Cherries<br/>A Vietnam War Novel

Author: John Podlaski
Publisher: John Podlaski
Published: 2010-04-20
Editor: Barbara Battestilli
Illustrator: Nicole Patrick
Language(s): English
Category: Fiction
Audience: Adult, Youth (13 to 17)
Genre(s): Military & Espionage, War, Historical Fiction Read Excerpt >

What others are saying about Cherries: “With striking detail and brutal honesty, Cherries is nothing if not compelling. Every bit as gritty and shocking as can be imagined, Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel is a refreshingly honest account of a life few of us would ever choose to live - and, thus, should feel fortunate that we don't have to. A highly recommended read.” - Karynda Lewis, Apex Review “As an avid reader of many historical memoirs, both fiction and autobiographical, rarely have I found one as in depth and revealing as Mr. Podlaski's work....undoubtedly this scene is occurring today with veterans returning from the Middle East. By reading Cherries, you will get the knowledge and feel of what it was like in Vietnam, stories that many memoirs of this war collectively failed to mention! Cherries is a highly recommended read!” -Bernie Weisz, Vietnam War historian “The author is a terrific storyteller. This book flows so well, you will not be able to go to sleep without reading the next chapter. Podlaski has you in the palm of his hand.” -William E. Peterson, Missions of Fire and Mercy “Once I started reading John's Cherries, I could not put it down - intense, provocative, mesmerizing, emotional, and heartfelt. You will feel as if you are right there in the platoon with the grunts as they live through the terrors, the dangers, the trials and tribulations, and sometimes the joys and humor of being at and in war. One `read' will not be enough. You will want to pass through the pages of `Cherries' more than once just to savor the up close and personal story again.” -Jerry Kunnath, author “I could never have written this amazing book. When I told my story, I had to fill it full of the emotion I felt but never expressed in Vietnam. Podlaski, on the other hand, managed to stay true to the original experience by telling his story with little or no emotion. The effect is that Cherries is an excellent primer for students of the Vietnam War that are interested in the grunt experience. The last chapter alone is well worth the price of this book.” -Terry P. Rizzoli, The Second Tour “Podlaski takes readers on a gritty, visceral tour of 'Nam through the eyes and lives of the men who fought the war and who, at any given moment could be thrust into harm’s way. We are right there with his characters on patrol, setting up claymores, walking point, and above all trying to stay alive. This is the day-to-day life story of the men who started out as "cherries" and tried to stay alive.” -Jeffrey Miller, War Remains “I am not a person who generally reads war novels, but I really could not put this book down. I read it twice! The author takes you along on the journey where you get to watch the main character grow from a scared young kid just out of high school into a savvy, skilled leader in the span of a year, and he helps you to understand how it happens.” -Janet Shupe “I just finished reading Cherries. I could so relate to many things in this well written novel. I know what it is like to see so many lose their life. I helped carry them out onto the choppers. My 3rd week over in the "Nam" we were choppered in on helicopters to be a blocking force. Four hours later, we went from 250 or so to only 79. The rest were killed or wounded. It was hard for me to get through this book due to the tears that brought back so many similar episodes.” -Joel Lee Russell, Escaping Death’s Sting ~~~~~ Cherries By John Podlaski Amazon Kindle Edition Copyright  2010 John Podlaski ISBN: 978-1-4528-7981-9 Barbara Battestilli, Copy / Content Editor Editorial Coordination by Janice J. Podlaski Revised Edition Interior design by Nicole A. Podlaski Cover design by Donna Casey License Notes: This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only, and may not be re-sold or passed on for others to read. If you would like to share this e-book with people, please purchase an additional copy for each of them. