Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Filtered By Time...a book worth reading

My cousin, Robert Faulkender, served two tours in Vietnam.

One evening in the mid-1990s I was sitting in his living room, near Atlanta, and happened to mention a television project I had worked on that aired on the CBS network.

The letters “CBS” was the last thing Bob heard me say before his gaze drifted off into space and he disconnected from the conversation.

As I continued my comments to his wife, Luanne, Bob sat next to her on the sofa, distracted and glowering. A moment later he muttered something, “Those sons of bitches.”

Luanne nodded toward her husband and said, “Bob won’t watch CBS. Don’t even mention it or you’ll get him started.”

“You got that right,” he said. “Those little piss-ants came down to our district to do some filming. I led them around the Village and showed them what was going on. I answered their questions and filled them in on what we were trying to accomplish…And then they went back to New York and lied.”

Luanne put her hand on Bob’s knee. “Calm down. There’s no reason to let yourself get worked up about it now.”

“There were five of us assigned to that district. We had a bottle with a little brandy in it and a few cigars that we saved for occasions. They smoked our cigars and drank up our liquor and then lied about us.”

That was the evening that Bob Faulkender told me that “someday” he was going to write a book that told the real story of Vietnam.

Well, “someday” has arrived.

His book, Filtered By Time, just came out. And while Bob Faulkender is neither the first guy to be lied about in the news, nor the last, he is one of the few who have attempted to set the record straight. And, doggone, he did a fine job of it. I work in a bookstore. I read more than most people, and I got into this and couldn’t put it down.

Filtered By Time is the true account of Robert Faulkender’s first tour of duty in 1964, when he went over as part of the Kennedy “adviser” program. This was about a year before all hell broke loose. He doesn’t attempt to write the complete word on the Vietnam War. But, in terms of a focused, narrow look at a specific slice of that war, it succeeds fully. It is the record of five American soldiers sent to Vung Liem, Vietnam, to organize the locals and in the midst of a guerrilla war. I had a blast reading it only partly because I’m related to the guy who wrote it and there is some pride involved.

In real life Robert Faulkender, Lt. Colonel, retired, has done more things than ten other people put together; hitch hiking around the country in the early 1950s, The US Military Academy class of ‘57, hiking in the Rockies, Ranger School, Vietnam, assignments with foreign governments, tossed into an Afghan jail, world figures, beautiful women, exotic locales… You name it. Put your finger on any spot of the globe. If he hasn’t been there, he’s been close by. I remember my Mother trying to get me to study harder in Spanish class by telling me, “Bobby Faulkender can speak six other languages. You ought to be able to handle just one.”

On top of everything else, Bob is a terrific story teller. Raconteur, I believe, is the 50 cent word. Reading Filtered By Time is like sitting across a table listening to him spin yarns over after dinner drinks. The book is by turns, exciting, funny, informative, and personally revealing.

In writing the book, Bob was advised not to use real names. Thus, Bob renamed himself in the book “Ed Skillman” in honor of our grandfather, Spanish-American War vet and real-life Texas cowboy. Other than that the author’s notes clearly state “The Vietnam events in this book actually occurred.”

While some sequences have the feel of a detached reporting of events, others are very suspenseful or wryly humorous, told with a practiced story-teller's charm. The sketches of people were truly impressive, by far my favorite aspect of the book. They form a warmly human parade of beautifully drawn faces. We meet the province “chief”, an old man who at first seems no match for the Viet Cong, but as the story continues we begin to see from his perspective and he emerges as a crafty old fox. We meet an Indiana farm girl, working for the Department of Agriculture. She’s a handsome, confident young woman who has learned, maybe the hard way, to guard her heart. We meet a trained VC assassin, cut down to size, captured by the local militia and now scared to death. We meet a middle aged German-born US soldier who is using his leave to journey to a small village to look for the young Vietnamese girl he has fallen in love with. We meet American diplomats and bureaucrats, some serious and dedicated, some just putting in their time. And everywhere there are flocks of children. All are memorable people well portrayed.

Strangely, the descriptions of most of the other guys in the unit seem a little too surface by comparison. We get to know them, "K.C." in particular, but not too closely. I got the feeling that Captain Skillman was operating on a different awareness level than the others. I don’t know whether this was intentional or not.

The picture of how the War was being fought at that period of time is interesting. For instance, following a shoot out, we learn that a near-by three-man South Vietnamese guard tower is equipped with only one rifle. One of the other guards carried a sword in case he needed it, but that’s it. I will not spoil Bob’s story by telling you the job of the third guard. He definitely had a job, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it was, and it was a doozy.

Then there is the dark side, the Big Questions that after a while begins to nag in the back of his mind: Is the US government truly committed to winning? Are the American citizens supportive? What he sees and what he hears from official channels does not make him comfortable.

Filtered By Time
is not an action-hero book. There are fire fights and tense scenes regarding an assassin or guerilla attacks, but there are no Hollywood action scenes. At one point Captain Skillman hits a landmine that puts him in a military hospital in the Philippines for a month. I remember when that incident happened and the concerns of my parents for Bob. This book is about real men in a real place getting shot at with real bullets. They are doing a job that ultimately turns out to be thankless. This is not “Rambo”. To the contrary, there is a surprising amount of “nation building” involved; new schools, new market place, improved roads, functioning medical facility, and the like. Bob displays a surprising amount of zeal in guiding this. And, he offers an interesting commentary on that, too, later in the book. Along the way he ponders “productivity”, “capitalism” and “self-help”, and “street-gang politics”.

Something else, too: the book has a strong sub-text. In its pages we see notes from a lab-test on social structure and human nature in the raw. What happens in a community when people no longer can count on their own government to protect them from violence? In what ways do bribery and corruption at the national level affect things locally? How can young men be induced to join a force that is fighting against their own families and their own people? Is individual freedom necessary in order for the common people to achieve prosperity?

Filtered By Time
is a good read and offers a lot to ponder.

One more thing: the CBS News team that started this whole project? That incident is given throw-away treatment, less than a page. After the build-up I was sure Bob would bang on those guys with a vengeance, but he didn’t. He didn't even mention the brandy.

To order a copy of Filtered By Time, you'll find it available directly from iUniverse at 1-800-Authors. Use ISBN #978-0-595-52888-2 or at by clicking here: