This is a powerful and raw book about one man’s experience of war in Vietnam. It is unflinching, direct and scary on several different levels.
John’s Thoughts: Fixler was a slightly wayward teenager from a well-off family who decided that he needed some discipline in his life. Influenced by his father’s stories of World War II, he decided to join the Marines. With the Vietnam War at its height, his decision to enlist would inevitably lead him to a tour of combat duty, and he could be sure that as a Marine he would be involved in some of the most dangerous action.
The book briefly covers his younger years before focusing mainly on his Marine training and on his time in Vietnam. While there he was in the thick of the action and in particular his unit was involved in the infamous battle of Khe Sanh, where a mainly Marine force had to defend some desolate hills against an overwhelming number of enemy troops. After a siege that lasted for 77 days, the North Vietnamese forces finally pulled back and the beleaguered US troops were relieved. But the battle had taken a horrendous toll on the US defenders. The importance of the battle can be gauged by the fact that in his inauguration speech President Barack Obama’s mentioned Khe Sanh alongside Concord, Gettysburg and Normandy.
Fixler pulls no punches in giving an extremely visceral account of what happened. In fact he talks about it in what comes across as an almost offhand and detached manner. The tone was first set by the title of the book (and the cover picture) which I found rather odd at first, given the horrors that he experienced day after day, week after week, month after month. It later transpires that while many combat veterans struggled with something which later came to be called post-traumatic stress disorder, Fixler returned to civilian life and seemed to slot right back into a groove. You can only wonder at his mental fortitude and psyche that allows him to do that. As for the title, he is just immensely proud to have been a Marine, and that just oozes from every page. For him it was “cool”, and there were many things that he did enjoy.
Of course it is totally impossible for me (and pretty much everyone else) to get inside the head of someone who has had these experiences. The Marines’ training is brutally tough and does instill some machine-like qualities in the soldiers, but even so some of these tough soldiers cope with the mental strains of war far better than others. One thing I am sure of is that we should all be extremely grateful that there are “Barry Fixlers” out there prepared to do things that most of us could not do.
Which brings us to the conclusion of the book and part of the reason why Fixler has written it. Latterly he has been horrified to find out how shabbily many vets are being treated after returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. They simply are not getting the medical treatment that they need and that the country owes them. It has inspired him to charge into a big awareness and fundraising effort, and this book is part of it. All proceeds from book sales are going to wounded combat veterans and their families. It’s a wonderful cause so if you are in the least little bit interested in this book or if you know someone who’d like it as a gift, please go out and buy a copy.
And what is the book like to read? I found it totally fascinating. It’s a real eye-opener to find out about the training Marines are put through, and what experiences some of them had later. While some of the content is difficult to say the least, the book is very easy to read and I blew though it in one day. It does come across like the writing of a regular guy rather than a professional writer, but I think that some of those rough edges help to make it feel more real. I’d rate this book 4 stars.
Footnote: Recently two armed men tried to rob Fixler’s jewelry store. Big mistake. When one of them stuck a gun in his face his Marine training kicked in and he ended up chasing them out of the shop. It was all caught on his security video camera and Fixler is now a minor YouTube celebrity. You can see it on his website www.sempercool.com.
Since John snatched this copy up right away and read it in one day this post includes some publisher info as well. Sort of a combo preview/review.
Here is the basic book data as well a purchasing links:
- Semper Cool – One Marine’s Fond Memories of Vietnam (ARC copy)
- by Barry Fixler
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Exalt Press; First edition (November 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0982518404
- ISBN-13: 978-0982518403
Publisher’s Blurb: Semper Cool is the wrenching, sometimes hilarious and always thought-provoking true story of a well-off Long Island teenager who enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps seeking adventure and his father's approval and finds both, plus more danger than he ever could have imagined. Barry Fixler gets molded into a Marine at Paris Island and sent to Vietnam, where he is assigned to a company that would soon etch its place in Marine Corps lore. Fixler's Echo Company defends a hill at Khe Sanh against overwhelming enemy numbers in a 77-day battle that is considered one of the greatest military victories in the history of modern warfare. With its vivid imagery, Semper Cool thrusts readers into a grunt s-eye view of the blood, guts, tears and laughter of war, as told by a Marine who returned home a man and a patriot. Be prepared to laugh and cry and ultimately thank God for the men and women willing to risk their lives for the freedoms that so many Americans enjoy.
Amazon pre-purchasing link for the US only. Sorry International readers.
*Remember all proceeds for this book go to wounded combat veterans and their families.
I would like to note that we received this book in a round about way from the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge blog. It is also signed, which is so much fun! So in addition to thanking the author and publicist, we would also like to thank Serena and Anna, our hosts for the challenge, for the copy of this book.
Happy Friday everyone!