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Author's note: While Cherries is largely a work of fiction, many of the events and anecdotes described in the novel are based upon the actual experiences of the author. The places and units mentioned were real and did exist. All characters portrayed are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events, and locales, are entirely coincidental. Acknowledgements: I would like to thank all who have encouraged me to complete this novel, your persistence, and faith in me kept my spirit alive. A special thanks to Cherries Editor, Barbara Battestilli, and cover designer, Donna Casey - their hard work, attention to detail, and patience has made Cherries what it is today. I am also deeply indebted to my daughter, Nicole, who spent hundreds of hours typing and laying out the interior of this book. Finally, and most importantly, thanks to my wife, Janice - without her love, sacrifices, and support over the years, this work would not exist. Dedication: For Janice and Nicole – Thank you for making my dream come true! Cherries is dedicated to you both. God Bless America’s soldiers – Past, Present, and Future “There’s many a boy here today that looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell.” -General William T. Sherman, Address, 1880 CHAPTER ONE Many U.S. Army personnel began their journey to South Vietnam from the Overseas Processing Terminal in Oakland, California. It was 1970, and just outside the compound, hundreds of hippies and former soldiers picketed and protested against the war. They targeted those soldiers who were dropped off by cabs and heading toward the main gate. Dozens of Military Police officers (MP’s) were holding the protesters at bay and created a clear path through the mob. The crowd tossed flowers at the passing soldiers and chanted loudly for peace. Some in the group pleaded with the new arrivals, trying to convince them to quit the military and refuse to fight in the war. Most soldiers passed through the gates without hesitation; however, a few did stop on occasion to seriously reconsider their options. John Kowalski had passed through the main gate earlier in the day and was wandering through the massive facility, a converted airplane hangar, in search of friends from his Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) Platoon at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The entire training company had received orders for Vietnam, and each person was to report there after a thirty-day leave. The PFC was maneuvering his six-foot frame through a maze of cubicles. The rubber soles of his newly acquired combat boots squeaked loudly as he crossed through these quiet sections. An earlier coat of wax on the red tile floor also made it appear wet and slippery; John stepped along cautiously as if walking on ice. The twenty-foot-by-twenty-foot cubicles comprised of eight-foot high pieces of plywood and two-by-fours rose up toward the thirty-foot ceiling. Each of these enclosures held a dozen bunk beds; sleeping youths occupied many while awaiting their turn to fly off to war. His efforts to find a familiar face within the maze were unsuccessful, so he began a quarter-mile hike to the other side of the building, which was set aside for recreation. He found the area to be quite active and noisy compared to the morgue-like atmosphere he had just left. Here, there were hundreds of highly enthused soldiers, all dressed in jungle fatigues – the green machine! Rows of pool and Ping-Pong tables cluttered the area, but were barely visible through the crowd. It was obvious that many of the players were having difficulty with their games, the close proximity of the many spectators inhibiting their movements. John stood on the outskirts looking in. He removed his olive green baseball cap and ran his hand over the light brown stubble length of hair. Satisfied that it was again growing, he replaced the cap and traced a line across the rough four-inch long scar on the left side of his neck - the consequence of a confrontation with some escaped felons during Basic Training. His hazel eyes continued to scan the many faces, hoping to spot someone he knew. Suddenly, a player on a nearby Ping-Pong table backed up quickly to return a hard serve from his opponent. He tripped over a spectator, creating a domino effect on the group standing behind him. A young soldier, who looked fifteen at most, found himself sprawled out on top of the adjacent pool table. The remaining balls were scattered, some falling to the floor along with a stack of ten-dollar bills. All of this happened as an African-American soldier, twice the kid’s size, was preparing to take an advantageous shot. He became enraged. “You dumb motherfucker! I had this game in the bag.” “It wasn’t my fault,” the kid cried out in a shaky voice, “I got pushed up here by those other guys,” he pointed to those soldiers standing around the Ping-Ping table. “Pushed, my ass,” the black soldier challenged, “you just cost me a hundred bucks. So pay me what I lost, and I’ll let you slide.” “I don’t have that kind of money,” the skinny kid replied, climbing down from the table. “Let me see your wallet, and I’ll take what I think is fair,” the behemoth threatened, reaching behind the kid to snatch the wallet from his back pocket. The kid pushed back into the crowd, attempting to escape the reach of the thoroughly pissed off Army private. “It was an accident!” he hollered. You’re not taking my wallet!” The crowd tightened, everyone shifting to find the best-unobstructed view of the altercation. Trapped, the kid had no place to go. “Come on brothers, are you with me?” The soldier called out to a group of black