SDFOB: Military Nonfiction

On August 25th, I attended the San Diego Festival of Books. It was my first ever Book Festival and I loved it! My favorite part, unexpectedly, was getting the chance to learn about so many local authors! So often in the book blog/bookstagram scene we hear about big presses and bestsellers, but it was great to hear about smaller indie authors and publishing houses, but also bestsellers living in our very own city! I loved that my first book festival was in a small city, and I definitely plan to attend again next year.

There were so many seminars I wanted to attend, but I ended up choosing three as to not max myself out. I was also aware of the fact that this was a weekend and I never want book blogging to feel like a job or an obligation, so I wanted to make sure I had fun the whole time. I definitely did and I wanted to share a little bit of information on the seminars with you!

Over the coming days I’ll share a bit about each of the three seminars I attended – each were so unique!

First up — Military Non Fiction

I’ve been really interested in Military nonfiction in the past year. It’s partially a result of living in San Diego, so close to a huge navy and marines base, but also just through reading different stories of different time periods. I’ve found that war has been such a backdrop for our life in the last century, and I’m so curious to learn more about it.

The books shared in this seminar were both remarkable — I ended up not buying them at the festival because this was the first lecture we attended and I felt like I was just being trigger happy, but then bought them both online because this seminar was so good.

BOOK 1: Saigon Kids by Les Arbuckle

You may know this story from another medium — the movie Good Morning, Vietnam? I’m not a movie buff, but everyone I’ve talked to since has told me they’ve seen the movie and that it does indeed feature a radio station in Saigon, Vietnam. The story here is that Les Arbuckle’s father was the guy who set up the Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam. (If you’ve seen the movie, Les let us in on the secret that the way Robin Williams said “Good Morning, Vietnam” was pretty different from how his dad said it, but both were equally entertaining!)

Les was 13 when his family moved in Saigon in 1963. There wasn’t a military base, but there was a large military presence. Les tells the story of his life there – hailing a cab for no money at all, attending the American Community School, and getting in to more trouble than his parents would ever like to hear about! (unfortunately they passed away quite young, so they weren’t around for the publishing of this book.)

It was forty years after his time in Saigon, that Les decided to write this books, but as he explained, he wrote from memory — to start he wrote down everything he remembered in no order at all, just let the memories flow. And then he put them in chronological order, and as he worked through that, other memories came to the surface. At first, Les wanted to write a screenplay, but he joked, he didn’t know how to write a screenplay! He didn’t know much about writing books either, but he made do. 🙂

I’m really excited to read Les’s book. I think it will be filled with humor, adventure, and also perspective.

BOOK 2: No Forgotten Fronts by Lisa Shapiro

This story is truly so unique and so San Diego. It is a compilation (with some helpful commentary) of letters that students who attended SDSU, and went on to fight in World War II, sent to a professor who asked them to keep in touch.

Beyond asking the students to keep in touch, Dr. Post, sent out a monthly newsletter. We all know military personel rarely stay in one place, but the miltary postal service is allegedly very good at forwarding mail, and Dr. Post was able to get in contact with her students very regularly and share news and updates!

Lisa read a few sections of her book, and described a few more, and each time she spoke, I had chills at the messages in her story and the realness that they projected. She told one story about the men who were sent to D-Day who didn’t know they were being sent there, and one student wrote “tough men had tears in their eyes” at seeing the statue at Normandy Beach, and as Lisa said, “they knew what they were fighting for.” Man, it still gets me. Just the courage and tenacity of these men who went willingly to war on the front lines.

What made this experience extra special was when the woman in front of me stood up and said, she wasn’t finished reading the book, but she had been friends with one of the students writing the letters for FORTY years. It meant the world to her to have this book published. As soon as Lisa had finished reacting and letting the reader know how much that meant to her, the woman across the aisle stood up and said that one of the students was her dad. She smiled while saying THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS BOOK and that she had purchased ten copies. I loved experiencing this moment and it definitely pushed me over the edge to buying this book.

Final Thoughts

One point made during the panel to really differentiate between the two books was that “letters are written in the moment” versus a memoir that has more time to reflect. While this was said to increase the value of No Forgotten Fronts, I think it has equal value for Saigon Kids. A memoir of the early days of the American occupation of Vietnam with forty years of perspective is definitely something I’m here for!

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