T. A. Drescher served in the U. S. Army from 1967-69. That included a tour of duty in Vietnam with Company C of the 2/17 Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division, the “Ready Reactionary Force.” He received a chestful of medals, including the Bronze Star. Since 1986, Drescher has been serving two life sentences without parole at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex in West Virginia.
The introduction to his book 100 Monkeyz: A Monkey Memoir (Taos Press, 420 pp., $16.95, paper) tells us that this is a collection of short stories. A few pages into the book, though, it becomes apparent that the chapters are not short stories, but chapters in Drescher’s memoir. They are presented in a mixed chronology, as the author goes hither and thither in time, juxtaposing a boyhood scene with a scene from his Vietnam War tour or with some other time in his life. This is an effective story-telling method for Drescher, and it kept me reading.
Occasionally there is a small flash to his current state, “Now I’m an old man crippled with arthritis, ” he tells us. I read on, eager to find out more about where he is, and how he ended up there.
100 Monkeyz contains no account of a trial nor any clear account of the legal mechanisms that put the author in prison for life. The people he confesses to killing are characterized as bad guys—men who preyed on the weak, men who needed killing. Drescher says that he never cared for bullies.
He came home from Vietnam “like a ticking time bomb.” He felt naked without a gun, so immediately went to a pawn shop and bought a Browning Hi-Power 9 mm pistol, which he carried for many years. He recounts seeing “Baby Killer” signs in the airport when he returned and says he detoured around demonstrators because he was “much too dangerous for a confrontation with them.”
After serving in Vietnam, Drescher worked various hustles. That included being deeply involved with the Hare Krishna Movement and buying cars cheap and selling them for a lot more than he paid for them.
Drescher’s thirty years in prison is addressed, but not with the detail that he devotes to his time in Vietnam, which is disbursed throughout the book.The juxtapositions make it clear how his war-time service influenced the rest of his life due to PTSD. Drescher says the VA was in denial “about PTSD, Agent Orange, or any of the other effects from the war.” The VA, he notes, “gave soldiers the third degree and [they] were browbeat over voicing their complaints. Small wonder that many of us ended up in American penitentiaries after the war ended.”
I found his insider’s look at the Hare Krishna movement fascinating and often humorous. The Hare Krishna farming and dairy cow sequences caused me to laugh out loud more than once. Because of their dedication to the sanctity of the life of cows, the Krishnas’ dairy cattle herd kept increasing in size, but their rocky piece of land grew no hay at all, so all the hay had to be purchased. Drescher estimates that the milk their cows produced cost upwards from $150 per cup. The cows, it turned out, were very expensive pets.
Their farm produced tons of zucchini squash, acorn squash, and tomatoes, but the cows would not eat that stuff. So the farm had to be abandoned.
Drescher’s Vietnam War accounts are powerful and riveting. “Our air assaults into hot LZs were legendary, not the John Wayne kind, ” he writes. By that, Drescher means that as soon as the men hit the ground, they suffered immediate casualties because of the disastrous leadership of their lieutenant colonel, who was chasing a promotion. The colonel was above the men in a helicopter, sending them straight into the bullets of snipers.
Later, his own men fragged his tent. “Our leaders lived for body count, ” Drescher writes. And some died for it.
Drescher feels that casualties due to friendly fire increased when drug use got heavy and common in the 101st . His description of a thirsty infantryman slogging through rice fields with nothing to drink but “brownish, treated iodine laced water” in a plastic canteen made me thirsty. I drank a bottle of mountain spring water to get through that section and thanked my lucky stars that I’d served in the rear with the beer and the gear during my Vietnam War tour.
Drescher says of the rear: “No mosquitoes, or heat stroke. No foul drinking water or blisters on their feet. They are too intelligent for that.” Or lucky.
Drescher goes on to say: “No one gets a free ride for what they have done.” I guess that is the core of the philosophy of this memoir.
I highly recommend this book to readers who realize that but for a stroke of luck they could be homeless, in prison, or a suicide. I can easily see myself in one of those groups. Drescher asks: “Can there be such a thing as an innocent person?’’ Probably not.
The book’s website is www.100monkeyz.com/about-us.html