Gunning for Ho: Vietnam Stories, by H. Lee Barnes, University of Nevada Press, 2000, $15.
Written by Vietnam veteran H. Lee Barnes, Gunning for Ho is a compendium of short fiction that focuses more on the war’s meaning and impact than its action-filled moments. The collection opens with an improbable tale of a baseball game played between American soldiers and a North Vietnamese unit in the A Shau Valley. The Americans are clearly the more talented of the two teams, but circumstances dictate that they play the game the “Vietnamese way.” The game does not end in regulation time and it is obvious that the North Vietnamese do not “get it.” But it apparently does not matter whether they do, since they are dictating the rules of the game. The Americans make the better plays, but their leaders have gotten them into a different game than the one they expected. It becomes evident that the story is a metaphor for the war itself.
Each of the subsequent stories reveals other aspects of the war–the experiences of a soldier returning home, the motivations and actions of a tunnel rat, a POW’s indomitable spirit, the anguish of a father whose son is missing in action. Anyone with children will be drawn to the latter story, in which uncertainty and pain come to dominate a man’s life. It is the book’s most moving segment, but different readers will be drawn to different stories. These tales tell us a lot about the people who served, what motivated them and the price they and their families paid. Two of the stories seem to get lost in their allegory but are enjoyable nonetheless.
The University of Nevada published this book as part of its Western Literature series. It is not for everyone. If continuous action or exposés are your thing, then this book may not appeal to you. However, if you enjoy well-written stories of the human experience, then Gunning for Ho will provide a good read. It isn’t perfect, but at 156 pages it isn’t overly long either.
A combat veteran who served with the U.S. Army Special Forces, Barnes has produced a collection of stories with the feel of authenticity that can only come from someone who was there. Readers interested in compelling fictional accounts of the war should give it a try.
U.S. Navy Captain Carl Schuster (ret.)