From Vietnam Veterans Against the War, http://www.vvaw.org/veteran/article/?id=4129
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Marching to a Silent Tune
by Gerald R. Gioglio
(ACTA Publications, 2022)
Take This War And Shove It!
by Gregory Laxer
(Unbearable Truth Publications, 2021)
I am pleased to report that my summer has been consumed by these two books! They are incredibly similar, which inspired me to combine two reviews into one. These are two memoirs, by two Vietnam-era vets, and they are simply terrific! Be prepared to feel nostalgic, angry, disgusted, and pissed off. Don't get me wrong! They are two very different books, structured differently, but they deliver similar stories from similar perspectives in ways that will bring back a broad spectrum of memories and angst. Both, by the way, were VVAW members at one time.
Gerry Gioglio was raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he went to Catholic school and was stigmatized as a "spaghetti bender" in a community where everyone was labeled Mic, Wop, Chink, Spic, or Kraut. Greg Laxer grew up in suburban Syosset, a Long Island bedroom community. A bookworm, he was barely into his teens when he realized that Henry Thoreau and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were surpassing as an educational tool all the fine lectures in our school system about "liberty and justice for all" and "democracy." He found hope in the fact that the civil rights movement was being reported on TV newscasts. "It wasn't until the early '60s that a black family managed to purchase a home in Syosset," he notes, and "the house was promptly firebombed." Laxer went to Syracuse University, but stopped going to classes and, when he returned home for Thanksgiving, informed his parents that he was through with school. His father "pretty well went through the roof." Gioglio attended a junior college near his home, but after two years he was bored and quit. Soon after, he got married.
Early on, Gerry Gioglio heard the news of a military conflict in a far-off place called Vietnam and compared it to his religious and political beliefs. He was naively confident that his moral opposition to the war would make him exempt from the Draft.
Soon after leaving college, Greg Laxer was reclassified 1-A. He considered applying as a Conscientious Objector, but he had no history of participation in a church that taught pacifism. He enlisted, stating a preference for assignment to a Medical assignment. "You would be surprised how many of my peers enlisted precisely for this reason, to try to avoid the total crapshoot of being a draftee." No, I wouldn't be surprised. I was one! But Laxer was determined to avoid the war in Vietnam, which he considered immoral and illegal. If he received orders to Vietnam, he would refuse to go!
"Let's be clear," Gerry Gioglio writes. "Like most of us at the time, I was just a child-man who was swept up into a phenomenally disruptive and murderous war being waged in our names. Not a saint, not yet much of a sinner, but a guy out of my league…" On the very next page, he says "I was just a guy who struggled with notions of right and wrong, Christian nonviolence, patriotism, and masculinity." It was, Gioglio explains, "a time when adolescence would abruptly be stolen from our generation as we, like our parents and grandparents before us, were forced into adulthood at the mercy of a war." He mentions the many peace groups that emerged in the late '60s, along with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Panthers, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). "For the most part, young people like me viewed all this as a celebration of what grass-roots democracy looked like and what so many of us believed in and lived." He neglected to submit the necessary forms to claim exemption from the Draft as a CO and was drafted.
Gerry Gioglio played the system, repeatedly claiming CO status and appealing when his requests were denied. Greg Laxer went AWOL, failing to report for shipment to Vietnam. He took a brief vacation from army life, and turned himself in, fully expecting to go to jail or, as we knew it in those days, "the stockade." And, he repeated this multiple times! Each time, he could not be sent to Vietnam while the legal case was pending, and he often remained free to attend concerts by the most famous rock groups of the time, often with his senses "energized" with LSD. When he was incarcerated, he continued to read, think, and agitate.
Not to be a spoiler, but both of these dudes escaped going to Vietnam. They got out of the military pretty much unscathed, have had careers, and raised families. These are two magnificent books, portraits of all the tension and outrage we experienced during those years, and wonderfully accurate portraits of the army and its callous, cruel, unthinking treatment of millions of naïve young men during that era. Like Laxer and Gioglio, I hated my time in the military. I am disturbed that these two books made me feel nostalgic about the apprehension I felt about the Draft, and still angered and appalled, absolutely indignant at the way the army treated us! Pardon me, but FTA! Excuse me, I digress! These are two self-published books, extremely well done. The authors won't get rich. You won't see them on TV talk shows, or endorsed by Oprah. They won't have a book tour. If you are a member of VVAW, or if you regularly read The Veteran and agree with its long-lived principles and opinions, you should buy these two books. Trust me on this. They go together like salt and pepper, like the Lone Ranger and Tonto! These books are a matched set. I highly recommend you buy both and keep them side-by-side like building blocks in the foundation of the history of the Vietnam-era peace movement. You will applaud the courage of these two guys, back in the day, and their clarity in describing all the emotions of the times. If you believe in what VVAW stands for, go directly to Amazon and buy these books!
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of the best-selling memoir ?and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam, and also, Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter.
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