- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - In a lifetime marked by public service, Odon “Don” Bacque’s greatest service may have been in Vietnam 1968-70 and as a Louisiana legislator 1988-92.

The climate was brutal, hot and oppressively humid. Corrupt officials had the government by the neck. Walking down the streets of the capital city, Bacque couldn’t distinguish the allies from the enemies.

And that was Baton Rouge. Think what Vietnam must have been like.

So that’s not a great joke. Bacque does better in his new e-book, “A Walk in the Park: A Vietnam Comedy.”

Available from Amazon, “A Vietnam Comedy” has none of the irony and cynicism with which classic military comedies like “M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H” and “Catch-22” have stamped the American perception of war. Bacque is too earnest, and finds too much wonder in the experience, to follow that path.

But like Hooker and Heller, Bacque makes a point that isn’t always obvious to those of us who haven’t served: When America decides to send millions of young people overseas on a killing mission, supplying them lavishly with the latest in destructive technology, strange things happen.

Sometimes those things are tragic. Sometimes they’re funny.

“My experience wasn’t heroic,” Bacque said Wednesday in an interview. “It was comedic. . Those things that we did to occupy that time is what most young people do when they’re in a crazy situation.”

And crazy situations large and small crop up throughout the story, starting with Bacque’s premature departure from law school in 1968, which did away with his draft deferment.

Bacque was assured that his poor eyesight would keep him out of combat duty. But, taunted by friends in Officer Candidate School, he wrote “airborne” and “Special Forces” atop his “dream sheet” of requested assignments.

“Realistically, I’m afraid of heights,” Bacque said. “There’s no way if you asked me to jump out of an airplane cold turkey that I think, ‘That’s a great idea.’ It was horrifying to me.”

But Bacque, service life being what it is, was assigned to airborne training. He managed to get his wings and wound up in that place he was never supposed to go: South Vietnam, in a portion of the country where he was assured - again - that enemy activity was lightest.

Bacque spent much of his war delivering piles of piasters, the Vietnamese currency, to Montegnard villagers who were supporting U.S. efforts to beat back the locally raised Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese Army regulars. The Montegnards, a mistreated minority in Vietnam, are tough, they know how to drink, and they expected Bacque to know his way around a bottle, too.

Later, we’re introduced to Ricky, the giant snake that Bacque and his fellow officers named after their commanding officer. And there was Bacque’s big helicopter adventure.

Think of “Apocalypse Now,” the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene, when Huey and Cobra helicopters sweep in low over the ocean. Now imagine the scene again with most of the soldiers replaced by hogs: fully grown, partially tied, pot-bellied Vietnamese pigs.

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