The Unknown Vietnam Veteran by Donald Luther Krimes

The Unknown Vietnam Veteran

Email this review


Debut author Krimes describes how a tour of duty in Vietnam brought him both love and a side career making runs to Indochina for shipments of handcrafts—and heroin.

The title suggests an agonized confessional like Born on the Fourth of July. But this memoir might comfortably fit in the true-crime genre. Eschewing a political point of view on the Vietnam War, Krimes recounts serving in Danang in 1968. A naïve rural kid with an aptitude for things mechanical, Krimes worked in his unit’s motor pool. He explored South Vietnam’s nightlife and black market. Krimes fell in love with Lan, a bar girl, or “girlson,” and vowed to marry her after his service and repatriation. He kept his word, returning in the early 1970s to find Lan—although she was in an arranged marriage to an abusive Vietnamese man (Krimes priced out possibly having the inconvenient husband killed). Lan left her husband for Krimes, and to make a post-military living with his new bride, Krimes turned to selling the plentiful heroin (“skag” in Army slang) by concealing drugs inside luxury audio-electronics systems he took through customs to the U.S. Ultimately, Krimes and his wife moved to Pennsylvania. Via a connection in Thailand, Krimes continued smuggling after the fall of Saigon, broadening to legit commerce in Asian handcrafts and products. While Krimes warns repeatedly of the dangers of carrying large wads of cash around Bangkok, when bloodletting happened, it was from a rogue monkey attack. And, while beautiful girlsons repeatedly tried to tempt him, he remains devoted to Lan. He actually grew transfixed by his wife’s native Buddhist culture, even as she was shedding it for America’s melting-pot society and church. One wishes Krimes spent more time exploring these religious shifts on emotional and philosophical levels. As it is, even deaths of some of his heroin customers and friends come as stoic notations, without much comment. The just-the-facts approach—minus expected resentment over Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Tet, Agent Orange, Jane Fonda, and PTSD—fulfills the back-cover promise of an exotic life on the edge “lived with no regrets.”  

Devotion, narcotics smuggling, and traveling amid the war-torn Southeast Asia of the 1960s and ’70s dispassionately recounted. 

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4809-1313-4
Page count: 170pp
Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


NonfictionBLOW by Bruce Porter
by Bruce Porter
NonfictionA MILLION LITTLE PIECES by James Frey
by James Frey