4 out of 4 stars
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Set in Charleston, South Carolina in the mid-1960s, TAPS: The Silent Victims of the Vietnam War--The Families Left Behind by George M. Motz, chronicles the author's experiences as a Casualty Notification and Survivors Assistance Officer for the U.S. Army. Tasked with the daunting job of in-person family notifications, Motz discusses the impact of the Vietnam War as it relates to Southern black families, set against the racial tension of the sixties. Regarding how this assignment shaped his life, he writes, "More importantly, once mastered, it would have an all-encompassing impact on my post-military life, heavily influencing my career choices, parenting style, and my overall philosophy on interpersonal relationships."
It's a pleasure to discover a book that exceeds my expectations; in this case, the synopsis doesn't do it justice. Motz's writing style is eloquent and engaging. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I was surprised to learn that this is his debut book. Written in the first-person narrative, the 209-page book is organized, professionally edited, and includes a collection of nostalgic photographs.
I particularly liked the perspective from which Motz wrote. As a young Army officer raised in the suburbs of New York, his assignment in Charleston, during a time of unrest in our country due to the Vietnam War and the fight for racial equality gave him a unique voice. Motz masterfully illustrated the prejudice he witnessed through stories involving both his professional and personal life. For instance, he recounted receiving orders to attend a local Ku Klux Klan meeting, under the guise as a new recruit, to determine their potential threat to the community and remembered recoiling at their racist remarks. On a different occasion, he was met at the door by his date's mother, who turned him away because he was a Catholic "Yankee boy" rather than a Southern Baptist. Not used to this type of reaction from the mothers of the girls he dated, Motz was devastated, but in hindsight, noted, "...that rejection pales in comparison with the levels of prejudice experienced regularly by most minorities to this day."
Since there isn't anything I dislike about the book, I will note a few interesting highlights. In light of this year's award-winning movie by the same name, I was intrigued to learn more about the history of the Green Book. After a new black officer arrives for duty at the Charleston Depot, Motz is surprised to see the backseat of his car full of gas cans. He learns that the duty officer brought the gas after consulting the driving guide, which suggested that some Southern gas stations might not serve him. In another point of interest, Life Magazine's story depicting "...the reality of war, namely the toll it was taking on the families of the soldiers," included one of Motz's Survivors Assistance cases and featured a photo of him presenting the ceremonial folded flag to the family at the military memorial service.
There is a lot to like about this book, and I wholeheartedly rate it 4 out of 4 stars. It will appeal to fans of memoirs and readers who enjoy books about civil rights and the Vietnam War.
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