Alan Hodgkinson was part of the San Francisco Haight Ashbury scene in the late 1960s when he was drafted into the U. S. Army. He served in the Mekong Delta as a rifleman with the 9th Infantry Division. Today he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. After Incoming (Portella Publishing, $5, e book), first published in paperback in 2001, is his first novel.
This is another Vietnam War infantry novel that made me grateful that I spent my thirteen and a half months in country typing memos rather than slogging through rice paddies. Thank you, dad, for insisting I take typing in high school. (He told me that typing might one day save my life.)
Jack, After Incoming ‘s main character, sees the world as divided into two sections—those who are Vietnam War combat veterans and those who are not. He calls those who are not “noncombatants, ” or more baldly, “Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers.”
Jack, like the author, served in Vietnam with Company A 3rd of the 60th of the 9th Infantry. He is fixated on Mia, the girl he left behind in a small village, which has since been destroyed. After he comes home his letters to her are returned and Mia does not write. Jack has an album full of photos that he hides from his new wife, and spends lots of time poring over the pictures, remembering that golden time with Mia.
Jack visits a VA hospital on the cliffs above San Francisco Bay where he receives all the Valium he wants, but where he gets nothing else that can help. The Valium does not do anything for his problems: panic attacks, jumpiness, flashbacks, nightmares.
It’s three years since he got back and Jack wonders how long it will take for these problems to blow over. All he wanted to do was get back home and get on with his life, but he is stuck in the bunker of his mind.
Jack classifies the man he sees at the VA as one of those “dickheads with college deferments who got all the good jobs while we were in the jungle fighting a war.” The author’s description of the VA hospital rings true for that time when the war was still underway, describing it as an “old cement, and poorly staffed edifice” that provides “marginal care for wounded veterans.“
The women in this novel are mostly not sympathetic. Jack gets asked by one of them, Judy: “Are all you Vietnam veterans this screwed up?’
The combat veterans we meet in this novel are pretty much all screwed up. Jack fantasizes about robbing a bank with an infantry veteran friend. They decide to steal a helicopter. But since neither of them can fly, they would have to kidnap the pilot, too. That hare-brained plan never gets off the ground.
Near the end Jack goes to a bridge and considers doing himself in by jumping, but he doesn’t. He has met a pretty waitress, Audrey, who resembles Mia, and who seems to be kind to him. Also a friend working at a sawmill tells Jack there is a job there for him as a grader, someone who checks out the quality of the wood for $7 per hour. All Jack wants is to be able to enjoy life the way he thinks other people do.
The reader is left with the possibility that Jack might get himself together and leave the horrors of his war in his past. This novel is unusual in the degree of sympathy that the main character shows for the people of Vietnam. I suspect it is his love of Mia that makes that possible.
Mia is presented in realistic and sympathetic detail. That, too, is a rarity in a war novel. Respect is also shown to the “little men who magically sidestepped daily dropping of thousands of pounds of American bombs.”
Bob Hope, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, C-Rats, leeches, Agent Orange, P-38’s, friendly fire, a colonel in a helicopter far above calling for more body count, the Animals’ ”We Gotta Get out of this Place—all get mentions in this powerful novel of the aftereffects of the Vietnam War.
For those readers who want to know about the hazards of a Vietnam War infantryman’s tour of duty and the difficulties of fitting back into American society, this book is a bargain to read on your Kindle. I was a REMF in Vietnam and glad to be one, especially after this refresher course in the life of a grunt.