Local author Gleason to read from new Vietnam book March 9
Local author Ray Gleason will read from his new book, "The Violent Season," about the generation of young Americans who experienced the Vietnam war, Friday, March 9, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Culver Coffee Company in Culver.
Wine, cheese, pizza and coffee will be served for the guests. Gleason’s new book will be published in the fall of 2012. His first book on the Vietnam war, "A Grunt Speaks: A Devil’s Dictionary of Vietnam Infantry terms and Tales," debuted in 2009. That book is a sometimes wry, sometimes tragic narrative of the infantry experience in the Vietnam war told through the terminology that the soldiers used.
“I feel strongly that the story of the generation who fought and experienced Vietnam needs to be told,” Gleason said recently, “Especially in light of the distorted image of the soldiers created by the media and by some movies and books depicting the war.
“We were children when we went to that war, barely out of our teenage years. We did our duty as well as we could, while experiencing all the horrors of war. But, many of us returned to this country to find that we ourselves had become the objects of the frustration and discontent over US policy in Southeast Asia.”
Gleason tells a story of his own experience as a returning Vietnam veteran in the introduction of his first book:
“In 1986, I was taking graduate courses at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After class one afternoon, some of us went over to the student center for a beer. One of the students, a young woman who looked to me to be about twenty- years old, asked me if I had been in Vietnam. I was still a serving officer in the army, and I guess my short haircut gave me away.
“I froze! At first, I didn’t know how to respond! I was a combat-experienced infantry officer and ranger. But, I had learned, since coming home from Nam, never to talk about it, never to admit it unless I was willing to endure abuse and recriminations.
“But, I thought, Vietnam was ancient history to these kids. So I told her I had been there. When I said this, she reached across the table and laid her hand on my arm and said, ‘I don’t think anyone really appreciates what you guys did over there. Thanks!’”
“I was shocked! I had been out of `Nam over fifteen years and this was the first time anyone had shown any gratitude or even tried to make me feel okay about what I and my buddies had gone through over there.”
Gleason continued, “In the opening of my story, ‘Coming Home,’ I try to capture the awkwardness and overt hostility sometimes shown to the returning soldiers.” When Green got home, there was no welcome for returning soldiers. There was a great deal of hysteria against the war. The returning soldiers bore the blame for it. When Green was processed in Oakland, he was told not to travel in uniform so there would be no trouble. Green flew back to New York in his khakis. The flight crew were polite enough, but he seemed to embarrass the other passengers. No one would look at him. There was no conversation. In the men’s room at LaGuardia airport, someone he didn’t know called him a baby killer. In the cab going home, the driver asked where he was in from. When he said `Nam, the driver didn’t say anything for the rest of the trip.
“This is the book I always knew I had to write,” Gleason said about "The Violent Season." “Although the stories and characters are fictional, they represent real people I knew and real events we experienced. It’s the story of my generation, boomers in the sixties, and how the Vietnam war affected us and our lives. Many believe our generation is represented by things like Woodstock and hippies. They were nothing compared to the profound impact that war had on us. There would have been no Woodstock without Vietnam. These stories need to be told. They need to be read.”
Gleason explained, “The title of the collection, 'The Violent Season,' is taken from the poem, ‘La jolie rousse,’ by the French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘Summer comes the violent season / And my youth is as dead as the Spring.’ Apollinaire was severely wounded fighting in the French army during World War I. Two years after the war, he died at age thirty-eight.”
Gleason is a member of the faculty of Culver Academies and is lecturer of Medieval European literature and culture at Northwestern University. He and his wife, Jan Peyser, are residents of Marshall County. Peyser is an award-winning jeweler and silversmith whose work can be seen currently in a private showing at the Culver Coffee Company, located at 634 East Lakeshore Drive in Culver.