Book Review: Just Another Dead Animal
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A humble invitation to hear one man’s life pre- and post-Vietnam War
Just Another Dead Animal is the memoir of Vietnam War veteran James Morris, who served in the military as a doctor for the first platoon. Vulnerable and brave are the classic qualities attributed to soldiers willing to fight for their country, but Morris embodies these as a confessional storyteller as well.
His stories will transport you to another time and place: Vietnam in the late 60s, sure, but Morris writes from his heart and connects so deeply to his reader, that you feel as though you are listening to these stories in the flesh. You could be sitting with a cup of warm cocoa on the plush carpet by his feet, while he narrates from his cozy suede armchair. You want to know and remember every one of his stories as if he was your own grandfather, whom you at one time foolishly thought you knew everything about.
Like many of the young men preceding the war, Morris was always set on dodging the draft, and, just like the majority, never doubted that he would succeed. Alas, after a handful of attempts to avoid it, and then weeks of boot camp, he ends up on a flight to Denang, Vietnam, to serve as an official Marine in the war.
Morris’s stream-of-consciousness flows from page to page, taking us on a journey from one miracle to another. For that is how Morris talks about all of his near-death experiences: miracles that he did not deserve, but remains eternally grateful for, nonetheless. He escapes the Grim Reaper countless times, and in his telling of each difficult day there is this growing sense of gratitude for another. His faith in mankind makes these devastating stories even more affecting, and this is why we feel such melancholy when Morris confesses his struggle with depression and PTSD following the war.
Just Another Dead Animal is a gift to anyone who might be struggling to speak up about their own trauma, war-induced or not. By opening up about his own struggle, he clearly set out to save at least one life with this book. This alone makes Morris’s memoir a timely piece, because we continue to live in a world where violence is more often chosen over communication.
“I could not help but wonder why so many people in this world devalued life and in any way disrespected a young man who had given his life for his country. There is only a minuscule amount of people who crave to be here in Vietnam, to kill or be killed, but for the rest, no one begged to be here. Home, the ‘world,’ the good old USA, girlfriends, wives; that’s all any of us really cared about.”
Morris feels so familiar. It’s incredible that a memoir filled with so many painful experiences can somehow feel like a warm embrace. He makes you feel at home. Perhaps it’s because Morris represents those heroes in our lives who seem to be almost invincible. Their strength and bravery is so much a part of them, however, that we practically don’t notice that it is there.
I am grateful to Morris for facing the complex feelings produced by one of the worst wars in our history with Just Another Dead Animal. With humility and grace, Morris opens his heart to us and hopes that it can make a difference.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Vietnam War
Print Length: 122 pages
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