(Note: I was given a copy of this book for review but my opinions are my own.)
“None of us will be right when we get back home. This war has infected us all . . . It’s like having a monkey on your back. We all carry ‘Nam baboons.”
In the book Curse of the Coloring Book: A Novel Inspired by a True Story, Howard Lloyd recklessly quit college during his sophomore year and enlisted in the army. He bought half a gallon of bourbon and a GI Joe Coloring Book. He took them to his fraternity house so his frat brothers could drink with him and color a page in the coloring book.
Lloyd explained to his friends that when he got to Vietnam and was in a battle with the Viet Cong, he would call upon one of the guaranteed wishes from the ‘magical’ coloring book to protect him.
Luckily, Lloyd survived the war. (Was it because of the coloring book???) He went on to complete law school and to establish his own law firm with his wife as his partner.
But, Lloyd makes a horrendous mistake on one of his cases. That mistake turned into a catastrophic legal-malpractice lawsuit. The stress from the mistake causes Lloyd to have flashbacks to when he served in the Vietnam war. Lloyd turns to alcohol to help him cope with the stress of the malpractice suit — and to cope with his ‘Nam baboons (flashbacks of the war) still clinging to his back.
Lloyd’s wife disapproves of his drinking and tells him to seek help for his flashbacks. Lloyd refuses to stop drinking or to get help — which could cause him to be disbarred and to possibly lose his wife and family.
How will the malpractice lawsuit turn out? Will he win? Lose? End up disbarred? Will his wife leave him? Will he get help for his PTSD?
You’ll have to read the book to see!
I obviously haven’t served in the Vietnam war. However, from reading this book, I feel that Hibbard accurately portrays what it was like for the soldiers there: the oppressive heat of the country, carrying up to 100 pounds of guns and ammo on their backs when out on patrol, the tension of being on patrol and not knowing where the Viet Cong were, the fear of being killed, and having to carryout orders from someone up the chain of command who doesn’t understand the full implications of the order.
Hibbard shows what daily life was like when soldiers were in camp and not on patrol — cleaning guns, living in an underground bunker that’s not high enough to stand in, playing an imaginary game of fly fishing, getting to shower while in the field only once a week (where the shower was just a 5 gallon water can perforated on the bottom and hung from a rack of wooden two-by-fours).
I thought that Hibbard created rich characters in the book — especially the soldiers:
- Ackman couldn’t complete a sentence without emitting a strange involuntary cough (which sounded like ‘ack’) when he was under stress.
- Dogman blamed himself for his friend’s death and vowed to walk point (the first person in a military formation and who is the most exposed person) until he went home and refused to speak. His method of communication was barking like a dog.
- LeMare was a hairy, 260-pound French-Canadian from Maine who twisted his arm hairs into little points and set them aflame.
- Ferlinghetti was an Italian who would read poems out loud from a book to everybody.
- Jones bit his fingernails until they were mere stubs and would constantly pull out a notebook to write down what people said and did.
- Perlman, with long black hair, was a non-practicing Jew from Boston who attended Harvard before fighting in Vietnam. Perlman became Lloyd’s best friend.
This story is based on Hibbard’s (the author’s) war experience in Vietnam. He enlisted in the army in 1967. When he was discharged, he was a paratrooper and a first lieutenant combat platoon leader. Some of the medals he received include two Bronze Stars, an Oak Leaf Cluster, and an Army Commendation Medal.
Hibbard went on to complete law school and practice as an attorney for 34 years. During that time, he attempted to turn his back on his Vietnam experiences and his anger at the resentment by the American public of Vietnam veterans sacrifice. With the help of his wife and the veterans services and writing this novel, Hibbard was able to come to grips with his PTSD.
Mr. Hibbard, I want to personally thank you for your service in the Vietnam War. I appreciate your willingness to serve in our country’s armed services. I know that my small thanks will not remove the war horrors that your experienced or the disdain that the American public had for the Vietnam vets.
But thank you anyway. From the bottom of my heart.