48th Trans Group
6th Trans Battalion
A Bad Attitude Pays Off
By David A. Willson
Note: David Willson, author of three Vietnam-era books, In the Army Now, The REMF Diary and The REMF Returns, wrote this review of A Bad Attitude for the Viet Nam War Generation Journal, Vol 2 Number 3/4, April 2003. It appears here with David's permission.
I was doing a Google search on my name, David A. Willson, and I blundered into a short review of REMF Diary by Dennis Mansker on his website. In this entry Dennis states that REMF Diary was an inspiration for him to write his novel, A Bad Attitude. I immediately emailed Dennis and he told me in his response, "I ran across a copy of REMF Diary and its sequel in a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore here in Olympia, about seven years ago. I had pretty much given up on the idea of writing my Vietnam Book by that time, since Vietnam fiction seemed to be overly concentrated on the blood-and-guts-blow-stuff-up kind of story that, as a REMF, I really couldn't write with any kind of finesse. Then, when I read your two books, I realized there might be some broader interest in REMF fiction, so I started writing again."
I was eager to read A Bad Attitude so I was thrilled when Dennis offered to send me a copy. A few days later it arrived in the mail, and I unwrapped it. The guy looking out at me from the elegant black and white cover looked just like me in 1966 in Vietnam so I felt an immediate connection with the book, even though Dennis was in Vietnam in 1969. Close enough for government work. And the character on the cover (Dennis himself) projected well the bad attitude of the title. I immediately started reading the book and two days later I was done. Remember, this is a book of over 600 pages. I loved it. Not only is the book well-edited and beautifully packaged, it's well written. I've read most all of the Vietnam War novels, hundreds and hundreds of them, and there are only a dozen or so REMF novels.
I'm predisposed to give REMF novels the benefit of a doubt, but A Bad Attitude didn't need this treatment. The cover stinks of authenticity. The whole book does. It's not a phony book like so many Vietnam War novels. Dennis has all the smells and sounds of the Vietnam War down perfectly. His portrayal of the process of shit burning is the best I've ever read, better even than mine and works well within the thrust of the novel which functions as a kind of a mystery. A Bad Attitude has lots of mystery and even more menace, which are necessary, I think to a blackly comic Vietnam War novel. The main character, SP Farnsworth, company clerk of the 345th Transportation Company, Thu Duc, Republic of Vietnam, is the great strength of the book, but Dennis also managed to bring all of the other characters to life, too, including the Vietnamese and African-American characters, who are not shadowy figures occupying the edges, but who are right in the center of the life of this book. I had some trouble with that in my REMF trilogy. I'm such a self-absorbed loner that I didn't really manage to get to know anybody at all well in the time I was in Vietnam, so I struggled to create characters.
I loved every bit of A Bad Attitude. Dennis has written an astonishing book, the best of the REMF books, and I think it's one of the dozen best novels set in the Vietnam War. He created a bunch of believable and interesting characters (I loved PFC Virgil "Mongo" Lloyd) and some great bad guys who were totally familiar to me from my 21 months in the Army.
The language is in many ways the strongest aspect of the novel. Dennis didn't load the book with the post-Vietnam War cliché stuff, and the language is just right for young men of this time and place. I know, I was there, and I wrote it all down. I didn't spot any anachronisms either. The stuff about the USARV HQ really interested me as I'd worked in that building just down the hall from General Westmoreland for a few months.
As the blurb on the back cover honestly states: "See the other side of the Vietnam War: Draftees versus lifers, the Saigon black market, deteriorating race relations, and the deadly 1968 race riot at Long Binh Jail." What else can I say? This is the REMF novel I tried to write, but didn't manage to get written. Buy it and read it! You won't regret it.
Be sure to see the other reviews as well.