Turn Back the Clock
Valley of the Shadow
Written by: Franklin Allen Leib
Published By: PresidioPress
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When we were in school, we all had our favorite subjects. For some people, that was gym. Some of you out there might think that English and Literature would have been my favorites back then. Well, you’d be wrong – I liked those classes, but my favorite courses were about history. Whether it was American history or world history, I was happy to learn it all. These were the classes I paid a great deal of attention to. When it comes to American history, there are a few subjects that have grabbed my attention to the extent that I decided to research them on my own – the Civil War and the Vietnam War. These wars fascinated me. The Civil War divided a country, pitting brother against brother. The Vietnam War began as a police action in a place no one in the United States had ever heard of and turned into something that sparked rebellion all over the United States.
I watched every movie about the wars, whether based on fact or heavily steeped in fiction. I also read every book I could get my hands on – fact or fiction. My dad, noticing my interest in history, often recommended novels that I might like. For the Civil War, he recommended North and South and The Blue and the Gray and for the Vietnam War, he recommended The Fire Dream and its sequel, Valley of the Shadow.
In The Fire Dream, author and Vietnam Veteran Franklin Allen Leib introduced us to William Stuart, a Naval Officer assigned to the ANGLICO unit. As a part of this unit, Stuart and his team assist the Army and Marines in calling in naval artillery on coastal operations. Unfortunately, in the events surrounding the Tet Offensive, Stuart’s team was systematically decimated. He watched as team members that had become close friends lost their lives, even holding one in his arms as he died while he himself suffered from injuries. Perhaps the hardest death to accept was that of Douglas MacArthur Moser, an affable giant of a man who Stuart had helped rise in the naval ranks. Moser had stepped in front of gunfire meant for Stuart and had been placed on a medivac helicopter, presumably on his way to receiving treatment for his injuries, but the chopper was reportedly shot down with no survivors. The biggest slap to Stuart’s face was returning home to find that he was not to be received as a hero. Many Americans were opposing the war and he found himself a target of verbal abuse and scorn.
Franklin Allen Leib drew on his experience as a counterintelligence officer after the war to write Valley of the Shadow, the sequel to The Fire Dream. In this novel, we find William Stuart now ensconced in the Naval Intelligence Service in Washington, D.C. He is still dealing with the demons of his Vietnam experience and the men he lost, but continues on in the service of his country. One day, a letter arrives that turns Stuart’s life upside down. The letter was sent via a Swedish Red Cross team that had visited a prisoner camp in Laos to a woman in Georgia. The letter is from one Douglas MacArthur Moser, a man believed long dead. After reading the letter, Stuart realizes that Moser has hidden a detailed topographical description of the location of the prison camp by discussing locations he misses in Georgia. Obsessed with finding the friend he left behind, Stuart will fight local and government opposition to head up a secretive rescue operation sent into enemy territory to retrieve Moser and the rest of the POWs in the camp.
After reading The Fire Dream, I found myself completely invested in the outcome of each character in the story. That was why I simply had to read the sequel. Valley of the Shadow gives us the further adventures of those characters in new settings. We knew that Moser had heart and was willing to apply himself in order to accomplish certain goals. But those goals were more associated with achievements and survival under war conditions. Now we encounter a new Moser – one who has had to survive horrible conditions in a prisoner of war camp. Will the horrors of the camp dampen the dedication and determination of the young naval officer? Can his old friend William Stuart bypass the political channels to save his friend or will he be betrayed by yet another friend in his quest to locate the secret prison camp?
Valley of the Shadow also brings back quite a few characters from the original book. Readers will fondly remember the Navy SEAL commander affectionately known as Hoop. He returns for this mission. Also present are members from the special POW training course that Stuart took just prior to being sent to Vietnam. Nice to see that particular training course came in handy. There are some incredibly intense moments to be found in Valley of the Shadow. There are also some terrific action scenes. However, this book also provides a look into a man’s psyche, revealing just how much torture it can handle before that man slides into the realm of insanity.
Valley of the Shadow was such a great read, I decided to read it again years later. I found that I appreciated the novel just as much the second time around. The surprise ending was still as shocking and just as enjoyable. The fact that Leib draws upon personal experiences during the war and after provides for a much more believable read. This is an author who has actually lived through the events of the time, not someone who is writing about them after doing some extensive research. Valley of the Shadow is an excellent read for anyone interested in the Vietnam era.