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Vietnam Thoughts, Anonymous in Name Only : Under a pseudonym, a retired Air Force colonel from Huntington Beach taps common experiences with a fictional trilogy based on his war years.

BOOKS & AUTHORS / ORANGE COUNTY

January 17, 1995|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He survives the Viet Cong takeover of an American firebase and helps lead a tiny band of survivors through the jungle to safety.

Along the way, he witnesses not only Viet Cong atrocities of unmentionable brutality, but also the humanity of South Vietnamese villagers who give up their lives in order to keep him and his American compatriots hidden from the enemy.

McCarthy's the name: Dr. M.J. McCarthy, the U.S. Air Force combat flight surgeon who is the heroic, 24-year-old protagonist of "To Lay Down One's Life for You, Brother"--and the book's middle-aged author.

Dr. M.J. McCarthy, however, is the pseudonym for the retired Air Force colonel who lives in Huntington Beach and prefers to maintain his anonymity. The book, he said, is a fictionalized account of his Vietnam War experiences.

"What I'm writing about is so hurtful, and the memories are so abhorrent at times, what I have to do is have a standoff persona," said McCarthy, 49, a highly decorated veteran who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. "If I had written it as myself, it would not have been written."

"To Lay Down One's Life for You, Brother" ($12.95) is published by Spread the Word Publishing of Costa Mesa, a 1-year-old company created to provide a forum for both new and previously published authors.

McCarthy will be spreading the word about his book at a dinner for 150 people in his honor Friday at the Bel-Air Naval League.

McCarthy said he wrote the book for several reasons.

One was to "cleanse" his "own soul of all the devils" that have been hiding in his mind all these years, "which is not to be taken lightly as cliche, but as a very factual statement that the majority of combat veterans have seen so many horrors and witnessed so much death and mayhem that they callous their minds to hide these things," he said.

"The book was written so that other veterans may feel comfortable in the understanding that finally a fellow--actually a Vietnam brother--is opening up. The candor and the honesty in the book (are tools) to be used as a therapeutic means for them to lift the burden off themselves."

McCarthy said he also wrote the book to show the Vietnamese "as a cultured, sensitive race of people who, even out in the bush, far away from what we consider civilization, were willing--at the cost of their own lives--to ensure the safety of those that were fighting for their country."

In writing his novel, McCarthy said, he hoped "to get beyond the stereotypical image" of both the GIs and the South Vietnamese as portrayed in the movies: the image of the GI as dope addict, drunk or mass murderer, and the Vietnamese as prostitutes, pickpockets and black marketeers.

An expatriate of Wales, McCarthy studied at Oxford and Edinburgh universities. Within 45 days of immigrating to America in 1968, the newly minted surgeon received his pre-induction notice. He was sworn into the Air Force as a commissioned medical officer.

McCarthy said he gave no thought to returning to Great Britain to avoid induction. He said he had always wanted to live in the United States--"I love this country more than most people I know"--and, if being subject to the draft was a requirement for being an American citizen, he said, he was more than willing to accept it.

McCarthy said his service in Vietnam gave him "a greater appreciation of what it's like to be an American. It gave me perspective and (a sense of) balance to what democracy is all about, and what it did to me was, it exposed me to the finest of Americans under the most difficult circumstances."

The novel grew out of McCarthy's meeting two years ago with Charles E. Bailey, then editor in chief of Donovan Publishing in Newport Beach.

McCarthy said he and Bailey, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a Vietnam veteran, used to sit and chat about their Vietnam war experiences. "At one point, (Bailey) said, 'You ought to write down this stuff.' "

Bailey is now associate publisher of Spread the Word Publishing.

Since "To Lay Down One's Life for You, Brother" was published last year, McCarthy said, he has received letters from numerous mothers who lost their sons in the war, thanking him for "letting them understand what their sons must have gone through and the pride that (had) been brought back to themselves."

He was also asked to speak at several local Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations last year.

"To Lay Down One's Life for You, Brother" contains a unique feature: In the back of the book--spanning 225 pages--is a listing of the names of the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam.

"My mission with this book is almost literally to speak for the 58,000-plus names in the back of the book who can't speak for themselves," he said. "I always premise my presentations with the fact that we . . . need to bring to the attention of the public the sacrifice that was made to guarantee democracy in both countries, Vietnam and the United States."

"To Lay Down One's Life for You, Brother" is the first in a trilogy of books by McCarthy.

"You Are Not Forgotten," about American POWs, is expected to be published by the same company later this year, the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.

The third book, "Broken Body, Bruised Soul," will be about sustaining severe injuries during the war and the process of recovery and rehabilitation.

Each book, McCarthy said, is written as a "therapeutic aid" for other Vietnam veterans.

"The whole point is to share the experience," he said. "It's almost a way to have vicarious group therapy."

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