Rock ‘N’ Roll Soldier
By Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan Vanheck Forward by Graham Nash
Published by HarperTeen
Reviewed: March, 2010
When one hears the phrase, “Vietnam War”, a wide variety of images, phrases and emotions are conjured up. I was too young to fight in that war but not too young to remember the impact the war had on friends as well as society.
‘Nam impacted our politics, news and entertainment. It became the subject of protests, songs and movies. The pros, cons and impact of that lengthy war is still being felt and discussed today.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Soldier is an engaging tale of a young man, Dean Kohler, who made the quantum leap from Portsmouth, Virginia, to Qui Nohn, Vietnam. His long sought after, and worked for, dream materialized literally on the same day that he received his draft notice, dashing that particular dream.
Kohler and Vanhecke weave a captivating story of how circumstances in boot camp led Kohler to an opportunity to purse a different version of his dream in a nightmarish environment. After a cathartic encounter with PFC Goodridge, with some fellow soldiers, Dean formed a band called The Electrical Banana. This band provided a welcome, uplifting distraction for both the band and its uniformed audience, bringing to them live covers of their favorite songs of the day.
The book isn’t all about music. It also details young men who bury their natural fears with incredible amounts of bravery. Some icons from the 60’s are mentioned in the book (Nancy Sinatra and Graham Nash, to name two) as are tales of friendships, chain of command, homesickness and girls left behind in two countries. Also told is the process of Kohler’s adjustment to civilian life and fitting back into society. The story provides insight into how our minds can be so conditioned to routine that, when that routine is altered, time is needed to adjust back into the new norm.
The book’s forward by Graham Nash is worth the price of the book by itself. Nash closes his remarks by saying, “Through the transcendent power of music, Dean created his own bit of order out of the chaos of the Vietnam War . . . to survive another day.”
The books final words honors Kohler’s Electrical Banana band mates. In them he poignantly states, “ . . . with their help, during a time when none of us knew for sure if we would live or die, I came to know the true power of music – to communicate, heal, connect. Unite.”
I couldn’t say any better, gentlemen.
Mr. Kohler and the thousands of men and women who served your country in an unpopular war: We can never repay you enough for your sacrifice nor will we ever forget. Thank you so much!
PFC Goodridge, thank you and may you continue to rest in peace.