This book is the latest in a spate of self-published books that have been coming my way from the United States. However, this one stands out because it is stylistically very different from the others. In this case the author, Bob Lonn, seems to have largely transcribed a series of intimate brotherly chats with his older sibling, Ken. There is a warm familiarity in the language used, and their connection seems to strengthen as the story progresses. Their family relationship is steadily heightened by their shared experiences in the United States Marine Corps, making for a powerful testament to the bond of both brothers and fellow soldiers.
Easy familiarity is all over this book as Bob coaxes recollections from older brother Ken, a veteran of the Korean War. I suspect this may have started out as an exercise to get Ken’s story written down before it was lost. Happily for us, things have gone far beyond that now and we can all share his stories of fighting on the 38th Parallel. As with many old warriors, Ken Lonn has a strong memory for detail and he tells his story in an open and honest fashion, with a frankness that may have been impossible with a different interviewer. Bob Lonn asks all the right questions and it is tempting to assume he did a degree of coaching to get what he wanted from his brother once he knew where he was going.
Ken Lonn takes us from his enlistment through to his time in Korea. There, as we know from other sources, his enemies included the weather, the terrain, poor hygiene, hunger, boredom and a deadly enemy. Getting all that into an order of relevance is clearly something the Lomms had a bit of fun with.
I have been reading a few books on Korea and have enjoyed them all. It seems like a genuinely terrible place to have fought in and I do not envy Ken Lonn at all.
That being said, he’s an admirable figure. He recalls so many people with affection, even when they are associated with the most grueling experiences, and he shrugs off some of the worst memories with a remarkably positive outlook. He is understandably proud of his service, but throughout the book it’s clear that he views life with a healthy sense of humor. I chuckled at his comments about the army, especially on his feelings towards paratroopers.
The style of presentation makes this an unusual book. There is an element of the two men talking over each other and hints of repetition you get when two old acquaintances talk. I almost felt as though I was intruding on their conversation, but in an elegant balancing act between intimacy and accessibility, the reader is not excluded – rather, they are drawn further in. It is inevitable that the worst of times are made light of, to take the sting out of them. There is enough detail to convey the overall picture without having it colored in lurid detail. It is no accident that the Lonn brothers are awash in the spirit of Semper Fi. It is at the heart of their relationship, in the core of their brotherhood, and it elevates the story in many ways.
It is easy for me to recommend this book. It isn’t going to take you long to take in, but the style is something the reader will have accept from the beginning to get the most out of it. Personally, I do like something different and this one definitely fits that description. While many modern commentators mock the state of North Korea’s current government, there was nothing funny about the war fought over half a century ago. The stakes were high, and the risks for the soldiers on the ground even higher. Stories like this help dissipate the enigmatic shroud that surrounds that period, allowing the conflict to escape some of the shadow of WWII. This can only be a good thing.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.
EXCITEMENT! “Shot At and Missed”
Shooting The Bull With My Brother, Ken, Fox Co, 5th Marines – Korean War
By Bob Lonn
ISBN” 978 1 68097 665 6