A Marine maimed in a war he had ceased to believe in comes home to a divided country indifferent to his sacrifice in this memoir that looks back with rancor.
Gaylord, the son of an Irish mother and an Indian father, grew up in grim poverty in southern Indiana in mid-20th-century America amid conditions reminiscent of backwoods life a century earlier. A good pair of shoes was beyond reckoning. He and his eight siblings too often went hungry. Home was a shack by the Ohio River or wherever his itinerant parents could afford the rent. Writing in a spare style befitting this stark beginning, Gaylord builds to a parade-ground ceremony in 1967 when, as a newly minted Marine, he was filled, for a bright shining moment, with deep pride in himself and his country. Not long after, he was deployed to Vietnam. There, he endured a haywire existence of search-and-destroy missions in the stifling jungle hunting an enemy rarely seen but skilled in deadly ambush. In progressively more profane language matching his growing aversion toward what he saw as a political war not worth dying in, Gaylord writes bitterly of longing to desert—though readers will doubt he ever would have—until June 1968, when he was severely wounded in an attack and lost both feet. After treatment at a succession of hospitals and facilities, some good and some bad, he was unceremoniously dumped back home and left to hobble painfully on ill-fitting prosthetics. At 19, he felt his life was ruined with nothing to show for it but a monthly pittance of government compensation. In rage and despair, he took to drink, came close to suicide, and at his nadir (here Gaylord seems to rush to a surprising and quick conclusion), he turned to prayer and gained redemption. Gaylord’s blunt honesty is beyond reproach, as is his effort to bring the awful plight of the disabled veteran before his readers. Even his liberal use of profanity seems fitting for this harsh tale.
As raw as an open wound and as truthful as it is terrible.