Book Review by John Andrews [photopress:orcutt__cover.jpg,thumb,pp_image]
I'm honored to help an old friend, Allen Orcutt, bring out a little book of poems, prose, and pictures that explores how a year at war can change a man for life. And much for the better in this Marine pilot's case, searing as the ordeal was. No Rest Elsewhere: Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008, expands on a poetic collection initially published in 1973, just after Allen came home. It includes his account of reconciling war-shattered relationships in later years, climaxing with a trip back to Vietnam in 2007. You can order the book for $12.50 per copy, postpaid, by sending your check to Allen Orcutt at 737 Storm King Circle, New Castle CO 81647. Or email him at email@example.com, providing your postal address to which book(s) and invoice can be sent.
Below are the Table of Contents for "No Rest Elsewhere," the author's introduction, and my foreword. If you or a friend or family member served in Vietnam or any of America's wars, or if you just enjoy honest, thoughtful writing about life's deepest issues, I encourage you to get this book.
------------------------------------ NO REST ELSEWHERE Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008 By Allen Orcutt Introduction by the Author
My father and both of my grandfathers served their country during world War I and War II . Their portraits in Army and Marine Corps uniforms of the day hang on the wall behind my desk. Although they were awarded several medals including silver and bronze stars, not one of them shared their experiences.
I know that Allen Wood Orcutt, my father’s father, served proudly in WW I. However, all we have of his experiences were love letters sent to my grandmother. He died at age 35 from complications of a virus and mustard gas.
During that same war, my other grandfather, Harvey S. Brown , was a runner-messenger with the Marines in the trench warfare of Belleau Wood., France. He, among very few, survived that assignment. Yet, he never spoke of his experiences.
My Dad, George H Orcutt, served in War II as a Scout with General Patton in France. Although he was highly decorated, his sense of duty made the bullet in his shoulder put there by a German sniper, a reminder to me that in combat, war’s rules and war’s memories remain deep within.
Before l departed for Vietnam, my friend and former WW II South Pacific Marine , David Rennie shared with me this message. He discovered it in a castle in Scotland. In Europe and Great Britain he saw plenty of armor mostly under glass and in pristine condition. There was one exception. It was of modest design with battle dents and heavy damage. On its breastplate was inscribed in Latin, “Nulla Quiat Alibi”. That is “No Rest Elsewhere” than to uphold the honor, camaraderie and trust shared by fellow warriors, in this case Marine Corps pilots.
For us there was No Rest Elsewhere when I began Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, in 1966, started flight school in Pensacola in 1967, or arrived in Vietnam in 1968, the twelve months after TET proved to be the worst for helicopters, pilots and air crews.
What you are about to read is not just my story. Rather, it’s a story about young men, the warrior elite, in war. It is also about their family and friends. Some who stood beside them, some who didn’t.
------------------------------------ NO REST ELSEWHERE Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008 By Allen Orcutt Table of Contents
Part One: In Country
1. Old-Fashioned War Poem 2. Strike 3. Fogged In 4. Strike Two 5. September 29, 1968 6. Zone Supposedly Secure 7. Delivered Again 8. The Climb 9. Medevac Inbound 10. In Memory of Tom Burton 11. What’s It All About? 12. Operation Meade River 13. Let’s Not 14. Fishing Resort? 15. In Memory of William T. Hale 16. Willy’s Last Day 17. Gold Star Mother 18. Fall of the Eagle 19. Midnight Mortartown 20. Away to Uncompahgre 21. Emergency Leave 22. Sandra, Arch, and the Colonel 23. And I Saw My Mountains Once More before Leaving 24. Linus’s Blanket 25. Kielhofer: All in a Day’s Work 26. Cloud Disguises 27. A Last Goodnight 28. Awareness
Part Two: Home Front
29. Through White into Blue 30. Citadel 31. Anybody Home? 32. Crossing over the Pond 33. At China Beach 34. Haikus for You 35. I’m Here 36. Against the Tide 37. Forgiveness Forgotten 38. Fierce Communion 39. Our Peniel 40. Still 41. Disorientation 41A. Resolution
Part Three: Long After
42. Despite the Rain 43. Shining Horizon 44. Tea with Mr. Houng 45. Glenwood Canyon 46. Smoke Signals on the Periphery 47. Petals of a Smile 48. Ho Chi Minh City, Formerly Saigon 49. Lumahai Beach, Kaui 50. Fallujah Echoes Danang 51. The River Wins 52. Condominium of Hope 53. Peace Rock 54. Before Moving On
NO REST ELSEWHERE Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008 By Allen Orcutt Foreword by John Andrews
“Jacob would be proud.” (1) A Marine pilot in the war zone wrote that in a poem to his wife between attack missions one night 40 years ago. He had seen death that day and would see more tomorrow.
