“Book Review: The Ground You Stand Upon”
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
An amazing true story of a father’s war seen through the eyes of his son
It’s a massive project to take on: writing the book of your father’s time during the Vietnam War. Joshua Bowe knew this, but he still managed to create a successful, eye-opening piece of work that veterans and civilians can both learn from and appreciate. The Ground You Stand Upon: Life of a Skytrooper in Vietnam narrates his father’s time in the war with thoughtful research, letters, and first-hand accounts in a way that makes you feel like you were there.
When Wilbur Bowe (Will) is drafted into the army in 1965, he feels ready to get in on the action. Through the letters he writes his family, we can feel the excitement coming off of this 20-year-old who still thinks of war as a game. But throughout his two years of service, we follow Will as his mindset changes. He makes friends who broaden his horizon. He learns what it means to be there for people and to take each day as it comes. But each friend’s passing brings him further away from his former reality. As his innocence is lost, perspective is gained.
This book is heavy. Joshua Bowe brings people to life on the page with intricate details, succeeding in making them feel like your own childhood friends. You’ll laugh at their jokes and worry for them, because you’ll truly care. Reading this book had me both optimistic and nervous, hoping that everyone I got to know would have the happy ending they deserve. But regardless of how much we like spending time with Will and his friends, the Vietnam War still has many casualties.
When it comes to the death of these men, there’s rarely rhyme or reason. Someone gets transferred to another unit. They drop to the ground a little too slowly. Some are even doing everything correctly. Still, it happens. With this book, all of their stories get to live on. We get to know their mothers and children. We read their letters and feel their homesickness. We know how they want to get home and how they try to get out of it. The truth of this book will linger long after reading it.
“Seems funny, all these years I read about these people in geography class and here I am seeing it for real.”
The back and forth between father and son narratives makes for an easy and entertaining read. Luckily, Will Bowe’s letters are both chronological and extremely personable. He’s a likable person to follow around and root for.
Nearly all of his letters are written to his family, so they stay flowery and without much talk of combat. We get mostly the side stories from him: the terrible weather, the friendships, the things he so desperately misses. And from his son Joshua, we get the reality. He fills in the gaps between those letters with extensive research and accounts from people who were there. There are so many details that must have taken a ton of work to retrieve, and it paid off with this book.
A tale of humanity, duty, and some of the strongest bonds you can create, The Ground You Stand Upon is an American story that everyone could benefit from reading.
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