Forty years after he served in the Vietnam War, Ron Marks details the multi-layered experience of a thoughtful soldier thrust into that life-changing conflict. In his novel …Of Bags, Counts and Nightmares, he presents a world of fear, courage, intense camaraderie, love and loss.
This story is informed by keenly remembered experience, describing a mad world where survival is exhilarating even while the carnage is horrific. The title highlights the ongoing experience of seeing fallen soldiers placed in body bags and the demand for accurate body counts each time there is “contact” – or military engagement – with the enemy.
Protagonist Tommie Bauer does his darnedest to survive the horrors of war physically and emotionally. It’s not an easy task. He soon learns that the enemy can be impossible to identify, since there is often nothing to distinguish an innocent villager from a Viet Cong fighter. Among many things that haunt Bauer is the likelihood that his unit has killed innocent people, particularly in village settings. Another incident that makes him “Sick! Sick of what happened! Sick of our loss! And sick of this war!” is the loss of Americans in friendly fire.
While the book suffers somewhat from Bauer’s gee-whiz style of narration (“Oh my god, it’s Nurse Rachel. Oh wow!…Gosh, I love that she showed up now.”) and could have benefitted from a judicious edit, Marks keeps readers in step with his protagonist through 556 pages by conveying his urgent need to remain hyper-alert during vividly described forays and battles. Suspense stems from the hope that Bauer can maintain enough vigilance to survive. When Bauer finds an American nurse who sets her sights on a future with him, it seems astonishing to him and adds warmth to the narrative.
Straightforward, detail-heavy, and resonating with the ring of truth, Marks’ book is a solid addition to the body of writings on the Vietnam War experience.
Also available in hardcover.