I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Reflections of Valour by James Elsener. Not only was it written by one of the veterans I’ve interviewed, but the story just seemed very real to me. It begins in 1988 when Brenda Kiley visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, with her family and sees the name of her old lover, John Briggs, on the wall. Their romance began in 1965 when she was a student at Mary Washington College and he was a Marine from the other side of the tracks at Camp Lejeune. Their relationship blossoms over the next few months, with Briggs frequently making the trip up the I-95 corridor to visit Brenda at Mary Washington, until he makes the fateful decision to extend his enlistment and do a tour in Vietnam.
From there, the story shifts to Vietnam to cover Briggs’ wartime experience. I thought it painted an insightful picture of what life was like for a young Marine, far from home, doing his best to live up to his expectations and the expectations of the Corps. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the day-to-day activities and conversations of the Marines, carving out pecking orders and analyzing the ability and motivations of their officers. My sense is these are the same conversations that combatants have had for centuries and will continue to have as long as there is war.
As Brenda looks back at what her life might have been with John, it made me wonder just how many Brendas and Johns are out there, their lives forever altered by war. To explore Brenda’s and John’s lives further, check them out in Reflections of Valour, which is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I did!