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Robert Kunkel
Author
Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Robert "Bob" Kunkel entered the U.S. Army as a young farm boy from Minnesota. He spent a year in Vietnam with the 5th/7th Cavalry, 1st Infantry (AirMobile). He emerged a very different and much older man. This memoir is his story, one of many thousands that could be told of that tumultuous time. It is a compelling read, and it likely will change your perceptions of the Vietnam War, and of soldiering.
Reviews
Michael Tidemann, via Tri-County News

This is one amazing book.

Walking Point by Minnesota author Robert Kunkel is a soldier’s-eye view of the horrors of war and how one year forever changed the life of a Minnesota farm boy.

Robert Kunkel grew up on a farm on Pearl Lake in central Minnesota. Far away from the jungles and heat and war in South Vietnam, little did he know how the war would change him. But it did.

This is not a book for the squeamish. The difference between Kunkel’s book and other classic Vietnam War memoirs, such as A Rumor of War is that Kunkel saw more direct action in one tour than did probably many soldiers who went to Vietnam.

“This is a view of the common soldier who saw and lived a short portion of the Vietnam War,” Kunkel said in vast understatement at the beginning of his memoir. “I do not believe there is ever a good war. If one has to label a war as being bad, Vietnam falls deeply within the criteria of a bad war.”

Kunkel nearly died in Vietnam and took some lives himself, events he admits will be “forever etched in my mind.”

After being severely wounded, something in Kunkel changed. After a long recuperation in the hospital from injuries, and even though Kunkel’s captain later said he should have been sent home to the States, Kunkel found himself back in Vietnam in yet another firefight.

“I knelt on one knee, pulled up to shoot but pulled my gun down. Kloemken ran up beside me and was aiming his rifle at them as they fled. I grabbed his rifle and pulled it down. He yelled at me, ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ I knelt there, dumbfounded. I didn’t have a clue why I didn’t shoot, or why I pulled his rifle down. My actions were impulsive and puzzling.”

Like many who had seen action, Kunkel returned home, feeling out of place. For a time, he even considered reenlisting. Years later, diagnosed with PTSD, he finally began to come to terms with the war in which he had fought and which had aged him 20 years in one.

This is the ultimate Vietnam War memoir, written by someone who fought in it and was lucky enough to return. Kunkel’s gripping prose has the intensity and focus that only one who has seen war can convey.

Walking Point is available from the author, in the Tri-County News office on Main Street in downtown Kimball, and on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Kunkel’s next scheduled local talk and book-signing is Feb. 28 at the Sauk Centre Public Library.

—Michael Tidemann

 

Published in the Tri-County News in Kimball, Minn., Kunkel’s hometown newspaper, Dec. 20, 2018. After being published in the Faribault Daily News (Minn.) this review was featured on vietnamveterannews.com, an online blog.

Michael Tidemann is a freelance journalist, writer, and college instructor. He writes book reviews for 100+ Midwestern newspapers.

Vietnam Veterans of America Books in Review II

As many war veterans have done before him, Robert Kunkel has created a memoir based on short stories he wrote to try to free his mind of haunting memories that caused post-traumatic stress disorder. Along with his own serious physical wounds, Kunkel had several friends killed in action, which ingrained his brain cells with psychological scars for an eternity, he says.

“There are thousands of stories like mine, but each is very different because of perception and what was in the mind at the time of an encounter, whatever that encounter may have been,”  Kunkel notes in Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir (Thunderbrook, 479 pp. $18.95, paper; $7.95, Kindle).

Bob Kunkel is a savvy guy. His recollections of infantry life are as informative as any Vietnam War memoir I have read. A stickler for detail, he presents an unfiltered view of what took place in his own mind and speculates about the thoughts of others. His descriptions of combat, suffering, and death leave little to the imagination. His stories describe meaningful encounters on and off the battlefield. Bad actors generally receive a comeuppance.

At the same time, many of Kunkel’s stories are humorous. He labels laughter as “a smokescreen to keep from crying.”

He primarily served with B Company, 5th/7th Cavalry in the 1st Cavalry Division, operating out of Camp Radcliff near An Khê. The men of his company were determinedly aggressive against the NVA and Viet Cong during Operations Irving and Thayer in Binh Dinh Province in September and October 1966. The Americans relocated hamlet populations, burned hooches, destroyed food sources, and pursued the enemy with a take-no-prisoners policy. Kunkel reveals both heroics and atrocities performed by his company.

Drafted into the Army earlier that year at the relatively advanced age of twenty-two, Kunkel frequently assumed the role of platoon spokesman by differentiating between what had to be done and what was illogical. He counterbalanced a borderline wise-ass attitude by volunteering for dangerous tasks such as walking point and clearing underground bunkers as a tunnel rat. He was devoted to his fellow soldiers.