comrades standing nearby. “This white boy owes me some money!” His supporters wielded cue sticks and pool balls and moved toward the petrified youth. A group of white soldiers took a step forward, ushering the young kid behind the pack and quickly engulfing him. One of them stated in a southern drawl, “Why don’t you boys pick on somebody your own size?” Hearing this, the leader of the black group turned to his followers and said giddily, “I guess we have to kick a whole lot of white ass to get my money.” “Yeah, let’s do it. We’re with you!” his followers chanted. Individuals within the black group were now beating the palms of their hands with the thick end of the cue sticks and lofting pool balls lightly into the air. Two of them broke ranks and moved toward the white group. Suddenly, a dozen MP’s forced their way through the crowd before either of the two groups could strike a blow. “Let’s break this shit up!” The MP Sergeant ordered, separating soldiers, and shoving them out of his way. He stopped, facing the leader of the black group. “What is this all about?” He asked. “That skinny white boy owes me a hundred bucks!” The black private protested, pointing out the alleged culprit. “All I want is to get my money back and these white boys want to come over and start some shit with us.” “That’s bullshit, sarge,” the southern soldier responded. “There was an accident. The kid fell on the pool table and fucked up their game. He doesn’t owe him shit.” “Is that correct, private?” The sergeant fixed a deep, piercing stare at the kid. “Yes, sergeant,” he replied in a trembling voice, “there was a lot of shuffling and pushing behind me. I found myself sprawled out on top of the pool table. I couldn’t help myself.” “That’s a damn lie!” The black soldier protested. “I couldn’t give a fuck about the game; I’m pissed because he pocketed my money during all the commotion.” “I don’t think he has the balls to do something like that,” the sergeant replied after sizing him up. “I’d be willing to forget this incident if everybody would just walk away and return to what they were doing.” “What are you going to do if we don’t? Send us to Vietnam?” a voice called out from the crowd. The taunt was enough to change the atmosphere of the group and some began to laugh and snicker. “Yeah, you’ll still go to Vietnam, but you may spend a few weeks in our stockade first,” the sergeant growled. The crowd started to disperse, and soldiers moved away, resuming their activities from before the interruption. The black soldier shifted back and forth from one foot to the other, his expression changing as he tried to compose himself. The MP Sergeant looked at him. “Well, what’s it going to be?” “I’ll let it go, man. I don’t need any bad time on my record. I want to serve my year and get back home.” “Then, do I have your word that you won’t bother these guys anymore?” “Yeah, man, you got my word.” He turned and walked back to the pool table and his waiting friends. The kid had vanished. Once everything was back to normal, John turned and moved toward yet another undiscovered part of the large building. After a few minutes, he heard a familiar voice call out, “Hey, Polack!” He stopped and looked around for the source. “Hey, Polack, over here,” a tall, lanky soldier with red hair, freckles, and a broad, toothy grin called out again. He was pushing through the crowd and waving frantically. John’s face lit up in recognition, returning the man’s wave with a wild one of his own. “Bill,” he called loudly after seeing his close friend from training. They embraced warmly like long-lost relatives. “Polack, you son of a bitch, am I ever glad to see you.” Bill, as gaunt as a scarecrow, slapped John’s back a few times. “I am too, Bill. How the hell are you?” “I’m good. When did you get here?” “About four hours ago. What about you?” “I got here yesterday.” “Why did you come so early, Bill? Didn’t they have a flight available when you needed it?” “I didn’t fly. I took a train instead.” “You rode a train all the way here from Tennessee? Are you shitting me?” “Nope, I’ve never been on a plane in my whole life, Bill admitted sheepishly. I was so afraid of the thought of flying that I checked into the train schedule and found that I had to leave a couple of days earlier to get here on time.” “How did you get home from Fort Polk?” “I rode in by bus.” “Damn Bill, you missed out on three days of your leave just because you’re afraid of flying?” “Yeah, I know, I know. Don’t remind me.” “Now you don’t have a choice. There aren’t any trains or buses that go to Vietnam.” “I know and thought hard about that on the way here. I’ve got a perfect solution – I’ll get drunk and pass out. That way, somebody could carry me on board.” “Maybe they can just give you a shot or something to relax.” “No thanks. I’ve had enough shots for now! Once I got here, they gave me a worse physical than the one I had to take when the Army first called me up. Here, they move you along like an