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2019 KCT RRBC Runner-Up Silver Award Winner
The year is 1970, and the story follows the two soldiers – impressionable Detroit teenagers – during their long night in a Listening Post (‘LP’), some 200 meters beyond the bunker line of the new firebase. Their assignment as a “human early warning system”, is to listen for enemy activity and forewarn the base of any potential dangers. As they were new to the “Iron Triangle” and its reputation, little did they know that units before them lost dozens of soldiers in this nightly high-risk task and referred to those assigned as “bait for the enemy” and “sacrificial lambs”.
Sitting in the pitch black tropical jungle – with visibility at less than two feet – John’s imagination takes hold throughout the agonizing night, and at times, transports him back to some of his most vivid childhood memories – innocent, but equally terrifying at the time.
As kids, we instinctively run as fast as we can to escape imaginary or perceived danger, but as soldiers, men are trained to conquer their fears and develop the confidence to stand their ground and fight. Running is not an option.
I have recently learned a lot more about the war in Vietnam so when I saw this book I grabbed the opportunity to read about the experiences of a veteran. I was not disappointed. When Can I Stop Running is an account of one night in the lives of two American soldiers, Polack and L.G. in the jungle outside of the base camp.
The pair are assigned to Listening Patrol which entails hiding in the jungle all night and acting as a human warning system for any unusual activity from the enemy. The reader quickly realises that this is not a popular duty among the men and the descriptions of the heavy and dense blackness of night in the jungle make it obvious as to why. It is awful to imagine being in such complete blackness, where you can’t see anything, and waiting and listening for the sounds of enemy soldiers all night long.
Polack and L.G. have some unpleasant experiences during the night, including a group of enemy soldiers stopping for a meal not far from their chosen hiding spot and being attacked by apes with rocks.
The experiences of the two soldiers is alternated with flashbacks, by Polack, to his childhood when he faced something that frightened him. These flashback’s ranged from when Polack was a young lad of eight years old attending holiday camp to an encounter with some neighbourhood witches a few years before he joined the army and was posted to Vietnam.
The two different perspectives, those of the child and teenage Polack, who uses flight as his saving grace when faced with something scary, and Polack the young adult soldier who cannot run and has to face his fears is poignant and striking.
I enjoyed this thought provoking book and would recommend it to people who like to read books about human drama, courage and the life of a soldier.