In his first large-scale battle, Kunkel suffered wounds to his head, back, and buttocks. Evacuated to Japan, he spent three painful months convalescing and then willingly returned to the field. Eventually the company commander recognized Kunkel’s inability to carry a full pack due to muscle damage and moved him to guard duty—a job that turned out to be more dynamic than expected.

For several years after returning to civilian life, Kunkel struggled to establish a purpose for his existence. Eventually, he found a “marriage and career made for him,” he explains.

Kunkel spent eighteen years writing Walking Point. He started it in 1999 after retiring from a thirty-three year law-enforcement career. Jean Doran Matua—who owns, publishes, and edits the Tri-County News in Minnesota—helped him with editing and designing the book.

The author’s website is walkingpoint.us

—Henry Zeybel

Published by Vietnam Veterans of America Books in Review II online at vvabooks.wordpress.com, posted Jan. 7, 2019.

News
12/19/2018
'Walking Point' an intense and gripping memoir

This is one amazing book.

“Walking Point” by Minnesota author Robert Kunkel is a soldier’s-eye view of the horrors of war and how one year forever changed the life of a Minnesota farm boy.

Robert Kunkel grew up on a farm on Pearl Lake in central Minnesota. Far away from the jungles and heat and war in South Vietnam, little did he know how the war would change him. But it did.

This is not a book for the squeamish. The difference between Kunkel’s book and other classic Vietnam War memoirs, such as “A Rumor of War,” is that Kunkel saw more direct action in one tour than did probably many soldiers who went to Vietnam.

“This is a view of the common soldier who saw and lived a short portion of the Vietnam War,” Kunkel said in vast understatement at the beginning of his memoir. “I do not believe there is ever a good war. If one has to label a war as being bad, Vietnam falls deeply within the criteria of a bad war.”

Kunkel nearly died in Vietnam and took some lives himself, events he admits will be “forever etched in my mind.”

After being severely wounded himself, something in Kunkel changed. After a long recuperation in the hospital from injuries, Kunkel’s captain said should have sent him back to the states, Kunkel found himself in another firefight:

“I knelt on one knee, pulled up to shoot but pulled my gun down. Kloemken ran up beside me and was aiming his rifle at them as they fled. I grabbed his rifle and pulled it down. He yelled at me, ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ I knelt there, dumbfounded. I didn’t have a clue why I didn’t shoot, or why I pulled his rifle down. My actions were impulsive and puzzling.”

Like many who had seen action, Kunkel returned home, feeling out of place. For a time, he even considered reenlisting. Years later, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he finally began to come to terms with the war in which he had fought and which had aged him 20 years in one.

This is the ultimate Vietnam War memoir, written by someone who fought in it and was lucky enough to return. Kunkel’s gripping prose has the intensity and focus that only one who has seen war can convey.

Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. His author page is amazon.com/author/michaeltidemann.

11/15/2018
Kimball alum, author to speak at Kimball Library

KHS alumnus Bob Kunkel, originally of Pearl Lake, spent parts of 18 years writing a memoir  of his year in Vietnam. Originally intended as a legacy to leave for his grandchildren, it was published as a nearly 400-page book. Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir is available for purchase on amazon.com, at the Tri-County News office, or directly from Bob.

An interview aired with Bob on the Arvig cable show “Around the Corner” this week (cable channel 14), and it’s already receiving aclaim.

Bob will be at the Kimball Public Library from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, to speak about his experiences, the process of writing the book, and to answer questions. He also will have copies of Walking Point for sale, and can sign your copy if you already have one. Dates at other area libraries are upcoming.

You can find a link to the “Around the Corner” interview on the Walking Point Facebook page.

11/01/2018
Kunkel interview to be aired on TV

Local veteran and author Bob Kunkel (left) was interviewed by Shalon Wilber of Arvig TV Friday afternoon at Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre. (Eagle’s Healing Nest is a non-profit organization that provides real-life services to veterans in need, including housing and therapy, focusing on the invisible wounds of war. Learn more about them at eagleshealingnest.org.) The interview will air Veterans Day, Nov. 11, on Arvig TV channel 14. Kunkel is also scheduled for a talk and book-signing at Kimball Public Library Monday afternoon, Nov. 26.

Kunkel’s book, Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir is an account of his year in Vietnam. It’s selling well on Amazon.com and it’s available for sale from Kunkel directly, or at the Tri-County News office. Staff photo by Jean Doran Matua.