assembly line.” “I know what you mean. And that paper work was really a bummer - there must have been twenty-five forms to fill out!” Bill produced a wide smile, “Yeah. That part took me almost an hour.” The two young men commiserated about the humiliating experience of having to strip down to their underwear and stand in long lines of strangers from all over the country–herded along like cattle. “What did you think when you saw the ten doctors on each side of the line giving everyone shots with those air-powered guns?” “I didn’t have time to think. I just blindly followed everyone else and hoped for the best.” “A guy in front of me moved his arm just as the doctor pulled the trigger,” Bill commented. “When the blood squirted out, I almost shit myself.” “The shots weren’t too bad - kind of felt like a punch in the arm. But, as I’m standing here now, they’re starting to ache pretty damn bad,” John said. “It’ll feel better in a few hours. I feel fine today,” Bill volunteered. “The thing I didn’t like was having to ship all our own clothes and stuff home. What a hassle! And these new jungle fatigues and boots we’re in are just like those in basic training.” “Yeah, but it was all worth it. Don’t we look good?” Bill asked, striking a pose. John would not have been more surprised if Bill’s ball cap came off his head and twirled in the air by itself. Bill flexed his arms and posed like a body builder in the final pose of a competition. His head quivered as he strained his muscles. Bill’s face was stern and solemn as he concentrated on this show of strength. John suddenly burst out laughing “Damn Bill, what was all that about? It looked like an advertisement for Scarecrows Incorporated.” He stopped chuckling before continuing, “All you needed was a bit of hay sticking out in the right places, and you’d have nailed it.” John pointed to Bill’s face, “I especially like how you managed to cover your front teeth with your lower lip. You did look scary, but it also seemed like you had a mouth full of snuff.” “Okay. Okay. You’ve had your fun for the day, Polack.” Bill looked more hurt than embarrassed. Bill Sayers, raised in the back woods of Tennessee, spoke with a heavy southern drawl. He was the third eldest of nine children who shared everything from chores to clothes while growing up on the family farm. He had never experienced the feeling of receiving new clothes– all he had ever worn were hand-me-downs from his older brothers. When the Army issued him the first five sets of new fatigues, he treated them as if they were made of gold. “C’mon Bill. I’m just giving you a hard time and didn’t mean anything by it.” John wrapped his arm over his buddy’s shoulder and pulled him tightly. “You have to admit - it was funny as hell!” Both men shared a hearty laugh. “Have you found a bunk yet?” Bill asked. “Not yet.” “Great, then come with me, I have a cubicle all to myself.” “Lead the way.” John followed Bill to the other side of the building and then through the maze of cubicles for another ten minutes before reaching the smaller room with six bunk beds. “Looks like it’ll be nice and quiet here.” “Shit, it is now. Yesterday, you couldn’t hear yourself think.” “And why was that?” John inquired. “I had to share this cube with ten other guys who have been together since Basic Training. All they did was party the whole night.” “What happened to them?” “They left on the first flight this morning. So I guess it’s just you and me until new neighbors move in.” “I’m okay with that. Have you seen anyone else from our AIT Platoon yet?” “Yeah, matter of fact, yesterday, I bumped into Joel McCray and Larry Nickels. Do you remember them?” “I do. Where are they?” “They left this morning with those other guys. And you’ll never believe who else was with them.” “Who?” “Sergeant Holmes.” “No shit? I thought he was returning to Fort Polk this week to start training a new platoon of recruits.” “That was his original plan, but he had his orders changed during his leave and volunteered for a second tour.” “Why did he do a fool thing like that?” “He told me that he was fed up with the civilians and all the hippies. He said that while he was on leave, people spit on him and got into his face yelling that he was teaching soldiers to be baby killers and then sending them off to Vietnam. He said there was not a day gone by without somebody picking a fight with him. After the cops had jailed him for the second time for disorderly conduct, he went and signed the papers.” “The world is filled with jerks. Too bad, he had to volunteer for Nam to get away from it all. Did you know he was wounded during his first tour?” John asked. “Yeah, I remember him telling the story about that big Tet offensive in ‘68. He got some shrapnel in his back from a mortar round, but also said that the fighting is not at the same level as it was in 1968 or earlier, so we all have a good chance of making it home in one piece.” “I hope that’s true. In the AIT Company, everyone liked