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TAPS: The Silent Victims of the Vietnam War
By Bonnie Caracciolo (reviewer)
TAPS: The Silent Victims of the Vietnam War: The Families Left Behind
Reflections of an Army Casualty Notification & Survivors Assistance Officer
by George M. Motz
Born to an upper middle-class family in New York, George Motz' happiest day in his young life was in June of 1963 when he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army and awarded a BA from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Motz opted for a student deferment to attend Fordham University Law School. After his first year at Fordham, Motz decided to get out of his deferment and enter active duty for his two-year commitment.
"The Army was happy to bring me on board and I was ordered to report to the Quartermaster School at Ft. Lee in Petersburg, Virginia in late December of 1964."
A great deal had changed from the time Motz graduated and the beginning of his active-duty stint. Racial tensions had escalated nationwide, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated and US involvement in Southeast Asia had begun to escalate.
At the end of his eight weeks at Ft. Lee, near Petersburg, VA Motz expected to hear Vietnam but instead when his name was called he heard "Charleston, South Carolina". Something he in no way expected. Of the class of about 60, a half dozen went directly to Vietnam, another half dozen to Germany and the rest to stateside posts around the country. Three-quarters of the class did end up receiving orders to Vietnam.
Rather than being given the position of Quartermaster for which he trained, he was tasked to be the Military Personnel Officer at the Army Dept. in Charleston. This included being the Special Services Officer along with a dozen other duties.
One couldn't imagine a more cushy job in the Army at that time if they had tried, however a part of his sixteen or seventeen assignments included Casualty Notification and Survivors Assistance officer which is at the center of this memoir.
I found this book to be interesting and very humane. Motz reveals that the motivation behind this story—the retelling of his short Army career- was the murder of nine innocent churchgoers in the beloved Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC in 2015. As a Casualty Notification officer, he informed many black families about their loved one's deaths in Vietnam. Part of his duty was also to assist the families in any ways he could, to help with memorial services and military burial protocols. He worked with several lay persons at "Mother Emanuel" and remembered them fondly.
This is the story of a pocket of our country that many may never visit or even know about. Joining the military was a ticket out of poverty and a certain bleak future in a south still fraught with terrible relations between the races. It is a touching look into the humanity that exists between us.
Motz knew how fortunate he was; never took it for granted. He did his job to the best of his abilities, despite having been thrust into such a difficult, life-altering position with no experience. His dealings with distraught families is a tribute to all who died. Although Lieutenant Motz had a couple of close calls, he avoided being sent to Vietnam which, by the time he was granted an honorable discharge, had begun to escalate. Motz went on to finish his law degree.
Definitely a worthwhile read.
Bonnie Caracciolo is a supporter of VVAW and a longtime thorn in the side of the Empire. She lives in Boston, MA.