Red Boots Rebel
By RG Cantalupo (reviewer)
Red Boots Rebel
by Lawrence Drake
(Outskirts Press, 2016)
Revolutions begin with small acts of defiance: Rosa Parks sitting down in the front of the bus next to white people; the "Unknown Rebel" standing in front of a line of tanks during the "Tiananmen Square massacre;" Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists as a sign of Black Power during the 1968 Olympics; Colin Kaepernick (and now others) kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem; and six Vietnam veterans marching together in a peace demonstration in New York City in 1967 (the origination of VVAW, still going strong after 49 years).
I don't mean bloody revolutions or violent confrontations with the police or the military to overthrow a tyrannical regime, but a revolution in consciousness. For us, veterans who served either in combat, or in some foreign or domestic military base during the ignoble American War in Vietnam, small acts of rebellion and resistance eventually led to entire infantry platoons and combat companies refusing to fight, thus effectively forcing an early end to the war.
Larry Drake's new memoir, "Red Boots Rebel," tells the story of one such courageous act of defiance and should be added to the must-read lexicon of Vietnam remembrances. Similar to Kaepernick, Drake's rebellion was a refusal to take an oath of alliance during his four-year military commitment in the United States Air Force. And like Kaepernick, his act of rebellion was soon joined by four other soldiers, who became known as the "Red Boots Rebels."
The book is well-written and documents Drake's changing attitude toward the war, the military, and ultimately alters his consciousness toward the United States Government and particularly the military. It testifies to his changing attitude during a very volatile time, 1966-1970, and describes the many experiences that ultimately led up to his act of defiance. Some of these experiences are humorous, absurd, and typically military SOP, and sets the book apart from other Vietnam memoirs. It's not the violence or the mistruths perpetrated by the military and the government, but the absurdity, (like Catch 22), that is at the heart of his rebellion. The Air Force doesn't know how to deal with him and his small band of rebels, which leads to more small acts of rebellion and confounds the establishment's often hilarious and non-effective responses.
The book also records the beginning of the military resistance that was documented by the terrific film "Sir! No Sir!" and that has been intentionally omitted by the historical revision of the American War in Vietnam so lavishly perpetuated by the Vietnam War Commemoration. Drake's recollections and individual perspectives are important and essential because so much of this history has been lost or glossed over to create new "ignoble" wars. Significantly, the book was written at the urging of Drake's daughters, and it's something that we as veterans should all be mindful of.
If we leave "our" history in the hands and minds of the war "revisionists," our children and grandchildren will end up fighting similar ignoble wars like the one we resisted and rebelled against. It's something that each of us must take responsibility to dispel. Like Drake, we all must continue to be "Red Boots Rebels."
RG Cantalupo is a poet, playwright, filmmaker, novelist, and director. His work has been published widely in literary journals in the United States, England, and Australia. He served in the 25th Infantry Division as an RTO for an infantry company from 1968-69 and received three purple hearts and a Bronze Star with a combat V for Valor under fire. His books can be purchased through New World Publishers or through the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.