Bill because he always had something good to say about others. Stories told about life in the big cities fascinated him to no end. It was difficult for him to imagine doing things that many city folks took for granted as part of their everyday lives. He walked everywhere, including the three miles each way to school and back. In fact, the first time Bill had ever ridden a bike was in the Army. Bill and John became very close while serving together in the Army. They had developed a friendship that made it easy to confide in one another on sensitive issues. John had promised to visit Bill in the hills of Tennessee one day, but only if Bill agreed to visit him in Detroit. Bill was ecstatic and could not wait; he continued to remind John periodically of this agreement. All the excitement of the day was beginning to take its toll. Both were tired and struggling to stay awake. “I had it rough last night.” John began, “My mother gave me a going away party yesterday. All of my close friends and relatives were there. After dinner, we all sat in the living room and talked while the news was on TV. Everyone quieted down when a bulletin came on from Vietnam. It seems some outfit ran into an ambush. They showed helicopters burning. Dead and wounded soldiers were carried past the camera, and the commentator sounded so nervous. The women looked over at me and started crying. They all ran over and hugged me.” “Damn,” Bill said with a sympathetic look upon his face. “Well you know me.” John continued, “I put on the brave act and told them that nothing was going to happen to me while I was in Vietnam. I told them that we’d all be back in this same living room in a year to laugh off those worries.” “What happened then?” “Everyone started to leave for home before it got too emotional. When everyone left, I went up to my bedroom and tried to sleep, but just couldn’t. I kept thinking about that news story and got all shaky and nervous.” “Polack, you aren’t alone in that feeling. I’m scared too.” Both sat quietly for a few moments. John lay back on his bunk and glanced to his watch. It was 3:30 in the morning. He thought about everything that had happened since leaving Detroit only fifteen hours earlier. Everything seemed to be “hurry-up-and-wait.” On the flight to California, he had been the only military passenger. The flight attendants and fellow passengers had made him feel special. When they heard he was en route to Vietnam, they bought him drinks, offered him magazines and candy, and wished him luck on his tour. He was very proud and felt honored by the way he was treated. His fellow passengers respected him, and not one person had treated him as Sergeant Holmes had been treated. “Hey Polack, get your lazy ass out of that bunk!” Bill shook him a few times. Startled, John jumped up from the bed quickly, bumping his head on the frame of the upper bunk. “Damn you, Bill, you scared the shit out of me,” he grumbled, rubbing the top of his head. John looked at his watch and noted that it was 1330 hours. “Jesus, Bill, its one-thirty. When did you get up?” Bill looked at his watch, “about six hours ago.” “Why didn’t you get me up sooner?” “Hell, I’d have been wasting my time. I know you city boys like your sleep. You would sleep all day long if somebody let you. Besides, it wasn’t necessary for both of us to check the shipping manifest for today.” “What did you find out?” “Both of our names are listed, and we’re leaving for Vietnam at ten o’clock tonight.”

Cherries ~ A Vietnam War Novel   by   John Podlaski   |   See Bio >
Cherries, The Vietnam War, jungle warfare, combat infantry, VC, NVA, U.S. Army, ambushes, C-Rations,

In 1970, John Kowalski is one of many young, naive teenage soldiers sent to Vietnam to fight in an unpopular war. Dubbed “Cherries” by their more seasoned peers, these newbies suddenly found themselves thrust into the middle of a terrible nightmare - literally forced to become men overnight. On-the-job-training is intense, however, most of these teenagers were hardly ready to absorb the harsh mental, emotional, and physical stress of war. When coming under enemy fire for the first time and witnessing death first-hand, a life changing transition that can't be reversed.

The author is an excellent story teller, readers testify that they are right there with the characters, joining them in their quest for survival, sharing the fear, awe, drama and sorrow, witnessing bravery and sometimes, even laughing at their humor. It's a story that is hard to put down.

When soldiers return home from war, all are different - changed for life. "Cherries" tells it like it is and when finished, readers will better understand what these young men have to endure, and why change is imminent. All of these veterans should be embraced, welcomed home and thanked for their service. Vietnam vets and anyone who has been a young soldier in any war will appreciate the sentiments here.

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