November 4, 2005
the local book bin
Two Kansas City authors offer stories of heartbreak and triumph, a quest for understanding and the journey to the American dream. Both memoirs, one will make you laugh, the other will make you cry. One is the story of one man’s life; the other is a story of one man’s death …
Skim the back cover of Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell’s No Immediate Threat: The story of an American Veteran (ASJA Press, Sept. 2005) and you’ll learn this is the narrative of the author’s brother, and his struggle to come to terms with life after the Vietnam War. What you won’t know is reading Steve Fivecoat’s story will touch you in ways you never thought possible.
Steve Fivecoat died Nov. 21, 1999, but more than a year passed before his family learned of his death. His body was found in Fargo, ND, dressed in a snowmobile suit and huddled in a sleeping bag. His clothing contained identification but no one thought to use it to find his loved ones. The system broke down, Fivecoat-Campbell writes. In truth, the system broke down long before Steve’s death.
A high school dropout going nowhere fast, Steve joined the Army for stability. His parents encouraged his decision, believing military life could help him mature. And perhaps it could have had it not been for Vietnam. Steve was one of thousands of young men sent overseas to fight an unpopular war, and one of thousands to come back forever changed. Riddled by nightmares and unable to talk about his experiences, he turned to drugs and alcohol for comfort instead of his family. Even when he tried to get help, he was unsuccessful, and each relapse set him back further.
The youngest child in the Fivecoat family, Fivecoat-Campbell grew up idolizing the brother 11 years older than her. A child while Steve was in Vietnam, Fivecoat-Campbell acknowledges she was too young to understand what her brother endured at that time, but knew he wasn’t the same when he returned. Once joyous and playful, Steve came home silent and sullen. Yet despite his personal hell, there were times his former self would shine through — moments Fivecoat-Campbell would treasure.
Sharing the story of learning to drive her brother’s 1960s-era black VW beetle, Fivecoat-Campbell recalls her brother’s advice to help her night driving. “‘Just don’t look directly into the lights, they will blind you and you’ll lose your way,’ Steve said, guiding my hand on the wheel. ‘ Always look directly in front of you and you’ll be all right.’”
Haunting words. One only wishes Steve had recognized their depth and followed his own advice.
Steve Fivecoat’s story isn’t unique. Many Vietnam veterans came back to the United States burdened with memories. Drug addiction was common, alcohol abuse accepted and nightmares a given. Posttraumatic stress disorder wasn’t discussed, diagnosed or even understood. Fivecoat-Campbell worries that despite the decades between Vietnam and today’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military still does not fully understand what soldiers and their families face before, during and after the fight.
Steve Fivecoat isn’t a symbol of the Vietnam War soldier but of the American soldier. As Fivecoat-Campbell writes, it is time for this country to embrace the men and women that fight for the freedoms we enjoy, even if we do not support the battle itself. No Immediate Threat: The story of an American Veteran started as Fivecoat-Campbell’s effort to seek answers in Steve’s death, but evolves into a voice for all soldiers and their families. Winning a war overseas means nothing if we don’t confront the battle at home.
“Jerry Green is a confident, no-fuss and no-frills sort of man. One doesn’t need to read much of his 200-page autobiography (with the help of Mike Walker), Autos to Airways, Mantle to the Mob: Doing it My Way (How High The Moon Publications, Sept. 2005), to know that. Recognized as the creator of the country’s largest all-sports radio station, WHB810, readers will be surprised to know that Green wasn’t a broadcast giant at birth.
Green was the son of a car dealer. An only child, he never planned to follow his father’s footsteps. He graduated from Yale and, like most young men in the 1950s, joined the military, choosing the Air Force and going overseas to Korea. He imagined he’d live in New York dabbling in the stock market, but his father’s death brought him back to Kansas City and into the family business.
At 25-years-old, Green writes he was America’s youngest car dealer.
Determined not to lose what his father created, Green quickly learned that the only person you can rely on is yourself — a lesson he carried with him to his other ventures in life. “You have to have a good business mind and I think that’s something I was just born with,” he writes. “I know artists who studied their tails off in business school. Great artists, they displayed no aptitude for business. I can’t draw. I can’t play an instrument. But I can run a business.”
And in his 74 years, Green has operated several successful businesses, co-owning the first Playboy Club outside of Chicago and dabbling in the “Budget Rent-A-Car” franchise. Green never stayed in one business long, managing to get out before he got bored or over his head. When he sold his businesses, making a profit each time, Green would set out for a new adventure with incredible results.
While some will view Green’s book as a business guide (and he does offer advice), I found it more interesting as a literary scrapbook. Jerry Green is a man who has managed to connect with some of the world’s most interesting and powerful people. He did business with Hugh Hefner, flirted with Princess Diana and bar hopped with Mickey Mantle. He sat in a Las Vegas sauna with The Rat Pack and was friends with Jules Lederer, husband of Esther Pauline Friedman (otherwise known as Ann Landers). Most people go through life without setting eyes on a single celebrity and Green has managed to make contact with someone in all facets of life — athletes, entertainers, politicians and even criminals.
“I’m a very lucky man and I believe attitude has a lot to do with it,” Green writes. “Every day I try to do things that are important and fun, and I’m living proof that it’s a good recipe for feeling and staying alive.”
In the book’s introduction, Green tells readers they won’t be tested on what is inside. Rather than read Autos to Airways, Mantle to the Mob: Doing it My Way from cover to cover, Green suggests picking out a chapter that looks interesting, working the way through his story a little bit at a time. And, unlike most autobiographies, you can because each chapter discusses a different time in Green’s life. There is no rhyme and reason to the book as a whole, and the writing is choppy at times, yet it manages to work because that is Green’s personality — you either like it or you don’t. He doesn’t care either way.
Meredith Hines-Dochterman can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.
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