Sons of My Father: Michael Simpson: Reminding Us of our country
In the present we get to know Ron, Michael and their close friend Alex Granger who along with Ron is somewhat of an upstart you might say. Loyal to Ron but yet never surprising readers with his pranks, strong armed ways and of course at times making Michael feel out of place. Their antics become well known, their trouble they get into while in the armed forces at times might get them in the brig or with some type of court martial yet when Michael is attacked at a dance when he innocently asked Diane, who he likes to dance, they rally around him making sure the bullies meet with their just desserts. Diane broke up with Chuck and even though he has a new girlfriend he seems bent on destroying Michael’s interest in her any violent way he can. Michael is the head lifeguard at the beach and Diane is one of the guards.
In the past we meet Baylis, Ulysses and Milton who takes along with them. He’s a teacher and has lost his job. As they travel together they realize they might be from different worlds but have much in common.
When they finally reach their destination Ulysses and Baylis ask to rejoin their regiments to fight and Milton decides to become a missionary of some sort to help the people who have lost families and loved ones. But, when a guard starts to kill and maim those he feels are deserters, the Captain who Milton knows along with Baylis and Ulysses make their point in a very graphic and poignant way.
In the present we learn more about Ron and his stint in the army trying to learn to fly a specific type of plane. He wants to fly unarmed medavac helicopters during combat. These type of missions and helicopter flights have a high mortality rate but instead Ron finds himself flying a Huey gunship. Both Michael and Ron seem to be fighting personal wars within themselves as each one tries to find a place where he will be recognized in their own way. Remembering the past and what happened to the girl that wound up dead will this ever come out? Michael relished his role as head lifeguard until something happened to change it all.
When Julie Lacey drowned and his friend Kenny froze he tried to save the young girl but blamed himself for the failure. Helping a woman come into the club he realized that his boss was prejudice and quit. As Ron realizes that he would fly a Huey Gunship and was being sent along with his friend Alex to Vietnam. Haunted by what he sees on television and the deaths he witnesses himself, Ron is plagued with nightmares that never seem to go away. Alex finds it different and is more hardened to what happens during this war. Michael and Diane seem close for a time as Ron realizes that his enlistment was not what he expected and something snaps within him and goes back in time to his family’s past and might lose everything in the present.
Baylis and Ulysses and Milton bond in the past and then returning to face the Confederates and hoping to make it home to his family alive. As the rape of his daughter and the murder of his niece as too haunt Baylis the book begins with this incident and the burial of Melissa. Can a soldier find himself questioning is service? “Soldier’s of conscience” who would want that title and want to be called that would Ron?
The Civil War and the Vietnam War should be thought of as Civil Wars as both our nation and that of South and North Vietnam were torn apart. As in the past Baylis and Ulysses fought for the North hoping to defeat the South and the present the Vietnam War that most still feel should not have involved our country at all.
There are many issues that are brought to light within this true story and drama as the family is torn apart at the start and fights to find those who killed his loved ones, family loyalties, star crossed lovers, sense of obligation to your role in the army as opposed to patriotism, and conscience in war and a family secret that has been buried for years.
Two wars fought during two different time periods as Baylis and his son fight a war within the confines of their own country and Alex finds the battles terrifying and the end result if tragic for everyone. Ron realizes that he has found God and can no longer justify fighting in a war and killing people. His actions might cost him more than he is willing to give up as he decides to go AWOL. His family is alerted about this desertion but what will the final outcome be? Will he go across the Canadian border or will he return and face the consequences? Baylis too finds a new meaning in God but no one understands why he would let this carnage happen during both time periods.
Listening to Ron’s plight and meeting Vicki who changes his life will he come home when he learns his mother is ill and in the hospital? While Michael and his family are struggling with cold shoulders and being shunned by friends because of his desertion, Harold his own father loses his and things take on more of a tragic turn. While in the past you can smell the cannonballs, the fire, the death and the stench from the holes that many soldiers find themselves hiding in and taken prisoner.
Author Michael Simpson paints a grim picture but a realistic and true picture of two wars fought by his family members each one a civil war among people that wanted their own type of freedoms. The Bluecoats were dangerous and knowing they wanted to blow up Baylis’s regiment and his men would they be able to stop it before more men died? Alex’s death destroyed Ron in many ways and his mother Ginger seemed to withdraw from life while his mother Carlotta faced a different if not more powerful grief.
Baylis faces the soldiers and those that are captured will be sent to prison until the end of the war but General Sherman shows up and demands that one man be executed. The injustices are many and the fact that his men go along with it makes you understand the cruelties of war first hand as one man takes the bullets for the rest accusing himself of being guilty of a crime that was anything but one. In the present Ron comes home but will he be placed in jail or court marshaled?
Some endings prove to revert back to the beginning as the time line of events in each time periods brings to a close the dramatic end to both wars and what happens to Baylis and his son and then Michael and his family as lives end but some start over but how and where?
There are different ways we honor our country and Ron decided that his was to fly the medvac planes that were unarmed. His decision to state he was a conscientious objector caused him to be denied the right and he left to cross the border to Canada. The ending will explain his fate and Baylis’s convictions that he learned when he did a favor of a Confederate soldier who granted him his freedom in a way he would never forget. The ending brings us full circle to the beginning when Ron, Michael and Alex were best buds and got into all sorts of trouble as they relate the story to someone. “ I do solemnly swear in the presence of the Almighty God that I will henceforth and forever faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of States thereunder…” as Baylis made his sons take it to understand the meaning of loyalty to your country. This is a great reminder of what everyone needs to remember today. The documents added, the letters at the end and the pictures bring the story full circle and to life thanks to author Michael Simpsons and the Sons of My Father. As Ron explains the rationale behind the Vietnam War and is feelings about why it was about time to end it and go home. A true story of two wars that cost too many lives.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine