The lives of Vietnam ‘grunts’ recreated
Novelists Larry Heinemann and Donald Bodey discuss with Gary Wolfe, host of “Illinois Reads: Talks With Illinois Authors,” their books which starkly recreate the experiences of “grunts” in the Vietnam War and their views on the resurgence of interest in the war and how this war’s literature compares and contrasts with that of other wars.
This Library Cable Network production, part of a series to acquaint cable television viewers with authors who are contributing to the rich literary heritage of Illinois, will air on Cablenetchannel 3 at 4 p m.Sunday; and again at 9:30 p.m. Monday. It will also be shown on American Cable Systems channel 3 at 9p m. Tuesday ; and again at 9 p.m.Thursday, May 28.
Both Heinemann and Bodey are amazed by the resurgence of Interest in the Vietnam War. Heinemann recalls that during ‘and immediately following the war, the climate of extreme controversy In American and the scapegoating of veterans preclude asking these veterans questions whose answers would have revealed how badly the war was going and how wrong we were to be there.He thinks that there is now a need people have to know about the war.
Bodey, in speaking to college students, finds they want to know what the war was really like. Because of their age, their knowledge and perceptions of It are often based on Rambo-type movies. They arc as shocked by its reality as Bodey was experiencing It. That the troops knew the war was a “shill”, and that“Rambo” and “John Wayne” types— Heinemann calls them “cartoons”— were avoided by the other men who knew that to be near them was to die, may be surprising revelations to some even at this point in time, 12years after the war.
Since the end of the war, there has been an outpouring of Vietnam literature to which Heinemann and Bodey have made significant contributions. Heinemann’s classic Vietnam War novel Close Quarters was published in 1977, nine years after he re-turned from and two years after the war ended. Donald Bodey, who won the Midland Writers Award with F.N.G. which was published in 1985) spent 10 years working on his novel.
The time lapse between the experience and the publication of their work seems to reflect the importance each of these authors places on accurately portraying the war through the eyes of an infantryman,1Hcinemann sought to find the language that would tell the- story and be true to the experience. Bodey’s manuscript was not submitted for publication sooner because he was so critical of what he wrote. The resulting novels arc powerful In their portrayal of the “grunt” who arrived alone, left alone, and In between, endured a Vietnam Year.
Donald Bodey, a carpenter and part-owner of a saloon, lives in Chicago, Larry Heinemann, also a Chicago resident, is a writing instructor at Columbia College and recently,published Pace’s Story, a novel about a veteran trying to assimilate back Into civilian life.“Illinois Reads: Talks With Illinois Authors” has been produced for cable television through a LSCA, Title I grant.