4 out of 4 stars
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The Pentagon Years, by William J. Kennedy, is an entertaining romp through the halls of the Pentagon during the Vietnam War era. This story begins with a trip to the recruitment office in Albany, NY, to avoid the draft. A young man enlists in the Army and is told he will be assigned to play on the Army hockey team in Special Services. As you no doubt guessed, the Army doesn’t have a hockey team. Private Jonathan West tells the story of how he creatively levels the playing field between the soldiers serving their country and those who neglect their needs. The author presents themes of patriotism, friendship, and humor as West and his buddies make their own rules in the ”Five-Sided Paper Factory.” This is an excellent prequel to William J. Kennedy’s other two books in the Jonathan West, MD series.
Private Jonathan West is plucked out of Army Clerk School and selected to receive on-the-job training at the Pentagon along with three other soldiers. West has an undergraduate degree in biology at Harvard and is assigned to work at Walter Reed Army Institute of Virology. While waiting for his extra security clearance, Jonathan is assigned temporary duty in the office that handles Army assignments for E-6 and below. This is the perfect assignment to guarantee that he and his new friends don't get sent to Vietnam and to have a little fun with the recruiter who lied to him. The Private quickly becomes adept at manipulating the system and helping his fellow soldiers while making a few highly placed friends along the way.
The Vietnam era is full of history, and the author brilliantly incorporates it into his narrative; such as the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Woodstock, and the capital bombing in 1971. Kennedy places his characters into situations where he can acknowledge historical events happening during that time period. For example, West’s first visit home is met with a delay in traffic because of the crowds attending Woodstock. I enjoyed glimpsing history being made through the viewpoint of those who did not realize the significance of what they witnessed.
What I like most about this book is the author's descriptive writing style. I like being able to envision the story, not just read it. One example is the way he describes a simple brown paper bag, ”The paper bag was a miracle of survival. It was so worn it seemed to have lost all sense of being made of paper. The bag didn’t have any creases or folds, and it collapsed on itself to mold to the place underneath the seat and to the stuff inside. So soft, it looked as close to leather as a paper bag could get.” Kennedy’s cast of characters come complete with unique personalities and temperament. One of my favorites is a secondary character, Command Sergeant Major Stoner, who time after time shows true leadership with his compassion for his men. Another intriguing character, with his own story to explain, is Private Jim Kennedy (No relation to the political Kennedy), who mistakenly gets the royal treatment for obvious reasons.
This book was entertaining and professionally edited with only a few minor mistakes noticed. The author also kept the profanity to a minimum. William J. Kennedy crafted a well-written work of fiction that brings humor to an otherwise serious time in American history. I would recommend this book to any adult who enjoys satire humor and can remember to laugh when life happens. I don’t know how accurate the situations are for history enthusiasts, but if you liked the TV series M*A*S*H, you will appreciate this. I enjoyed everything about this book, and I am delighted to rate it 4 out of 4 stars. Once I started reading, I didn't want to put it down and I look forward to the rest of the series from this author.
The Pentagon Years
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