Augie's War

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
233 Pages
Reviewed on 01/29/2019
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    Book Review

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.

Jack Magnus

Augie's War is a military fiction novel written by John H. Brown. In November of 1969, Augie Cumpton was counting down his last four months in-country. Vietnam had been every bit as awful an experience as he had imagined it would be -- even if he was one of the fortunate ones who weren’t crawling through the swamps. Qui Dong, where he was stationed, was certainly a far cry from the warmth and care of home in Jeweltown, West Virginia where his extended Italian family were there for him through thick and thin. Grandpa Salvatore and Grandma Luisa Costanza kept their extended family gathered closely around them, and Augie had grown up in the care of Grandma Luisa or one of his aunts while his parents worked. When the shelling and the harassment and threats of Sergeant First Class Wilber Everett Carson, a martinet who insisted upon strict military procedure and frequent inspections, got too overwhelming for him, Augie would go deep inside and remember what it was like growing up in Jeweltown, working with his uncles in the family bakery; it was a welcome and necessary respite from the insanity of Vietnam.

Augie’s War is a brilliant and moving story that juxtaposes Augie’s memories of his home life and time in college during the fifties and sixties with his service in Vietnam. I learned quite a lot from reading the author’s work, whose own service in Vietnam occurred in 1969-70, and whose career as a journalist would seem to be everything Augie would have hoped for if he were to survive his tour. Brown’s book is well written, and the transition from the stories about life with the Costanzas to Augie’s interminable war is effected so seamlessly that I felt both rocked and comforted by it, finding solace even as Augie did in those shared memories. Brown deftly paints his characters and the settings they find themselves in. Like Augie, I especially enjoyed the time spent with Augie’s uncles in the bakery but I’d be hard pressed to find fault with any portion of this novel, which demonstrates so eloquently the alien and terrifying environment so many young men found themselves in during the Vietnam era. Augie’s War is most highly recommended.

Deborah Lloyd

This historical fiction work is a compelling perspective of one soldier’s experience in Vietnam. Although Augie Cumpton graduated from college and tried various ways to escape the war, his commitment to family and country won out. He was drafted by the US Army in September 1968. Augie was born into a large, close Italian-American family living in Riverview Addition, a neighborhood of Jeweltown, West Virginia. His heartwarming memories of family became a safe place to visit when the horrors of war surrounded him. Author John H. Brown has crafted a captivating novel in Augie’s War. This is not your typical book about Vietnam, although it has its fair share of wartime atrocities. The focus is on the young men who were sent to this country and how they learned to cope and survive. Although Augie was assigned to administrative work in army offices in Vietnam, he still experienced many horrific events.

The cast of interesting characters in this tale, in both Vietnam and West Virginia, is so well described that the reader can easily picture each one. There are loving and protective family members and soldiers, as well as self-centered and hateful comrades. The mechanism of Augie purposefully “returning” to memories of Riverview to endure the horrors of war is skillfully applied. A major dilemma that Augie faced, challenging his moral and ethical belief system, is also portrayed in agonizing and realistic ways. Augie’s War, written by John H. Brown, is a thought-provoking depiction of the Vietnam War. It is a memorable story that will remain in readers’ hearts and minds for a long time.

Jane Finch

Augie’s War by John H Brown tells the story of Augie Cumpton, a young man growing up in West Virginia during the 1960’s with his American/ Italian family; a story that the author states is loosely based on his own life. Interspersed with the anecdotes from colorful family characters is the harrowing story of one man’s personal battles whilst struggling to survive during the Vietnam War. Augie stays at college as long as possible, prolonging the time when he will reluctantly have to head off to Vietnam. Even though he is not fighting on the front line, Augie still faces the challenging living conditions, and the life-threatening attacks that are an everyday occurrence. Augie loses comrades, friends, and faces decisions he thought he would never have to make in order to make it home to his safe haven with his family in Riverview, West Virginia.

The author, John H Brown, has cleverly combined the amusing with the awful in Augie’s War, detailing how one man’s reluctant posting to the heart of war-torn Vietnam affected not just his physical but his emotional well-being. The writing is fluent and the change from the war experiences to the reflections of a quiet and peaceful upbringing in West Virginia keep the reader’s interest and make this a compelling read. The descriptions give a powerful impression of the calm and the horrific; the characters described by the author are authentic and well developed. All in all, a read with content that is both gentle get disturbing at the same time. A well-crafted book to be recommended.

Stephen Fisher

Augie's War by John F. Brown is a well-written story that begins with a letter from Specialist 4, Augie Crumpton. He is writing this letter in case he does not make it home alive from Viet Nam. He then proceeds to tell his life story growing up in an Italian community in Riverview; a section of Jeweltown, West Virginia. He grew up in the late 50's and 60's when baseball was the national pastime and neighbors were like family. After he attends college, he gets drafted into the US army and attends basic training and AIT. So instead of going to the front lines, he is trained as a supply specialist. Then he gets stationed in Qui Dong, the battalion headquarters. Augie then settles into his barracks. It takes him a while to get use to the sweltering heat in South Viet Nam. He is quickly assigned to writing awards and decoration notes that accompany the appropriate awards. In between pulling guard duty, and jaunts impersonating a non-commissioned officer to gain access to the NCO club, he gets caught up in the politics of how to avoid getting sent into combat.

Mr. Brown does an amazing job of bringing Viet Nam to life and what it was like to serve in what was considered hell on earth. The descriptions create vivid pictures of the horrors of war. Then he flips the switch as he brings the story to life, with all of the craziness to make their little area of the war a little more comfortable... if that was possible. His knowledge of army regulations, weapons and tactics was spot on. The corruption of the average Joe trying to make a buck, under the noses of the brass at headquarters, and First Sergeant. Then when our hero is threatened with being sent to the front lines, the story really kicks into gear. Augie's War is masterfully written and the environment is accurately described. John F. Brown created a masterpiece that impressed me. Well done!