[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]
The Funny Thing About War by Al Campo is part fictional War story and part autobiography. It is the story of a young, 22 year old man called to duty in the Navy and then sent to Southeast Asia as a crewman on a Destroyer conducting fire missions up and down the coast of North and South Vietnam.
The book itself is 413 pages of text separated into eleven chapters. Because it is ostensibly a work of fiction there is no bibliography or index. It is clear though that some research went into the work as well as memory. There are some minor grammar and editing errors scattered throughout but they do not detract from the story and I did not find them distracting or annoying.
The story itself is unique because to my knowledge there are very few personal accounts of the war in Vietnam from the perspective of enlisted naval crewmen of the blue water navy. This is actually an area of the war that probably deserves more scrutiny than it gets because it is overshadowed by the drama of the bombing campaign and ground fighting inside Vietnam.
There is an authenticity to the narrative that is refreshing. Essentially it is the story of one man who gives up the chance to be an officer and then must serve out his obligation as an enlisted man. The descriptions of life aboard ship are both interesting and illuminating. I can imagine that shipboard life is fairly monotonous and that is reflected in the tale. Campo does an able job of describing life on a ship and giving the reader a sense of how stressful and mind numbingly boring it can be at the same time. A good portion of the book, close to half by my reckoning, is taken up with descriptions of liberties in various ports. That makes sense if you think about it because port calls is where most of the variation in a sailors life comes from. Especially enlightening to me was the description of the racial tensions of the time and the protagonist’s run-ins with it.
All in all this is an engaging story about an aspect of the war in Vietnam that has been largely ignored in both historiography and fiction. It is a tale worth telling and a tale worth reading. I did not find the story to be extremely compelling or a page turner but I did want to find out what happened to the main character, which kept me reading. This a good but not great book that I have no problem recommending to those interested in the Vietnam war and the naval aspects of the fighting.