The hours of darkness were a short and uncertain respite; the airbase itself was often mortared. In the morning his number might come up and he’d never go home again. Home would soon mean something different anyway; their marriage was collapsing. The biblical wrestling image was doubly apt.
Yet he held on fiercely to duty and country, faith and hope. Part of what helped him hold on was the catharsis of scribbling such poems in a DOD logbook. In God’s good time that pilot came home, rebuilt his life, and kept writing. “I will teach my son all about peace,” he poetically promised another wife long after. (2)
Over the decades, Allen Orcutt kept that promise. He has taught his children – and is now beginning to teach their children – all he can about how peace and honor can transcend war and violence, how love and loyalty can transcend loss and sorrow. The teaching continues with this book of Vietnam sketches in poetry, prose, old maps and grainy combat photos.
Unlike the often-stoic veterans of our fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations, Allen has opened up his war memories for the life lessons they can provide the rest of us: comrades, friends, contemporaries, and descendants. I thank him. When you finish these pages, I believe you will too.
Only the inner circle of battlefield comrades can know the full meaning of what is here. But from the next circle, as a lifelong friend, I have known a good part of it. Allen and I were close as brothers in school, fellow volunteers for officer training, business partners and political allies later on, soulmates to this day. Submarine duty gave me few credentials to comment on the harrowing combat journal you’ll read here. What I can do, though, is stand character witness for the author. Absolute integrity is on every line. Blood and tears are in the ink.
This volume grows out of a smaller collection of poems published by Allen Orcutt in 1973, under the title Before Moving On. (3) At that time the war was still going on, he was back to civilian life working for my father, and I had become a presidential speechwriter, from which vantage point Allen asked me to write a foreword. I described the book as “the story of thirteen months in a man’s life, battle episodes sharing the stage with family scenes, introspection, friendship, tragedy.”
The present book, you will find, is all of that and something more. Now enriched by the perspective of a generation, and expanded with additional detail from the helicopter squadron in 1968-69 as well as from the author’s trip back to Vietnam in 2007, No Rest Elsewhere gets at deeper questions the previous edition didn’t anticipate. How can a year at war shape a lifetime of seven decades? How does a man finally become the man he is? It may even hold up a mirror for any reader to ask himself: What fires forged me into the person I am?
Three sections, “In Country,” “Home Front,” and “Long After,” unfold the narrative. We meet Allen’s fellow pilots including the fallen Willy Hale; the Vietnamese Mr. Houng who witnessed Hale’s death; college sweetheart Sandra who abruptly fled the Orcutts’ wartime marriage; and Barbara, Allen’s wife today. Andre and Georgia, his children with Barbara, as well as Amy and Ashley, his children with second wife Nancy, are sensed as a presence in the story though never introduced.
Another unseen presence here is the author’s fight with Parkinson’s disease for the past dozen years. Since the condition is known to Allen’s friends, I asked his permission to mention it. Does the high incidence of this and similar illnesses among veterans stem from their exposure to Agent Orange, the dangerous chemical defoliant? That’s uncertain. But the possibility heightens the book’s theme of what war can cost those who fight it – how it may forever change even those who survive. Courage may be demanded from the warrior, and from his loved ones, long after the shooting stops.
