Tom Crowley did not really want to write his latest book, “Shrapnel Wounds.” After all, the book is a combat memoir and Tom is used to writing adventure novels – like “Murder in the Slaughterhouse,” about which he spoke in October 2014, the last time he visited the Pattaya City Expats Club (PCEC). Tom spoke to the PCEC at their Sunday, November 8 meeting about this latest book.
Tom was born in the American mid-west town of Milwaukee. Tom served in Vietnam during the war in 1966-67. He was wounded and decorated for his service. After years of working as a U.S. Foreign Service officer and then in the intelligence field, he moved to the business world with General Electric, working in various Asian countries. He ended up in Bangkok as a volunteer working for the Mercy Centre, an NGO that helps street children and orphans. His military and government service and on the ground knowledge of Asia provide the source for his action/adventure novels. Tom also wrote Bangkok Pool Blues and Viper’s Tail. His web site is www.tomcrowleybooks.com and he has a Facebook page for “tomcrowleybooks.”
Author Tom Crowley describes for his PCEC audience the reluctance he originally felt in the writing of his latest book, “Shrapnel Wounds.” The book is his memoir about his service as a young lieutenant platoon leader during the Vietnam War.
He said he found the writing difficult, but that books have a life of their own, so eventually it came together. Tom decided to keep it simple and to write from what he called the “grunt point of view” – “grunts” being the term used to describe the everyday soldier at the bottom of the pile.
Tom mentioned there is an “anti-system” tinge to the book. It was not something he intended, but as he wrote he increasingly came to see the mismanagement of the war by the top military leadership. It is said of military leaders, Tom explained, that “if left to write history, they would suffer no defeats.” Further, one prominent U.S. general who wrote a paper claiming that the U.S. was undefeated in Vietnam; even today will never say that the U.S. lost a battle. “But if you can’t admit mistakes, how can you fix them?” Tom asked. The reality, he explained, is that the U.S. lost many battles to an enemy that was better prepared and better motivated. None of this detracts from the courage of the U.S. soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Tom said.
Club Member Richard Smith describes the great time had by PCEC members and guests in attending the Chonburi Buffalo Races as guests of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Pattaya Office which provided transportation, a seaside lunch, and great seating at the event.
Tom describes in the book an incident when an enemy soldier got to within 15 metres of the perimeter of his army camp and left a large sign entreating the U.S. officers and soldiers to go home and leave Vietnam in peace. Incidents like that caused us to think, Tom said. We often asked ourselves, “What are we doing here?” It was a hard question to answer and, “You had to remind yourself that you were called to do your duty, to protect each other, and eventually to go home.”
Halfway through his tour, Tom was moved to a battalion staff officer position. That gave him the right to sleep in his own private quarters; a bit better than sleeping on the ground, but not much. He didn’t want to move from being a platoon leader as he felt he was just really getting to know the job. However, military leadership was treating the war as a training experience for officers, thus after getting 6 months as a platoon leader, it was time for him to do staff work – in other words, get his “ticket punched” so he could continue to move up the military career ladder.
MC Roy Albiston and author Tom Crowley hold up two of his books that he brought with him to the PCEC meeting to autograph and make available for purchase. Tom also mentioned that “Shrapnel Wounds” is available as an eBook.
Tom said that, by and large, Vietnam veterans have received the book well. The same might not be true, he said, of the Army History Foundation (because the book criticizes the military leaders – a reason his publisher decided not to send to them for consideration of receiving one of their awards). Tom mentioned that he was a volunteer to assist with a Library of Congress project of veterans’ history. He felt it was good to get the perspectives of other veterans of the Vietnam War because many are dying off now. Tom said that if he was asked to give advice to someone enlisting today, it would be, “Don’t trust the government. Learn the facts. Think for yourself.”
Club Member Ren Lexander interviews Tom Crowley after his presentation to the PCEC at their Sunday meeting at the Tavern by the Sea Restaurant. To view the video, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKBPjrnX5eA.
“Shrapnel Wounds” has been widely praised by critics. Dwight Jon Zimmerman, President of the Military Writers Society of America, and a New York Times bestselling author, said: “What he does extraordinarily well is reveal the depth of personal commitment a junior officer can have for men under his command and their welfare. It is a personal story profoundly told. A brilliant effort.”
After the presentation, MC Roy Albiston brought everyone up to date on upcoming events and called on Judith Edmonds to conduct the Open Forum, where questions are asked and answered about Expat living in Thailand, especially Pattaya.
For more information on the PCEC’s many activities, visit their website at www.pcecclub.org.