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Bestselling Michigan author explores lives of Vietnam veterans

Benjamin Thorp

New York Times best-selling author Doug Stanton will speak tonight in Gaylord about his new book: the Odyssey of Echo Company.

The book offers a firsthand perspective of Stan Parker and several other servicemen who served and survived the Vietnam War.

Ben: Right within the first chapter you talk about how a lot of these guys didn’t feel comfortable telling their stories and talking about their experience. Is that why it was important for you to go out and dig these up?

Doug: Right, the first thing we talk about when we talk about Vietnam is how do you talk about Vietnam? You and I can talk about WWII, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which I’ve written about. But Vietnam is our unfinished American narrative. There’s a huge question mark at the end of the question ‘what happened in Vietnam?’ and I think we need to put a period on the end of that sentence. Because why? Because I think it’s a national tragedy that there are a generation of American’s and their families living in the shadow of Vietnam that are carrying the burden of this war around. It’s an unspoken burden. The war is over, it’s time to separate the war from the soldier, as we have with Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ben: I’m glad you’re saying that because one of the things I was struck by is it feels like the politics of that moment are kept at bay. Was that your sense, that you wanted to keep it focused on experience as opposed to politics?

Doug: Right. This is a book about people so what I tried to do is I wanted the reader to know as much as the young men do. I wanted to point out the fact that these were the sons of WWII. So when Stan Parker enlists in the army in 1966 WWII is just a little more than two decades behind him. Put yourself in the shoes of these young men and realize that WWII is influencing their decision to go to war. That was an eye opener to me so I thought we should look at their experience through their own eyes.

Ben: One of the things that was interesting to me is Stan has not just served in Vietnam he has also served two tours in Afghanistan and there is a list of other countries that he has been to, other conflicts that he has seen. When you sit him down and ask him about how he views these things and how he views this ongoing conflict, what does he say?

Doug: Like many men and women living today fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq it becomes a way of life. The people I wrote about in Horse Soldiers had ten, eleven deployments. That’s astounding. For Stan Parker after Vietnam, after a hiatus of a couple of years where he was an ironworker like his father, he could not stay away from the military. It was just something he understood well. The reason I put in the universe of his parents is that they instilled in him this idea that he was to be of service to people. As a soldier, both male and female, what we often forget is that you’re not on a battlefield, you’re not in a Humvee driving down the street with some notion of the geopolitical impact of your day… The book is just trying to point these things out and be an experience for not the greatest generation but what I call the forgotten generation. Because their story was essentially forgotten by the American public and they themselves tried very hard to forget it.

Ben: Thank you so much.

Stanton will speak Monday at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord.