Grunts, Gramps & Tanks

A Soldier's Tales

Fiction - Military
150 Pages
Reviewed on 04/22/2021
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

I retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel and later retired from my Department of the Army civilian position. Living in Baltimore, Maryland with my wife Teresa, I enjoy running, golfing, and riding motorcycles, while now working on another novel.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Michael Gardner for Readers' Favorite

Sitting somewhere between the great American short story and the great American novel, Grunts, Gramps & Tanks by Rick Bogdan is a series of connected short stories about Tyler Willett and his time serving in the U.S. Army, taking us from enlisting through to his eventual rise as an officer in the armored division. It reminded me very much of the Nick Adams series of short stories by Hemingway, which each describe a key moment in the character’s life. These slices of life aren’t always monumental, but they are moments of change, which makes them interesting to read. Grunts, Gramps & Tanks also follows the same distinctive modern American style started by writers like Hemingway, with sparse, gritty, descriptive writing which focuses more on mundane events than grand action. Mundane does not equate to uninteresting. Who knew what these men had to do to get paid in 1975? Imagine doing a forced march on three hours sleep with a filthy hangover. And underpinning every moment is Willett’s struggle to maintain his family through his sea change from the retail industry to becoming an army infantryman.

Although anecdotal, the charming aspect of Grunts, Gramps & Tanks is the variety in each story. Some build to a witty moment. Others are bittersweet. None paint an idealized view of army life or the stress it puts on maintaining a family. Rick Bogdan shows genuine passion in his storytelling, I expect from personal experience, rendering each account without judgment, bias, or blinkered patriotism. He leaves it to the reader to form an opinion about the moments in Willett’s life, which I feel is the mark of a confident author. The effort that has gone into the shaping and polishing of the book is also evident, as it’s a smooth, engaging read. Overall, a very polished piece. Recommended.

Jon Michael Miller

Grunt, Gramps & Tanks by Rick Bogdan is labeled fiction, but there is no doubt in my mind that much of it is an engaging and informative autobiography. In 1975, as the Vietnam War is ending, Tyler Willet, the protagonist, makes a career choice to leave his bland sales job to become a professional soldier in the U.S. Army. His decision shocks his wife, Nancy, but he commits before he tells her. There is no going back. Then Bogdan’s book goes on to give us a step by step of Willet’s professional advancement from being a grunt where he is given the nickname “Gramps” by his fellow soldiers because he is 28 and most of them are still in their late teens. In his intro, Bogdan tells us that his present golf buddies told him he should write down his “tales.” They were right. We follow Willet from his entrance into this rigorous world, basic training, officer training, and then his career in tanks where he eventually earns the rank of captain.

Each chapter is a “tale” that must have thrilled his pals during their waiting time on the golf course. They must have burst out laughing continually, as I certainly did while reading. The war was over, so there are no famous battles fought; just rising in the ranks was battle enough. We meet his training buddies, and amid a muddy ten-mile march, they pass a tank coming the other way. At that moment Willet realized he’d rather “ride than walk” and decides to aim for tank training. He excels in every facet of instruction and mock battles. Not having served, I appreciated getting a picture of what professional military life is all about. It’s rough, and one needs a sense of humor. As we ride along with Willet, we laugh and cringe a lot at the mud, at falls from airplanes, at rats in toilets—snakes too—at G.I.s drunk on AWOL in strip clubs, at tanks "waltzing" and climbing mountains in reverse gear, convoys on the German autobahn, and visits with British nurses helping with fake injuries. We learn about the strains of raising a family in the service, but most of all we meet a dedicated pro whose interest is in career, not in storming pillboxes, at least not real ones. Grunt, Gramps & Tanks is straightforward, engaging, educational, and funny as hell.

Scott Cahan

Grunts, Gramps, & Tanks by Rick Bogdan is a collection of stories about one soldier’s life in the US Army from 1975 until 1984. The book comes across as a memoir recounting the life experiences of the central character, Tyler Willet, although the author gives no indication of whether his stories are true or fiction. The constant struggle of balancing his military career with having a family is one of the main themes that is explored. Another focus is Tyler’s bumpy ride along the road of success as he works his way from lowly private to seasoned tank commander. The third theme that was prominent throughout the book was the camaraderie that existed between Tyler and his fellow soldiers.

Although Grunts, Gramps, & Tanks has no overarching drama to connect the stories, it is still quite enjoyable as a loose biography, true or not. Author Rick Bogdan did a great job of keeping the stories down to earth and very real. There is plenty of military lingo included but it never felt overly technical or jargon-heavy. Rather, the stories seem to have been written in such a way that any reader can connect with them, military or not. Anyone who has been in the military or has lived with someone who has served will certainly find plenty to love in this book. However, the non-military reader such as myself will also enjoy this book immensely. It pulls back the Hollywood facade and shows us the reality of military life; the good, the bad, and the ugly. I highly recommend Grunts, Gramps, & Tanks for anyone who enjoys a well-written military memoir/biography. Prior experience with the military is definitely not required.

Lesley Jones

A few days before Independence Day 1975, 28-year-old Tyler Gordon Willett left his job at Henry C. Lytton and Co. headquarters in downtown Chicago to enlist in the US Army. Tyler hoped the military would give him the stability he needed to take care of his young wife Nancy and son Sean. Follow his personal story in Grunts, Gramps & Tanks by Rick Bogdan with tales from the unforgettable Drill Sergeants, military commanders, and non-commissioned officers from July 1975 to June 1984. Each story highlights their hilarious pranks and escapades, the camaraderie between the soldiers, and the brutal conflicts they endured. In each story, there are important life lessons around resilience and determination, the dynamics of the relationships between the soldiers, and the domestic strife between a husband and wife who are both trying to come to terms with change.

Grunts, Gramps & Tanks by Rick Bogdan is such a brutally honest depiction of military life from the perspective of soldiers, their superiors, and their partners. There are also so many important and inspiring lessons to be gained. I thought Tyler's determination to succeed and provide for his family was really moving. The soldiers' antics were so funny, especially when they broke out of the camp to visit a bar and were punished severely and the rat in the toilet scene. Tyler's journey through the military also highlighted that we all have pivotal people that come into our lives to either teach us a valuable lesson or help us accomplish certain goals; one of these important people for Tyler was Matteson. I thought the support the soldiers gave each other was incredibly moving and gave civilians such a valuable insight into military life. The entire book was extremely compelling and the inclusion of the Willett's Bullets at the end was superb; my favorite was, 'Stop trying to nail jelly to a tree.' A very powerful analogy.

Joe Wisinski

Grunts, Gramps & Tanks: A Soldier's Tales by Rick Bogdan is a fictional account of life in the post-Vietnam U.S. Army. The book consists of 19 separate stories told over a period of nine years. Each story is connected through the eyes of Tyler Willett from when he was a new enlistee throughout his Army career. Willett’s family also plays a significant role and there are honest insights into how military life affects families. The book interconnects with history, weaving Willet’s story in with actual events such as the continual threat from the then Soviet Union. Because this book is about the U.S. Army, Bogdan uses a fair amount of military terms, but he makes sure to define them. One caveat: As the author notes, there is explicit language and cigarette smoking.

The author had me hooked from the first page when the protagonist joins the army without talking it over with his wife first. I had to find out what happened after that. Grunts, Gramps & Tanks: A Soldier's Tales by Rick Bogdan is a work of fiction, but the author apparently served in the military because the experiences he relates certainly sound authentic. Although I’ve never served, his book gave me an excellent flavor of what it must be like, and that’s what I enjoyed most. He portrays a wide variety of characters, presumably because that’s what the modern U.S. Army looks like. At times his characters are humorous—one soldier reminded me of Gomer Pyle—and that adds to the enjoyment. If you’re at all interested in the armed forces or in history, you’ll enjoy this book.