Private War, Personal Victory by Loretta M. Kantor | Books in Review

The subject of Private War, Personal Victory:  A Footnote to the Vietnam War  by Loretta M. Kantor (Windy Acre Publishing, 299 pp., $18, paper) is her husband, Lloyd Kantor. PFC Kantor served in Vietnam with Co. B, 2/35  in the Army’s  4th Infantry Division, and later with Co. C, 1/52nd Infantry of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade in the Americal Division in Chu Loi, where he was severely wounded. On November 16, 1970, Lloyd Kantor suffered the loss of both legs, both arms, and one eye, along with other serious wounds for which he was awarded Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, which offered him no comfort.

Lloyd Kantor’s story is powerfully told by his wife of many decades. Loretta Kantor pulls no punches in this honest and harrowing work, which relates the details of her husband’s long and painful road back from the wounds he received in Vietnam and from his early commitment to the presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon who promised to end the war in Vietnam, but was in no rush to do it.

I was in tears more than once reading of Lloyd Kantor’s time in the cockroach-infested Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and later in a VA hospital.  Loretta Kantor covers a lot of ground in this book and manages to give a few well-deserved whacks to John Wayne and the lies about war that his movies inculcated in American youth.  She also presents a positive view of the C ration treat officially known as ham and lima beans, which I believe is the first I’ve read in hundreds of Vietnam War books.

She even has a kind and healing word about Jane Fonda. Loretta Kantor reminds us that “the enemy is in Washington, D.C., where politicians are quick to send Americans off to war and just as quick to deny them their benefits.”  Some things never seem to change.

PFC  Kantor received broken ribs during his physical therapy, and long hours were spent trying to get him to drive a car again. His wife makes the point that this unreasonable goal for a man with no arms, no legs, and one eye was more about the egos of therapists than it was about doing the best thing for her husband.

Loretta Kantor tells the familiar tale of shameful rejection by the VFW back in the day, because of the fear VFW members had of Vietnam War veterans and what they might do because of “mental problems. “  Agent Orange also gets attention in this fine memoir.

My favorite quote from the book comes near the end. Loretta Kantor proposes that one of the things her husband would often say when especially frustrated would make a clever recruiting poster.  “First they fuck you up, then they fuck with you the rest of your life!”  I like it. It speaks to me and my experience with the VA.

The author has wonderful, positive things to say about Army nurses and what they did for Lloyd Kantor when he first was brought in from the field, about to die from his wounds. She also briefly reviews Home Before Morning , the classic Vietnam War memoir by the late Linda Van Devanter, and says of the one-time Army nurse’s tour of duty in Vietnam that it “nearly destroyed her life.”  Loretta Kantor wrote Lynda Van Devanter a letter as a way of thanking “all of the nameless doctors and nurses who had saved Lloyd.”

Everyone who is unsure about the costs of war—the butchers’ bill—should read this beautiful and powerful book. It is well-designed, well -edited, and written with love and passion. There are also before-and-after photographs of Lloyd Kantor, which make it clear what he lost in Vietnam, but also that he chose to live a great life with Loretta. Together, they have bravely traveled to places that most men never go, let alone men who have had their arms and legs blown off by a land mine.

The book’s web site is

—David Willson

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