Friday, January 23, 2009

Valley of the Shadow

Valley of the Shadow
by Steven A. Knutson

(Knutson’s / 1-607-25994-X / 978-1-607- 25994-7 / December 2008 / 148 pages / $10.95)

Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

Knutson's memoir is about the Vietnam War. I fought in that war, too. That is why this review was not easy to write. There was so much I wanted to say but didn't, because this book wasn't about me and yet it was. So, I'm going to struggle to write this review and not hop on my soapbox and echo Knutson's opinions in Valley of the Shadow. If I slip sometimes, forgive me. Although my story is different, I felt as if we shared the same experiences right down to when he bought that new Ford near the end. My celebration to-still-be-alive car was a Buick with bucket seats and a five-speed stick shift.

I cannot imagine this book and the story of raw truth it vividly shows being published by any traditional publisher. I cannot imagine Hollywood making this book into a movie since it would go against the engineered Political Correctness that seems to rule American thought these days. The only reason Valley of the Shadow was published is because POD, Print on Demand, self-publishing and the Internet have provided another avenue to express truth and reality that isn't politically correct.

After all, since Vietnam, it's been a challenge to find the truth from the antiwar American mass-media machine. When you read or watch the news, do so with a grain of salt and consider that Hitler once said, “if you say a lie enough, it becomes the truth”. When I say that, I'm talking about all ends of the American political spectrum. When Knutson writes about the media in his book, I agree with him one hundred percent, and I earned a BA in journalism on the GI Bill after I left the Marine Corps in 1968.

If you want to learn about the Vietnam War, here's my list of the best: We Were Soldiers with Mel Gibson (a movie showing what combat is like instead of the Tom Cruise variety of couch jumping combat that is Hollywood); Chickenhawk, a memoir by Robert Mason that shows how 'necessary' carnage can damage one soldier's mind and body, and of course, Valley of the Shadow. There are other books and movies that do a good job, but this is where I recommend you start.

When Knutson writes about the use of drugs in Vietnam, I agree with him. When he writes about getting those GG shots, which I had to get, too, but out in the open with everyone in a line on top of a hill in the middle of Indian Country, that's true, too. I could go on. Each short chapter is another gritty, sometimes funny (I laughed often), nugget of reality and truth.

Knutson's memoir is about the unsung heroes that supported the guys like me that went into the field on ambushes, recons, patrols and field operations. Without soldiers in uniform like Knutson, also risking their lives since they were in Vietnam, too, how could guys like me have survived and succeeded? I want to thank those soldiers for what they did. Oh, by the way, I was on a field operation with South Korean soldiers. Knutson was right about them. If I had to pick a warrior to fight beside, to watch my back, I'd want him to be a South Korean.

There are ten to twelve men in uniform in support positions for each grunt in the field to make sure we get our job done, to fight and win. War is hell. It’s always been hell and it's always going to be in one form or another, where people of all ages die and suffering is a harsh reality. If you are one of those that lives in denial dreaming of a fantasy world where we all hug and kiss and love each other as in a fairy tale produced by Hollywood with a happy ending, look around at the American street gangs and the war on drugs taking place here. Fix that first.

In forty years, Valley of the Shadow is the second book I've read that depicts the real side of war through the details Knutson writes. I was there in the thick of it. I know. I wrote a book about Vietnam in the 1980s and although an agent represented that book and editors said they liked my writing, no one published it. I'd locked so much inside my head behind concrete walls built of anger, writing that story was like taking a razor blade and slicing open an artery in my neck. It wasn't easy. I don't think it was easy for Knutson, either.

If you love what America is supposed to stand for according to what our Founding Fathers created (not what modern day government—I'm talking about the tug-of-war between the left and right—is making our country into along with biased, Yellow Journalism and a Hollywood controlled by those that decide what is Politically Correct as they socially engineer America into something—whatever that is—they want it to be) I highly recommend reading Valley of the Shadow.

Valley of the Shadow comes in a small package. It's well priced and easy to read. On the other hand, there could have been a detailed glossary for the military equipment mentioned. I found myself getting lost occasionally in the machines Knutson used, and there were a 'few' grammatical and mechanical errors. However, do not let that stop you from reading this memoir. This story is not about the military machines and equipment. It's a personal account of war and the price men and women in uniform pay to fight for their country. It's another rare, and sometimes humorous voice of truth after forty years of you know what I'd like to say.

If you buy Valley of the Shadow and read it, spread the word—please. Encourage others to buy and read it, too, even if you do not agree with Knutson's opinions. If you haven't noticed, the world is a violent place. Read books about history to learn. Memoirs like Knutson's and historical fiction are a good place to start.

See Also: Steve's Authors Den page
Review of It Takes One to Catch One
Confessions from the Last Frontier

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