Bullets and Bandages
Having read several different novels surrounding the Vietnam War, I found Bullets and Bandages by Robert Saniscalchi, to be the most realistic, indeed, horribly so. It is quite simply a fictional account of a young man’s tour of duty in Vietnam, based upon true events as told to him by his brother. Because the author did not hold back on either his own fear or the actual events he met, the novel becomes very realistic, and the characters are those that you would expect to find in a war that nobody wanted.
The book opens and closes in an unforgettable scene as Rob Marrino, our main character, sits with the father of Sergeant Green, who had become his best friend, and who had been killed just a few weeks before he was to leave the service and come home. Green’s father asks Rob to tell him about his son and to tell him what they have been involved in so that he might remember his last few years of life.
So Rob starts to talk . . .
When there is a war going on, if you are the right age, all of your friends are talking about whether to “join up.” Or so it was at the time of the Vietnam War. Rob Marrino’s friends were joining; he needed only the courage to talk with his parents about it. His father took it the best and told him that he would be proud to have his son serve his country, as he had, adding that he hoped that it would be the army that he joined.
During basic training, they were given an option to move on for more training as a medic, and Rob decided that sounded like something he wanted to do. What that decision resulted in was that he became “special” to his unit. Everybody knew that it was important to make sure “Doc” was ok, because their own lives could actually be in his hands. But Rob was not only a medic, he was an active participant in that war. Rob felt he was under a man with experience and knowledge—Sergeant Jakes. And soon he met Corporal Clarence Green. The three of them slowly became close friends.
Rob Marrino was a praying man. Or maybe he became one once he was in the throes of war. The readers don’t know. What we do know is that he prayed continuously. He prayed for the courage and strength to ignore his shaking hands and get on with wiping the blood from a soldier’s wound to see how bad it was, to give him a quick shot of morphine to ease the pain. He prayed for each soldier he helped and for those who didn’t make it. He prayed when getting ready to enter a battle. He prayed in thanks for each time they made it through. Rob Marrino had never been as afraid in his life as he was during his tour in Vietnam. His prayers calmed him and many were grateful for his calm reassurance as he took care of their wounds.
It was the lack of honesty, the innate evil of the enemy that was hard for many of our soldiers to accept. Rob, by now, used to that evil, finally came back to the primary camp and saw a Vietnam man snapping pictures of the compound. There were several individuals with him, pretending that they were being photographed, but what was being photographed was the placement of where everything was located. This was all occurring while guards were on duty. They later explained that the man was a local farmer and had been around there for about five years. Combat officers quickly saw the dangers and were constantly alert. Even in the camp, guards did not fully understand the horrors of what was happening in the bush.
There is a touch of happiness for Rob when he is wounded. He meets a young nurse from his home state, and they fall in love. Somehow you feel that there in the midst of so many bullets and bandages, God must have brought her to care for him, to provide, through her, just a bit of His love to a weary soldier.
This book is very graphic in the war scenes--parental guidance material! On the whole, however, the story is one in which Americans can take pride. These are the true soldiers of our country, those in the lower ranks that fought for every inch that was won. Here was this man who made it through many brave tours, only to die from a snakebite! There was that man who gave it his all, and then was killed during a training accident weeks before leaving for home. This story is about the men who prayed their way through the Vietnam War. I am proud to have had an opportunity to read this unforgettable story.
G. A. Bixler
For Independent Professional Reviewers