When a woman dressed as a 45-rpm record met an Army grunt in fatigues at a Boise costume party in the late 1970s they had no idea how apropos their choice of costumes would become.The man in fatigues was Grady C. Myers, a newspaper artist and returned Vietnam veteran regaling party-goers with wartime tales. The record was Julie Titone, a features editor at the Boise Statesman who’d never heard someone talk so openly about fighting in Vietnam.
“Most of the men I knew did not go. The few who did go just did not talk about it,” says Titone, director of communications for the Washington State University College of Education. “The fact that (his stories) weren’t all dark and gloomy and painful was intriguing, to say the least.”
Titone asked Myers if she could write down his vivid memories and he agreed. Together they produced a manuscript, a marriage and a son. Myers illustrated the book with new drawings as the sketch book he’d kept during the war was lost in a jungle ambush.
They sent the manuscript to agents and publishers but were met with rejection. People don’t want to read about Vietnam, they were told. It was painful for the country. Americans wanted to move on. The couple put the book in a box and moved on.
Fast forward to 2009. Titone and Myers had divorced but remained friends. Myers was in ill health in a Boise nursing home. The National Veterans Art Museum had collected illustrations from his time in Vietnam and friends suggested he needed a new project. Titone brought him the manuscript. From his bed he created new artwork and added more details to his story, which Titone writes, “stuck to his brain like the red tropical dirt that stuck to his body.”
“He called it ‘a time of intensive living,’ ” she says of his nearly 18 months in the service from 1968-69.
Myers was an aimless Boise teenager when he signed up for the draft in 1968. The Army overlooked his extreme nearsightedness, gave him the nickname “Hoss,” and armed him with a 23-pound M-60 machine gun. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds suffered during a 1969 ambush in the Plei Trap Valley.
He came home, he said, “with a permanently floppy foot and a shoulder that rarely stopped hurting.”
Myers died at age 61 in July 2011 and Titone felt more than ever the book should be published. After briefly trying to interest agents, she self-published “Boocoo Dinky Dow, My Short, Crazy Vietnam War.” The title is from the French word “beaucoup,” for many or much, and “dien cai dau” the Vietnamese word for crazy.
She envisioned that finishing the book would end a chapter of her life, she says. Instead it began another. Response from veterans is carrying the book forward.
“They really appreciate the fact that their experience is being acknowledged. Many of them tell me they hadn’t talked about the experience because they thought people didn’t want to talk about it,” says Titone, who, along with Grady, also worked at The Spokesman-Review.
Veterans talk to her about being spat upon, literally or figuratively, when they returned from Vietnam.
“The war was unpopular and by extension the soldiers were unpopular,” she says. “Society had not been able to separate feelings about the war from young people sent to fight the war. That’s really changed.”
In Myers’ absence Titone has a veteran read from “Boocoo Dinky Dow” at book signings. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, D’Wayne Hodgin will read from the book at a signing at BookPeople of Moscow. The Moscow man was assigned to a U.S. Army engineering unit in Vietnam and is retired from the University of Idaho where he worked as a writer and once taught an honors course on the war.
The U.S. is marking the 50th year commemoration of the war and Titone recently learned the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America is going to review the book. Titone thinks Myers, like her, would be gratified to know his story has inspired veterans of many wars to share theirs.
if you go
What: Author Julie Titone reading and signing “BooCoo Dinky Dow, My Short, Crazy Vietnam War”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: BookPeople of Moscow, 521 S. Main St., Moscow
More upcoming signings:
– 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at And Books Too in Clarkston
– 10 a.m. Nov. 10 at The Bookie at Washington State University in Pullman