A REVIEW of Fire to Light

Old joke: Know the difference between fairy tales and war stories?

Fairy tales begin, “Once upon a time,” while war stories begin, “This is no lie . . .”

Except it usually is. War is such a traumatic, life-changing and unforgettable event in a person’s life that the most mundane of events can take on an outsized drama in their memory. Details are inflated. Actions exaggerated. That is understandable given that most memoirs of war are written while the stench of the battlefield is fresh in the heart and the writer/warrior is still emotionally and creatively all a-tremble from the experience.

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Dennis Rogers

(Raleigh) News & Observer

Charlie was a military policeman and part time clerk/typist more than 40 years ago. But his story of a year in the ‘Nam is no less riveting for its lack of immediacy, gunfire and body parts.

Truth be told, in the real world of war, no more than 10 percent of the in-country forces are gun-totin’ infantry. The rest of the Great Green Machine works in finance, supply, medical labs, intelligence teams, photo labs and chaplain’s offices. They type, file, write, cook, paint, repair, drive trucks, operate bulldozers and x-ray machines and pull teeth. Every occupation found in your hometown is found in war zones. Even lawyers, artists, movie projectionists, firemen and, yes, cops.

Charlie Malone’s wartime memoir is different. 

Yes, it is a story of war, a story of how a young man from a small North Carolina town found himself in an uncertain place called Vietnam. But Malone was not an infantry grunt. Or a pilot, SEAL, Green Beret, or Marine. They are the folks most likely to put their memories down on paper. Anything that earth-shattering must be preserved, their thinking goes. Surely what happened to them is unique. How can it not be?

Charlie did more than pull his time. He looked at the military machine and saw some things that worked well. Some of his superiors were strong and competent leaders. Some of the rules made sense. He didn’t buy into the common draftee attitude that lifers are losers, and the only thing to get out of the military was their own sweet selves.

Charles Malone was Everyman in the Vietnam era.

His story is far more the common experience than the shoot ‘em up tales of derring-do.

He got out when his time was up, but the long look back from the 21st century is not as grim as it seems to those whose literary rush to judgment hit their pages before they even outgrew their old uniforms.


 

He went when they told him to go and did what he was told to do when he got there. There is a dignity and calmness in this telling of the story of this ordinary man. There are moments of humor, of sadness, of fear and kindness. Most importantly, there is honor in a hellish place.


His daddy would be proud.