When someone recommended Tom Martiniano’s (#119 on the Indie 500 list) book Vietnam – The Teenage Wasteland: A Hippie In A War Zone, I wasn’t real anxious to read it. I felt like I had had my share of woe-be-me remembrances of a pointless and desctructive conflict that I was fortunate enough by virtue of my age to have avoided. But, once I started reading, it was difficult to put it down.
Tom writes the book in speaking English. It is familiar, it is real, and it puts you right into his head as he’s being showered by AK-47 bullets, shooting dozens of combatants who are attempting to kill him, doing involuntary backflips in reaction to bomb strikes, and starving for three days while helping to lead a small, battered platoon out of a valley encircled by thousands of North Vietnamese troops closing in from all sides. Tom paints with his words a multi-dimensional moving picture of the action that in my view is far more authentic than any movie I have seen on Vietnam, drama or documentary.
This is anything but a pro-war memoir or patriotic plug. Nor is it an apologia for having had to kill fellow human beings or an anti-war rant. Tom was not in Vietnam by choice, he was drafted. Tom has viewpoints – and they are fascinating and shared – but he does not let them get in the way of putting you through what he – and presumably thousands like him – experienced. He took no satisifaction in killing others. But he had enough sense and will to survive to become better at killing than those who were there to kill him. You cannot help but feel the compassion that drove him to defend himself and his fellows who were similarly thrown into the purposeless killing fields. In the end, Vietnam – The Teenage Wasteland is an incredible commentary on human nature and character.
Some of the more troubling passages recount Tom’s return to the States where he is met with ridicule, harassment, discrimination and hate. Notwithstanding that treatment, Tom doesn’t turn the reader off – like many before him have – with self-pride, self-loathing, demands for pity or acknowledgment. Though he does not preach it, he does mention that Scientology might have had something to do with the balance and equillibrium he ultimately found.
But the book is not about Scientology. It is about an extraordinary man giving a factual account of one of the sorriest chapters in United States history. He doesn’t argue for that description, he demonstrates it for the reader.
By the end of the book I felt like smelting my own medal of valor and personally pinning it to this man’s uniform. In my book Tom Martiniano deserves a hundred hero’s welcomes. This is mine to him.
Buy the book to find out what makes me feel this way at Vietnam – The Teenage Wasteland – A Hippie In A War Zone.
See Tom’s Declaration of Independence, here.