18 May 2008

18. Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers follows the narrator, seventeen year old Richie, from high school graduation in the heart of New York City to the Viet Nam war. Like other African-American youth, Richie had his reasons for joining the military. One thing was sure, like many others, Richie had no idea what was in store. Rich in descriptive narrative and emotion, Myers provides an authentic account of the experiences of many.
As I began this book, I was concerned that the war would be sugar-coated, that the author would not be able to convey how awful it was - for the young men fighting and dying, for the families at home, for the Vietnamese. I graduated from high school in 1971 and people I knew would serve and die. People I knew would come home to a country that did not see them as heroes. Some people I knew came home, but never left Viet Nam. I didn't want these stories to be trivialized. I wanted to read about what I already knew and hope that young adults today would learn some truths from the book. I was not disappointed.

I would like to share a few passages that were meaningful for me. After one of the first battles, Richie writes:
We began coming down, but it wasn't easy: stepping around the bodies, turning away from the stench, from the reality of the death around us. I stopped for a moment to look at the bodies of two old men, their arms around each other in death. I saw them even after I turned away. We could have killed as easily as we mourned. We could have burned as easily as we put out the fires. We were scared, on the very edge of control, at once trying to think of what was right to do and hating the scene about us. I think, if Simpson [the Captain] hadn't been there, it would have been worse. Much worse. He calmed us down, brought us back to ourselve. He let us be human again; in all the inhumanity about us, he let us be human again. p. 178

Finally Richie is able to write to his little brother. It must have been very difficult for the soldiers who felt this way in the midst of a war:
I just told him that the war was about us killing people and about people killing us, and I couldn't see much more to it. Maybe there were times when it was right. I had thought that this was was right, but it was only right from a distance. Maybe when we all got back to the World and everybody thought we were heroes for winning it, then it would seem right from there. Or maybe if I made it back and I got old I would think back on it and it would seem right from there. But when the killing started, there was no right or wrong except in the way you did your job, except int he way that you were part of the killing. pp. 269-270

And finally, after being thanked for saving another soldier's life, a soldier says:
We're all dead over here. We're all dead and just hoping that we come back to life when we get into the World again. p. 300

Some came back to life and some did not. It was a difficult war. Black and white served together, suffered together, and hopefully learned something they needed to know about the other. Meyer brings in the civil rights issues of the time, the sadness, the pride, the sorrow. Excellent book.

TITLE: Fallen Angels

AUTHOR: Walter Dean Myers
PAGES: 309
TYPE: Fiction
RECOMMEND: Absolutely, everyone should read this

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