***** Brothers in Arms Review by Rox Burkey
Author John Podlaski‘s experiences serving in Vietnam in the 1960s are portrayed in stark realism within this historical fiction. Readers’ senses are invoked with the vivid descriptions of the war zone. I read Unhinged and I knew I’d found a new author to follow. John writes powerful descriptions of people, places, and things.
In this book he shares the bonding of young men from American thrust into a world of killing. When you meet Sixpack, LG, Pollack, Scout, and more you’ll pick up their personalities and know they relate to one another like brothers. The bravery, camaraderie, fortitude, and loyalty come through page after page. This war was very different from other wars the United States has been engaged in, but the men who fought should be honored for their service to our country.
The conditions within the war zone were a challenge. I appreciated the author’s descriptions that helped me feel the experience at least in my mind. This example will give you a flavor of the writing style.
The engineers used Rome Plows to push back the jungle 200 meters beyond the wire, providing those bunker guards on the perimeter an unobstructed view and open fields of fire in the event of enemy ground attacks. However, last night’s rain created puddles and made the clay slick as ice. The ground was uneven and covered with large, deep tracks from the heavy equipment. Exposed tree roots, pieces of tree bark, branches and bowling ball-sized chunks of clay added to the obstacle course. Soldiers performed rare ballet steps as they tiptoed, teetered and pirouetted across the bulldozed landscape. During this portion of the trek, a few soldiers lost their balance and slid through the red mud; two fell and were immediately covered in slime. Those behind helped them up and then continued as if nothing happened. Miraculously, nobody twisted an ankle or got hurt during the short hump through the wasteland.
I have not yet read When Can I Stop Running?, the forerunner to this book, however it is on my list. I knew many young men who served in this war. Some came home and some did not. Those that returned have scars both inside and outside. I respect John’s ability to tell his stories and touch the hearts of other vets. I highly recommend this story for people who enjoy war history with characters that come alive with John’s words.
About the Author
John Podlaski (1951 – ) was raised in Detroit, Michigan and attended St. Charles and St. Thomas Apostle Catholic schools, graduating in 1969. Immediately afterward, John started working for one of the automotive parts suppliers in the area and then attended junior college full-time in the fall. After four months of overwhelming pressure, John dropped out of college – choosing income over education. This turned out to be a huge error in judgement as a school deferment protected him from the military draft. Uncle Sam wasted no time and Mr. Podlaski soon found himself inducted into the Army in February 1970. Then after six months of training, John was sent to Vietnam as an infantry soldier; serving with both the Wolfhounds of the 25th Division and the Geronimo of the 101st Airborne Division. During his tour of duty, John was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, two Air Medals, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and several other campaign medals. Back in the states, Mr. Podlaski spent the next four months in Fort Hood, Texas before receiving an early military discharge in December 1971.
The War Veteran returned to his former position with the automotive supplier and because of his military experience, he was promoted to shift supervisor. He met Janice Jo a few months later and married in 1973. The G.I. Bill helped them to purchase a home in Sterling Heights, MI, they continue living there to this day. A daughter, Nicole Ann was born in 1979. Using additional benefits from the G.I. Bill, Mr. Podlaski returned to college part time, graduating four years later with an Associate Degree in Applied Science.
In 1980, John began working on his memoir about his Vietnam experiences. He had carried a diary during his year in Vietnam, and his mother had saved all the letters he had written from the war zone – both were used to create the outline. He toiled on a manual typewriter for four years before finally completing his work. About the same time, a new national veteran group, akin to the V.F.W. was formed in Washington, DC. They called themselves Vietnam Veterans of America, and chapters quickly sprung up around the country. John joined Chapter 154 in Mt. Clemens, MI, and as an active member, helped to launch their inaugural Color Guard – marching in parades and posting colors for local events. The members of this chapter were a closely knit group, but wives often felt left out during the many discussions about Vietnam. When learning that John had authored a book about his tour of duty, the wives asked to share a copy of the manuscript, hoping it would help them better understand what their husbands might have endured during their time in Vietnam. The memoir was well received, and wives were now joining their men during these discussions. All were increasingly supportive and urged him to locate a publisher. After hundreds of rejections, a publisher from Atlanta, GA finally came forward and offered to consider the manuscript if it were re-written to a third-person format.
Atari had just come out with a new computer console and a word processor – making re-writes and editing much easier; his work now saved on floppy diskettes. The re-write continued until 1989, consuming all his spare time. John had finished half of the manuscript, then suddenly lost interest – discouraged, and not wanting to work on it any longer – it was ten years already and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. So, everything was boxed up and moved to the garage for storage.
Mr. Podlaski continued working for various companies within the automotive sector; primarily in Management roles tasked in either plant start-ups, financial turnaround, or plant closures. John returned to college in 2000 and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration two years later. He and his wife retired in mid-2013.
At John’s 40th high school reunion, many of his former classmates who read his original manuscript twenty years earlier had questioned its lack of publication. It was a great story and all were relentless in their efforts to get him motivated and finish the rewrite – offering help wherever needed.
After learning that the conversion of Atari diskettes to the Microsoft Word format was extremely cost prohibitive, John’s daughter offered to retype both the completed manuscript and the rewrite, saving both on a USB memory stick. Nine months later, Cherries was completed and published. It took almost thirty years but seeing it in print made it all worthwhile.
During his retirement, John published a second book about his Vietnam experience called, When Can I Stop Running? in 2016. Additionally, he’s published two short stories: Unhinged and Unwelcomed; all are available on Amazon.
The author and his wife own a 1997 Harley Davidson Heritage motorcycle and enjoy riding when possible; both are members of the Harley Owner Group.
Connect with John
Website: CherriesWriter – Vietnam War
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