7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
`Ridiculous', the review by Chief Keokuk "Bookman" submitted on June 13, 2010, prompted me to submit this alternative view from a former Regular Army officer who served during the latter part of the period dealt with in The Officers' Wives.
Very briefly, the novel traces the lives, careers, and marriages of three professional (RA--Regular Army, as opposed to active Reserve or wartime AUS Army of the United States) officers from their commissioning just before the start of the Korean War through that war, the peacetime Army that followed, and on into their service as field grade officers during the Vietnam War. As the title indicates, it does so from the perspective of the wives, though the focus is really equally on both members of the three couples.
While not great literature, it is a good read, generally accurate historically, and deals well with a couple of serious themes--the high stresses that military careers periodically placed (as they still do) on traditional marriages and the tensions between the high ideals of the military profession and the grubbier realities of careerism and human nature. I thought sufficiently highly of the novel that, shortly after reading it after its publication in 1981, I recommended it to a young female acquaintance who had become engaged to a lieutenant. Along with better known military combat and training milieus of the Korean War, interwar, and Vietnam Wars, it provides a glimpse of what it was like to be ROTC teaching cadre at a university during the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, as well as of the pressure cooker of working in the Pentagon as a (lowly) field grade staff officer.
Navy vet Fleming never served in the Army, but (according to his Wikipedia biography) he lived at West Point between 1964 and 1969 while researching the history of the Military Academy which was published under his name in the latter year, and at that time interviewed numerous Army officers serving during the period covered by The Officers' Wives. Was this the equivalent of actually serving as an Army officer during the period the novel covers? No, and it didn't give him 100% protection from historical errors. The one that sticks in my mind is his having a lieutenant colonel heading a college ROTC detachment during the Vietnam War, when, to my knowledge, that position was uniformly held by full colonel. While a regrettable error, I think I can attest from personal experience that Fleming basically got the Vietnam War ROTC detachment story right. I suspect that I may have noted a couple more minor errors, now forgotten, when I read the novel thirty years ago. But nothing like the "numerous errors of military life and protocol" and "obvious lack of knowledge of the US Army" which Chief Keokuk "Bookman" found. Is my take on the basic accuracy and worth of the book right and Chief Keokuk's wrong? Not necessarily. Following four years in ROTC at Cornell, I received a RA commission in Infantry and served from 1969 through 1973, including close to a year in Vietnam (--and all that as a bachelor, if one who socialized with married couples). I was a captain when I resigned my commission; my experience of field grade officers has been from direct observation, but I've never been one. All I think I know about Army life from the Korean War through the first half of the 1960s is book learning or from the war stories of others. If Chief Keokuk had an Army career corresponding more closely to that of the male protagonists of The Officers' Wives--that is, if he was commissioned significantly earlier and (or) served significantly longer, then I'm ready to hear with interest some of those "numerous errors"--and be prepared to humbly revise downward my evaluation of the book. Until then, I'd recommend The Officers' Wives pretty strongly.