Review: In An Empty Room, A Sad Look At The Atrocities Of War

Review: In An Empty Room, A Sad Look At The Atrocities Of War

Stephen Spotte dropped me off into the inhospitable, unwelcome jungle of Vietnam and put me directly in harm’s way. Luckily, a Marine infantry ‘grunt’ squad would serve as my companions, my family. I’d get to know them well. From the start, I felt the slightest bit of adrenaline begin to slowly ooze through my body. Not a nightmare, I was once again ‘back’ in the bush. Danger lurked behind every rice paddy.

In An Empty Room: A Novel by Stephen Spotte

This narrative spoke to the debacle of how our country had suffered terribly in trying to bring democracy to the people of Vietnam. The chapters were titled with the name of the character, in this case, the Marine rifleman who would be pitching the scene. It made for easier transitions with reading. Spotte recognized that squad members were from different parts of the USA and connected them with colorful use of their local accent and slang. This provided more realism to the storyline. All of the characters were well-drawn.

Living every moment on the edge took its toll, always fearful that the next step taken might set off a camouflaged IED. The author suggested that sending a squad of grunts out into the bush was a suicide mission, a roll of the dice. To that I most certainly agree. Fully exposed while humping through rice paddies and VC villages, they were nothing more than moving targets. Their only hope was not to be at the wrong place… As it turned out, destiny was in the waiting for these young Americans at another place within that god-forsaken country.

Orders from the higher-ups, the military brass who enjoyed their stay in comfy air-conditioned offices miles away, called for a sweep of a village for weapons and contraband. In the military when an order is issued no matter how absurd it may seem, it’s followed to the letter. Orders of this type were regularly issued knowing that there’d be casualties. Sad.

When the squad arrived, the village was occupied with only women and children, a sure sign that it was a VC stronghold. Any one of them could have been the enemy. Age or gender was never a factor; it was always a crapshoot no matter where you were. The suspect villagers were herded to a central location where they would be carefully watched. Fear was etched amongst their faces and for good reason. The deadly fireworks show was about to begin.

The rifle squad got underway with their search and destroy mission. If there were any weapons or if anything else seemed out of place, it would go up in flames. Toward the end of their search, they wound up at a hooch and soon discovered a trapdoor hidden in the dirt. One of the squad members heedlessly opened it unaware of the dire consequences that lay ahead. It had been booby-trapped. The earth trembled from the explosion.

Days later, the only survivor regained consciousness in a hospital in Hamburg, Germany. His body, what was left of it that is, had been ravaged by the horrific blast. He required many skin grafts. In toll, half his fingers, all of his toes, both ears and nose had been lost. As if that wasn’t enough, his ability of speech was gone. A steady drip of morphine was his frontline to sanity for combating the never-ending, excruciating pain that would be his steady companion for the rest of his life. He thought, ‘is this what you call being a survivor?’

Months later, he had finally recovered enough to where he could be discharged and sent home. He’d be on full disability which would provide just barely enough to get by on. Home sweet home was waiting in West Virginia in a small mining town called Scalded Creek.

There were no brass bands or welcome mats laid out for him upon his arrival. It was like he had taken a step back in time, nothing had changed. Now, when he really needed someone the most, there was no one. His face was so badly disfigured that he was unrecognizable by those that had once known him. Though it didn’t really matter, he wasn’t the same person as before he had left for the war. Nowhere near. Like many returning Vietnam vets that had returned not whole, he needed to find a reason to go on. Surely, there had to be one. Somewhere.

Paul Falk
Paul Falk

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IN AN EMPTY ROOM by Stephen Spotte