10/18/2018
Leigh Lenzmeier 5-minute review of "Walking Point"

This week Leigh Lenzmeier shares Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir, by Robert Kunkel

"Bob Kunkel grew up in a large, Catholic family on a dairy farm in central Minnesota. Although he was older than some draftees, at 22, he was still young and relatively innocent. But not for long.
Kunkel recounts his experiences with so much detail that the reader can feel and smell the steamy jungle. He brings you right along with him. His story is much more than a collection of details, however. His military experience was largely mundane routine, spiced with dramatic and dangerous moments and anecdotal incidents, recounted with a dry sense of humor. Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster of a read."

12/27/2018
Minnesota Vietnam Vet penned gripping memoir

Episode 1345 Vietnam Veteran News Podcast will feature a story from [Kimball], Minnesotaabout Vietnam Vet Robert Kunkel. He recently published a gripping book titled Walking Point about his experiences with the 5/7th Cav, 1st Cav Division in Vietnam.

The story about Robert Kunkel and his book appeared in The Faribault Daily News of titled: ‘Walking Point’ an intense and gripping memoir. It was submitted by Michael Tidemann, a guest columnist to the publication.

Robert Kunkel grew up on a farm on Pearl Lake in central Minnesota. His family raised dairy cows, beef cattle, and pigs. Bob was right in the middle of 11 siblings, with five older and five younger. He had three sisters and seven brothers, one of whom was a Catholic priest. In 1966, at age 22, Bob’s draft number came up and he would be training for the infantryby the end of that year. He went to Vietnam and served with the 1st Cav Division.

Bob credits his survival to superb Army training, and he relied heavily on prayer especially while in Vietnam. He returned home during a tumultuous time in America, and he eventually found his path: law enforcement was the perfect career for him. As he prepared for retirement, haunting memories from Vietnam bothered him more and more. Psychiatric help for his PTSD started him jotting down some of the details that filled his thoughts, and that was the beginning 18 years ago of his  memoir book. His Vietnam experiences as an infantry soldier still haunt him, but he feels that he can cope with them better now. Bob is retired and lives in a home he built on a lake not far from where he grew up. He and his wife Eileen raised four children, and are active in the lives of their four grandchildren.

Listen to episode 1345 and discover more about Vietnam Vet Robert Kunkel and his book Walking Point

08/15/2018
PTSD therapy evolved into published book

Eileen (Wagner) Kunkel has stood by Bob through thick and thin. She’s happy he stuck with his memoir project.

By Jean Doran Matua, Editor

Bob Kunkel of Kimball retired in 1999 from a busy career as a  Stearns County Sheriff’s Deputy. That’s when he noticed it most. Thoughts and remembrances from his year in the infantry in Vietnam flooded his mind. But this began as soon as he returned home from Vietnam.

At first, it was the sound of military-style helicopters, with their wop-wop-wop sound. In Vietnam, they were heard constantly.

Most nights they pulled guard duty, sleeping for a few hours and taking watch the rest of the night. At night it was quiet, Kunkel explains, except for strange noises. They learned to be vigilant to the extra-strange sounds, and any foreign noise was something to be alarmed about.

After coming home, things he saw or heard or words people would say could trigger unwanted thoughts. After he retired, Kunkel was overwhelmed with them. “In your mind, you’re right there again in Vietnam,” he says.

“It was more like an invasion into your mind,” Kunkel says. And it’s not always war issues that are brought to the surface in an instant. “Anything uncomfortable in your life can be brought back.

“I used to take [PTSD] pretty lightly,” Kunkel admits. “I didn’t know what it was until I had it.”

At his unit’s first reunion, he and his closest remaining buddy got to talking privately. He confessed then that he thought PTSD was fabricated. “Don’t say that. It’s real,” his buddy who had been through many of the same experiences as Kunkel told him. This friend got so bad he walked away from his job, and just lay in bed; it had taken him about eight months to get through the heaviest of it.

So when Kunkel felt overwhelmed himself, he sought help through the VA in St. Cloud and he started seeing psychiatrists and therapists trained in Vietnam-era PTSD. It started with making notes of things to talk to the first psychiatrist about. He began elaborating on some of the notes and had to force himself to get back to just making notes. One incident brought up another and the list grew until he had pages full of it. In his first year of therapy, Kunkel says, he had a lot to list. That list became the outline of what, on and off for 18 years, became a memoir to leave for his children and grandchildren. That memoir is now a published book, released just last week.

Today, Kunkel strongly encourages anyone in a similar situation to seek help. Go to the VA. Tell them what you’re feeling and they will get you into a program that can benefit you.

