In praise of American Boys
"Louise Esola has shed new light on a tragic chapter of the Vietnam War. She has dug deeply into an accident at sea that took the lives of 74 young American sailors and has told their stories brilliantly! American Boys is worth your attention."
--Joseph L. Galloway, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once...and Young
“With Louise Esola’s powerful storytelling, American Boys uncovers a lost chapter of history full of grace and determination. A compelling read.”
--Gregory A. Freeman, bestselling author of Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It
“Louise Esola has done a remarkable job of research in putting together this forgotten story of 74 young men who lost their lives on the USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War. Ms. Esola, writing with conviction and compassion, does a long-neglected service to the memories of those killed in the line of duty. As a Vietnam War veteran myself, I salute Louise Esola and all those who have given their time and energy to keep alive the memories of the fallen.”
--Bestselling author and Vietnam veteran Nelson DeMille
“With stellar reporting and strong writing, Louise Esola has rescued a largely forgotten incident of the Vietnam War: the sinking of the destroyer Frank E. Evans in 1969. “American Boys” traces the sailors from hometowns across America to their service aboard the ill-fated ship, giving the sailors the respect that their country has denied them. “American Boys” could easily become a classic story of men and war.”
--Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
"This is the story of one of the greatest--still unresolved--tragedies of the Vietnam War, one the U.S. Navy has pretended had nothing to do with it. American Boys explores the realities of Vietnam naval operations and, in evocative prose and stunning detail, it reports the sinking of the American destroyer Frank E. Evans, along with the decades-long struggle of survivors and families to get the Navy to acknowledge the truth of the matter. This book should be read and those Evans sailors commemorated."
--John Prados, bestselling author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975
“Louise Esola’s finely-wrought account of a Vietnam-era disaster at sea and its unending impact on the drowned sailors’ loved ones will echo in your mind long after you’ve put it down. This beautiful, heart-breaking book should be required reading at the Pentagon and the White House.”
--Jack Cheevers, author of “Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo.”
“American Boys is an important story, beautifully told. Long after you finish this book, you will remember the men of the USS Frank E. Evans, and understand why the fight to include the names of its 74 lost crew members continues.”
--Kristen Graham, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist with the Philadelphia Inquirer
American Boys: The True Story of the Lost 74 of the Vietnam War
9780996057400, $19.99, www.louiseesola.com
American Boys: The True Story of the Lost 74 of the Vietnam War is recommended for military collections and any interested in Vietnam War events. Now, there are hundreds and hundreds of books on Vietnam events and the market's nearly saturated with every possible approach, from memoir to social and political analysis; so what sets American Boys apart from the ranks and makes it a recommended read?
For one thing, it focuses on a little-covered segment of the war: the sinking of the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans off the coast of Vietnam; a tragedy that killed 74 Americans. Plenty died in battle, mishaps, and all kinds of events during the siege: what makes this different is that the U.S. government then denied that they actually died in the war and, furthermore, kept their names off the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
American Boys probes this event, its lasting impact on family and friends, and, especially, why the U.S. government chose to try to suppress the circumstances surrounding the Frank E. Evans' sinking by burying the truth and memories of those who lost their lives.
Chapters read with the drama and urgency of fiction as they cover people, events, and the creation, purpose, and politics behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In a way, American Boys is as much about the Memorial and its underlying meaning as it is about those who lost their lives and weren't acknowledged; and this is one of the reasons why the book is so important.
Where other books would cover the Memorial's objectives and success, this one documents one of its failures. Where others would gather information from historic record, Louise Esola probed declassified documents from a number of sources, from the National Archives, and Naval History and Heritage Command to The Nixon Library and beyond in an effort to set the record straight about whose names appeared on the Memorial and who were left out.
Where others might argue about those 74 lives and draftees who gave their lives under different conditions (and were commended for their service), American Boys pinpoints why omissions occur and the politics behind them. In particular, it focuses on the circumstances that dictated that the tragedy surrounding the Evans occurred in waters not designated by the U.S. Government as a "combat zone" of the Vietnam War and, therefore, made these men ineligible for the memorial tribute.
All of this history could too easily have taken the form of a dry tome, accessible only to the most passionate of military scholars. The fact that Esola employs a semi-fictional device to personalize the lives of those lost is commendable, making American Boys available to a far wider audience of non-military-history readers who will find it a lively, involving account: "Just two months into his first overseas deployment, Stever longed for home. He hoped Nixon could do something about the war he'd heard so much about as a student at California State in Los Angeles, this war he now watched from a distance, firing away with a combination of excitement and dread, past the flickering lights of the compartment and the shouting of coordinates over the noisy radios, at targets he couldn't see or hear."
It's a 'you are there' feel rare in nonfiction, and it's a device that succeeds in involving readers far more than sets of data could have achieved.
Louise Esola is self-publishing this account after years of struggle with publishers and agents to have it see the light of day. Because there is so much information surrounding Vietnam history and events, apparently it's a challenge to publish anything more on the subject; let alone in a format that reads like fiction but embraces the facts of nonfiction.
For readers born after the war and its immediate impact, American Boys provides a solid set of personal insights. There's a lot of important information on 'why the wall', and 'why names were included or omitted': "A decade drifted by; they woke to a new one. People were saying the war had been a waste, a mistake, a wrong turn in the fog. "Was there a point when the looming collision might have been averted?" one Vietnam War historian would ask. Rhetorically and with no answer. And now two women found themselves woven into the droves of mothers and sisters, brothers and wives, children and fathers, descending upon Washington in the fall of 1982. All of them longing for meaning, for a chapter that would close the book. Something that memorialized their loss in a war nobody wanted to remember. Something that said: This all really happened. There'd been nothing like that. Nothing. Nowhere. And then came the wall."
Those seeking just a set of dry facts and dates may argue with the passion here but there are plenty of books packed with dry history and too few that bring that history alive for readers; much less focus upon a handful of individuals who were never recognized for their sacrifices.
American Boys is that rare offering, and deserves its own commendation as a piece of powerful research into a segment of Vietnam history that many have tried to bury over the decades...one that deserves to not be forgotten.
Released into the wild two weeks early by mega-retailer Barnes and Noble, American Boys made it to the 90th slot in the top-selling books within 24 hours--and has remained in the top 500 since the August 19th debut. In that time, American Boys also passed Karl Marlantes's "Matterhorn" as the top selling Vietnam War book available.