Vietnam veterans look back in anger on their wartime experiences, but Fixler, who endured one of the bloodiest battles of the war, isn’t one of them. The gruesome 77 days he spent defending an isolated hilltop near the border with North Vietnam forms the core of this nostalgic memoir. Growing up in a predominately middle-class Jewish neighborhood, Fixler was dazzled by his father’s stories of WWII and volunteered for Vietnam to earn his respect. As a teen, Fixler got into his fair share of trouble and that cockiness seeps into these pages. Arrival at the Marine Corps’ Parris Island boot camp is compared to “being thrown into a Nazi concentration camp.” He celebrates his sexual escapades and never sugarcoats the nasty business of war; he’d do “everything again in heartbeat.” Yet as wistful as he is about the “discipline” and “camaraderie” of the Corps, he’s unrelenting in his scorn for the soldiers who return in psychological pieces, suggesting that soldiers should just get used to killing. Nowhere near the league of We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, Fixler is nonetheless an intriguing, rare bird: a man who survived “hell in the raw” without a trace of trauma–or remorse.
Copyright 2011 PWxyz, LLC
Most books about Vietnam (e.g., The Things They Carried, Born on the Fourth of July) would not be described as optimistic. Despite its upbeat title, Barry Fixler’s Semper Cool isn’t all that optimistic, either. It’s an unabashedly honest memoir without a trace of touchy-feely sentiment.
Fixler grew up in suburban Long Island, New York, as a privileged troublemaker. Though he never wanted for anything—by age sixteen he had a horse, two cars, and a motorcycle—he was determined to be cool, which led to joy rides, petty theft, and the occasional fistfight. Seemingly the only thing he respected were the Marines, whom he learned about through his father’s World War II stories. They made an impression: Without telling his parents, Fixler joined the Marines as a high school senior. “I wasn’t a bad kid,” Fixler writes, “but I just had this gut feeling that I needed more discipline, and I wanted excitement and adventure.”
Later he adds, “All I thought about was adventure and surviving boot camp. I almost forgot the part after that: we all go off to war.” And he did, spending 1967 and 1968 in Vietnam. Most of the book recounts that time, with the best parts focusing on the massive uncertainty and terror surrounding preparation and combat time.
Regarding boot camp at Parris Island, Fixler recalls that he and his fellow recruits were “so bewildered and isolated from the civilian world that it was easy to imagine [drill sergeants] killing us and getting away with it.” As an experienced Marine during the epic, gruesome battle at Khe Sanh, Fixler faces an impossible task: leading a new wave of green, scared Marines that replaced the injured and the dead. “In no way could I show fear to the new guys. I had to raise my confidence to a new level,” he writes. “Those guys picked up on that real fast, and pretty soon, the ones who survived, they talked the same [way].”
Fixler also writes extensively about his life after Vietnam, which includes foiling an armed robbery attempt at his jewelry store and raising funds to treat a Marine who was nearly killed in Iraq. The self-congratulatory tone of those tales somewhat deflates the book’s raw energy and emotion, but it doesn’t tarnish an amazing accomplishment: Fixler entered a gruesome war and emerged as a physically and emotionally whole patriot.
Copyright 2011 Foreword Reviews
Semper Cool: One Marine’s Fond Memories of Vietnam is the true-life memoir of a Vietnam veteran. Author Barry Fixler enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a teenager; he experienced terrible violence and hand-to-hand combat at the Siege of Khe Sanh, and gives the reader a boots-on-the-ground view of war. Yet he had positive as well as negative experiences, and ultimately the hardships he endured shaped him into a patriotic American. His story is captivating, inspirational, and unflinching in its chronicle of the good, the bad, and the ugly of war. Through the Barry Fixler Foundation, the author seeks to raise at least one million dollars to benefit physically wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – one hundred percent of the author’s royalties from “Semper Cool” will be donated to this worthy cause.
Copyright 2011 Midwest Book Review
MILITARY WRITERS SOCIETY OF AMERICA
SEMPER COOL is an outstanding account of the author’s experiences as a Marine in Viet Nam in 1967–1968, and how those experiences have affected his post-war life. Fixler takes a refreshingly positive and matter-of-fact approach in telling his story. He doesn’t gloss over the evils and terror of the war, but addresses them in a way that makes the events real to the reader, yet easy to read. Being a survivor of Khe Sanh certainly gives the author the distinction and credibility of being able to tell a story that few others are around with the insight to tell. The fact that Fixler is to this day still proud of being a Marine and proud of his country is effectively conveyed and gives SEMPER COOL a positive flow that I liked. He also is very effective in relating how the experiences from being a Marine, and perhaps more specifically, one who served and survived in Viet Nam, have had a significant influence on his reactions to a few recent events in his life.
This book is very well presented. I enjoyed reading it and recommend it to everyone who is interested in learning more about the battle of Khe Sanh, what a Marine’s life was like in the Viet Nam war, and to all who consider themselves genuine military history buffs.
Review by Bob Doerr, MWSA Reviewer (January 2011). Copyright 2011 Military Writers Society of America
Barry Fixler seems to have loved every minute of his time in the U.S. Marine Corps, including sustained vicious combat in Vietnam. The book’s cover photo, for one thing, shows him grinning widely as he cradles the skull of an NVA soldier. That fondness for war is the overriding message in Fixler’s memoir, Semper Cool: One Marine’s Fond Memories of Vietnam (Exalt Press New York, 320 pp., $25.95). Fixler joined the Marines at eighteen just of of high school after a trouble-making adolescence. He thrived in the Marine Corps, including during his time in the thick of things at Khe Sanh. His blunt recreating of his war-time experiences is well done and evocative.
Fixler is on less solid ground, though, with his views on post-traumatic stress disorder. Fixler says he simply “doesn’t believe in” PTSD, and goes on to imply that war veterans would be fine if they emulated what he did when he came home and “went on with life.” His advice on how to prevent PTSD among U.S. Military Academy graduates in the future: “When we kill a bad guy in Iraq, when we blow their skulls apart, we should freeze that body and send it to West Point and scatter it around so you smell the blood and the horror and get used to fighting that way. If you’re fighting with blood and dead Iraqis all over the place, it will be nothing. That’s what needs to be done. Period.” Fixler is donating the book’s proceeds to wounded veterans. His website is www.sempercool.com
Review by Marc Leepson, Book Editor, VVA Veteran. Copyright 2011 Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.
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