By H. Lee Barnes
The Vietnam War never goes away. It is so present in our lives and culture that most adult Americans are amazed to discover that the year 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of our withdrawal from Saigon. In this rich and varied collection of short stories, former Green Beret Lee Barnes deals with the war itself and with its aftermath, but his stories focus more on the human aspects of men in armed conflict and families at home than on the violent drama or political aspects of that war.
Barnes gives us a wonderful group of memorable characters: Berkeley-educated, North Vietnamese Colonel Tram Van Nim, who proposes a baseball game with the enemy in "A Lovely Day in the A Shau Valley," the gentle, instinctive giant Harvey Walters in the haunting "Stonehands and the Tigress," Calvin Widerly, a father seeking his missing son, locates Mai, now an adult, who as a small child once offered a young soldier kindness in the excruciating "The Cat in the Cage." Worldly, recently jilted Las Vegan Rowe, is fascinated by the uncanny skill of Paez, who is the "Tunnel Rat" in Barnes's remarkable novella. And, Bruce, who, in those years, had blackmailed his friend "Lum" into a wildly improbable mission in the darkly comic Gunning For Ho. These characters and many more show us not only the many faces of war, but also the subtleties and small tragedies of men dealing with men and with women.