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Reviewed by Keith Julius for Readers' Favorite
Augustino Lee Cumpton grew up in the coal mining town of Jeweltown, West Virginia, living a life not too different from many of the middle-class families he lived alongside in the late 1960s. He enjoyed summers at Grandpa Salvatore's camp, worked after school at the Chestnut Bakery with his uncles Dante and Giorgio, and graduated from St Alphonse High School and headed to college with a world of possibilities ahead of him. But as author John H. Brown so aptly illustrates in Augie's War, that all changed with Viet Nam. Thrown in with the likes of his buddy Derek Barlow, the boisterous Rooster, and others at the 123rd Infantry Division headquarters in Qui Dong, life becomes a struggle for survival. To stay alive is the objective; to make it out of there in one piece and back to The World is the goal. At one point Augie reflects on how hard it is to make it through each day. “By staying buzzed as much as possible during off-duty hours, we were able to live for the minute, string the minutes into hours, the hours into days....”
John H. Brown triumphs with Augie's War, filling the novel with the type of telling details that can only come from someone that's been there and seen it first hand. Told primarily from Augie's point of view, the story alternates between heartfelt memories of home and family and nightmarish visions of the living hell the soldiers in Viet Nam endured. The story is not for the squeamish. It doesn't attempt to glamorize the experience, but rather tells how it was. The military men sound like real military men; the adventures and occasionally boisterous escapades they share ring with authenticity. You cannot read this book without realizing the sacrifices these brave men and women endured, and agonizing over the hardships they faced. A masterful look at a view of the past that we would do well not to forget.