Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior: A Personal Story of a Vietnam Veteran Who Lost His Legs but Found His Soul by Allen Clark

Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior: A Personal Story of a Vietnam Veteran Who Lost His Legs but Found His SoulBy ALLEN CLARK

Reviewed: Janet Morrison

Nonfiction (memoir), bibliography, index, 320 pp., 2007. Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, Galtier Plaza, Suite 200, 380 Jackson Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-3885, $24.95 plus shipping.

The title of this book attracted my attention. I had just finished reading a memoir of another Vietnam veteran and was ready to read a second one while still in that mood. Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior immediately drew me in as it opens at the defining moment in Allen Clark’s life – 4:30 a.m. on June 17, 1967, at the Special Forces camp at Dak To, Vietnam – when a North Vietnamese mortar attack resulted in the eventual loss of both of Clark’s legs.

Mr. Clark weaves the story of his life by smoothly moving from Vietnam back to his days as a West Point cadet, back to the war, and then returning to his life before Vietnam. Throughout the book he makes the connection between how his early life prepared (or did not prepare) him for his life-changing wounds in the war and how everything that has happened to him since June 17, 1967, can be tied back to his experiences on and shortly after that day.

One theme that surfaces numerous times in the book is the lifelong influence West Point has had on Mr. Clark’s life. There is a bond among the cadets and former cadets that never failed to give the author an emotional boost when it was most needed, or helped pave the way for a career move when that was desired. This bond goes far beyond actual classmates, but spreads throughout West Point alumni. Mr. Clark describes it as a bond like no other. It is a true caring about one another.

Without being “preachy,” Mr. Clark’s overriding purpose in writing this book is to share his spiritual journey since that fateful day in 1967. He admits putting God on the back burner while at West Point. It wasn’t until his second amputation that religion became of increased interest to him. He speaks of the power of prayer. His search for a close relationship with God led him to reflect on the decisions in his life such as volunteering for duty in Vietnam, such as transferring from the Army Corps of Engineers to military intelligence, and such as requesting to be attached to a Special Forces (Green Beret) unit.

Mr. Clark talks about some of the things he learned about the Vietnamese people. He talks about how isolated he felt as an intelligence officer in the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos meet because there was no one with whom he could discuss his mission. He talks about the Montagnards and the assistance many of them gave the US troops. (Incidentally, did you know that there are 15 different groups/tribes that are Montagnards?)

The book includes the struggle many – if not all – American Vietnam veterans and their loved ones and survivors have had to come to grips with: Was my sacrifice worth it? Mr. Clark describes a turning point in his grappling with that question after a chance conversation with Bill Moyers.

Reading this book gave me a better appreciation for what amputees go through – the excruciating pain, the months that their injured limbs must in some cases be in traction to stretch the skin over their raw stumps, the months of painful rehabilitation, and transitions through increasingly useful prostheses.

One thing that I especially liked about this book was how Mr. Clark involved the other people in his life. By inviting family members, fellow soldiers, medics, and friends to write their memories of the various events in his life, Mr. Clark lets the reader see those events from several points of view.

Without giving away the amazing path Mr. Clark’s life has taken since his physical recovery, let me just say that his true character comes through as he chronicles the surprising and rewarding twists and turns of his career and some of the famous people with whom he has “rubbed elbows” as he has worked for the better care and treatment of our American veterans.

In his book, Mr. Clark talks about the various kinds of healing he has experienced since June 17, 1967, and some of the soul-searching questions he has wrestled with along his journey of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. His journey continues.

Janet Morrison
Our History Project Reviewer & Freelance writer

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