Kirkus Star


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Unusual, dual autobiographic impressions by the one-time Chief of Naval Operations and his son, who currently is battling for his life against the ravages of Hodgkin's disease. This is an extraordinarily poignant work, that is given depth by the fact that the younger Zumwalt's disease may have been caused by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, which usage was ordered by his father during his tenure as CNO. This could devolve into a whining symphony of blame and guilt, but instead what we get is a work of great dignity that can serve as anyone's benchmark as to how to face up to and cope with tragedy. What enables father and son to fight this battle together are their similarities--they both come across as tenacious, loyal, born of a can-do attitude, nurtured by a toughness of spirit. The younger Elmo is emotional, open, and expressive, his father analytical and very private. His use of Agent Orange was based upon the fact that hundreds of military personnel who sailed South Vietnam's rivers were victims of snipers, easy targets to Viet Cong who could use the shelter of the jungle foliage on the river banks. The consequent defoliation caused by Agent Orange lowered American casualties considerably, which the younger Zumwalt admits and the elder is quick to repeat. The book is organized as alternating commentary from the two, interspersed with occasional comments from friends and family. The latter sections come off too much as testimonials. But when the main characters are center stage, their tale is heart-rending. In an era when we are smothered with maudlin tales of the ""father/son conflict,"" it is refreshing to read of the unity and love in this relationship.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan