Monday, January 03, 2011

What I'm reading now: Gus Hasford's THE PHANTOM BLOOPER (1990)
Happy New Year!

Befitting a Veterans History Project Official Founding Partner/New York, I re-screened Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan this holiday weekend and then one thing led to another.  I read about Gustav Hasford's war novel (The Short-Timers). It's the basis for another fave film - Full Metal Jacket - to which both the aforementioned films give nods. And then I snagged both books, The Short-Timers and Gus Hasford's sequel, which I'm reading now: The Phantom Blooper (1990)

Both books are highly engrossing, savagely powerful, gripping far past the last page, and highly recommended.  Here's a vivid excerpt from The Phantom Blooper chapter 1, "The Winter Soldiers", which made this pogue pause. I'm using the luxury of being able to call a cease-fire-at-will to blog this post.

Black John Wayne hangs tough, firing his M-60 until the barrel glows red and white. But an NVA flame thrower roars across the trenchline and then Black John Wayne is a black man wearing fire as formal attire and his bulky body jerks like a puppet and he dances as M-16 rounds in his bandoliers cook off, and then the M-60 in his hands blows up, and Black John Wayne is still standing, while advancing NVA troops move around him and out of his way. He holds on to his throat with both hands, like a man trying to strangle himself, or like a man trying to pull off his own head. And he falls.

Whew! The horror. But the violence, blood and guts are not what grab me. 
This excerpt can't convey the anxiety-provoking, ominous quiet or the dreadful darkness Private James T. "Joker" Davis inimitably describes at the book's opening.  Nor Hasford's brief but brilliant character sketches and background context. Nor the disturbingly violent and claustrophobic circumstances preceding this paragraph, that only someone who's been there (like this author, or one of Wallace Terry's Bloods, or a Veterans History Project subject), could describe. Nor the reasons why Black John Wayne's loss is, at once, so heroic and so heartbreaking.
What is does provide civilian readers, REMFs, and hobbits is a representative sample of Gus' on-the-front lines clench-your-sphincter grit-your-teeth kiss-God's-green-earth-and-naivite-about-war-goodbye ride. I repeat, Pilgrim, The Phantom Blooper is not a read; it's a wild, heart in throat, can't get off 'cuz Gus' taken you POW, ride.  And as you can read for yourself, this book is not for faint of heart or those with IBS.  Rider/reader discretion is advised.
In contrast, those concerned with the firsthand Vietnam War experience and its aftermath, for grunts, this semi-autobiographical novel is one must-read.  Two others, of course, are Hasford's Short-Timers and Wallace Terry's 100% true-life, first-person accounts of African American soldiers of a diversity of ranks and backgrounds titled, Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History.