The story Kunkel tells is not at all like you see in the movies where it’s one exciting battle scene after another. In reality, there was an awful lot of boredom in the waiting time between those exciting moments.

Unlike the replacement troops that came in later in the war, and were dispersed to various units, Kunkel trained and served with the same unit. That made it harder, he says, when you make a good friend and that friend gets killed. The natural response is to stop trying to make friends with the new guys.

Kunkel is critical of some in the upper echelons in the Army. As a soldier, you didn’t know what their goal was but you had to move forward with it. Some were glory-happy, others just poor leaders who made mistakes. One lieutenant in particular, Kunkel believes based on what he ordered Kunkel to do, wanted to get him shot. There are things he intentionally leaves out of his book, too so as not to hurt the feelings of others. Overall, he feels, he served with good, dedicated people.

Kunkel met Tri-County News editor and publisher Jean Matua when she did a story about new information revealed about the Kimball Post Office bombing in 1976 that identified Kunkel as possibly the intended victim of that crime. When he mentioned he was working on a memoir of his year in Vietnam, Matua offered to edit it, sensing already that it was an important project that needed to be shared. Little did she know then that it would consume about a year and a half of her life editing and preparing the manuscript for publishing. She started a new company to publish it herself, Thunderbrook Publishing.

Now that the book is published, both their roles are shifting to publicizing and marketing the finished book. Watch for book-signings in the area in the coming months.

Those who have read Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir report that it’s hard to put down. Indeed, there’s an unexpected twist around every corner. Other than the fact that he survived being wounded, you wouldn’t guess some of what Kunkel experiences in Vietnam.

Kunkel recalls these events with great detail, but also with a sense of humor. It’s easy to be pulled into the story right away. It’s not at all a chronology or biography, but rather how he remembers these events.

One of the differences between war movies and real life is that movies are filmed on a controlled set, everything goes as scripted and planned. Real life in Vietnam meant that a sense of order diminishes as soon as the action starts. He credits his intense training for keeping him and others in his unit alive; he feels they were better prepared than most.

“I feel like I completed a chapter in my life that started when I retired,” Kunkel says of having his book published now. “It occupied much of my life.”

Kunkel spent about 18 years on his memoir, mostly during the winter months.

Now that this big project is done, perhaps he’ll have more time to enjoy some of his favorite things: playing cribbage with his two brothers, hunting and fishing, and enjoying quiet time at their cabin up North.

Kunkel met Eileen Wagner just months before he was drafted, in 1966. She knew of him; the Kimball area is a small community, really. They mostly got to know each other through writing after he left for the Army.

When she learned he had been wounded, she made a phone call to his hospital in Japan. Back then, remember, making such a phone call was a major ordeal.

She was among those who met Kunkel at the airport when he returned. He was a different man after his experiences in Vietnam. It was maybe that guy, she says, she got to know after he came home. They dated for about a year before marrying and raising a family.

Bob has a strong, type A personality, Eileen says. She believes that’s part of how he got through his PTSD; he’s able to control some of it.

One lingering effect of his two months in the hospital in Japan at Christmas time: he can’t stand the materialism of Christmas, and won’t put up lights or do shopping; that’s all left up to Eileen. And there’s one Christmas song in particular that he really can’t stand to hear. You’ll just have to read the book to see which song that is.

Eileen is very happy that he completed the memoir and now the book, saying it was therapy for him. She just wonders why it took him so long.

Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir is available for purchase at Amazon.com. Versions for Kindle and Nook will soon be available as well. There are a few copies for sale at the Tri-County News office, and Bob will have copies with him at book-signings and appearances. The book is a total of 480 riveting pages with 71 images.

09/26/2018
Successful event for local author

As young men, Bob Mobley, Bob Kunkel, and Tom Mathies all boarded a bus in St. Cloud heading for Army boot camp. Though separated after training, they are still good friends 50-some years later. Staff photo by Jean Doran Matua.

By Jean Doran Matua, Editor

A book-signing event was held with local author Bob Kunkel Friday evening, Sept. 21, at Triple R Grill & Bar in Kimball.

Well over a hundred people came to greet Kunkel and have him sign their books. The side room at Triple R was filled with people most of the time, with lots of reminiscing among old and new friends.

Among those who turned out were two of Kunkel’s Army boot camp buddies, Bob Mumford and Tom Mathies. Both are mentioned in the book, but you’ll have to read about their exploits there.

A big “thanks” to everyone who came out to make Kunkel’s very first publicity event such a great success!

If you missed it, you can still get a copy of “Walking Point: A Vietnam Memoir” on Amazon.com, from the author, or at the Tri-County News office.

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