and unveils it in all its stark reality and horror. It is an experience that leaves a subtle scar on us, one that is recalled long after the story ends. But as gritty as this novel is, there is also a ray of hope that provides an unexpected ending.

From first page to last, Arizona Moon is a powerful and gripping tale that takes place a few months before North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive. Graham vividly recreates the time and place, drawing on his own experiences as a combat corpsman with the Marines during the Vietnam War. His words and the cohesiveness of the platoon are so intricately woven together that they subtly draw us into the story without our being aware of the fact that we no longer sit in our comfortable living rooms, but are in the jungle carefully following in the footsteps of the men who walk before us. While Arizona Moon provides us with only a glimpse of what the men and women in Vietnam experienced, the story leaves us with a better understanding of what they endured.

© 2017 Cindy Vallar

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