To vow at 25 that you are “determined to be the rock I say I am” amidst war and heartbreak, two storms at once, is character under pressure.(4) To look back at 65 and take inventory of how well you did – and print the results for review – to me that’s character of a higher order still. “Counting years is ugly work,” the younger Allen wrote when things seemed darkest.(5) “I’m so grateful… fare thee well,” the older Allen writes now. (6) Back then his pledge and prayer was to be “able to kiss a tormented sea.” (7) It seems he’s gotten there. The struggle was long, but rest finally came.
This brings us to the title of the new collection, “No Rest Elsewhere.” David Rennie, cited in the author’s introduction as a retired Marine, was also a Bible teacher. I suspect that his motto from a knight’s breastplate, given to Orcutt by Rennie as a talisman for battle, held scriptural overtones for the older man. A secret refuge in the Almighty and a table safe from enemies are mentioned by David the Psalmist. A rest like no other is Jesus’ promise to the weary and beleaguered. Such thoughts are not explicit here, for my friend isn’t one to sermonize. But listen closely and you’ll hear them in the poems.
When he says that “awareness is the constant path of my being,” it’s spiritual reliance that is meant, not just military vigilance.(8) The rest referred to is not found in escape or avoidance, but in keeping faith, hanging on and pushing through, wrestling to the limit of endurance like the patriarch in Genesis. In the Jacob poem quoted earlier, Allen speaks of “our Peniel,” the crucible of love and war.(9) It seems to me that Jacob would have approved the poet-pilot’s tenacity back then in wartime – and that he’d be prouder still today at the way this aging wrestler (Orcutt’s sport in high school, come to think of it) has yet to relinquish his grip.
Politics does not enter into any of this, then or now, even with America’s difficult experience in Iraq replaying the Vietnam agony in some ways. There is only the glancing reference in “Fallujah Echoes Danang” to enduring issues of savagery and civility in combat – more a military concern than a political one anyway. “Condominium of Hope” was prophetically titled in light of all the hopes riding on President Obama, yet the poem’s civic yearnings from 1969 seem no closer to realization in 2009.
Personal crises and victories are really the subject matter here. While the “endless surrender in disguise” may be a double reference to the no-win war as well as the author’s troubled marriage, the drama of the book ultimately turns on his emergence from the inward hell where “a very dead man screams in my ear.” (10) In two of the earlier poems, the rock seems to signify a solid place of rest. (11) In a later one about the Orcutts’ home in Glenwood Canyon, however, Allen suggests that was a false certainty: “Only a patient river wins the battle with the vertical rock [and] brings confidence to our mutual search for our souls.” (12) The ugliness encountered “when time freezes over” has given way at last to the beauty experienced as time flows on. (13)
As the weary pilot’s combat tour of duty ended, he felt sure “the problems I will face will never again be so consistently great, so persistently antagonistic, so emotionally bereft, so human.” (14) In some ways that has probably proved true. Yet for this “Colorado comet with an Oklahoma soul,” life after Vietnam was not going to be a mere postscript to war. (15) New challenges would keep forcing him back to the fields of honor and the fortress of faith. He would keep accepting those challenges in the simple belief that there was no rest elsewhere.
“You got to know how to hold a dream,” says Allen Orcutt in a latter-day meditation on what all the years, all the battles, all the sorrows and joys have meant. (16) He has held his with grit and grace, it seems to me after reading these writings.
-------------------------------------- References: 1. “Our Peniel” 2. “Peace Rock” 3. From the poem of that name 4. “Citadel” 5. “Forgiveness Forgotten” 6. “Resolution” 7. “At China Beach” 8. “Awareness” 9. “Our Peniel 10. “What’s It All About?” 11. “Peace Rock” and “Citadel” 12. “The River Wins” 13. “Forgiveness Forgotten” 14. “Before Moving On” 15. “Citadel” 16. “Despite the Rain”