For men torn down by war, getting back up is a battle worthy of hope

Combat veteran Bill Glose’s short stories in “All the Ruined Men” crack open the challenges faced by Gulf War soldiers and their families. 

"All the Ruined Men," by Bill Glose, St. Martin’s Press, 288 pp.

Author Bill Glose grew up on Air Force bases overseas, and while his father, a pilot, would recount details about flying, he never shared what happened to him in war. “The one story he told me about Vietnam was what it was like to dodge surface-to-air missiles the size of telephone poles,” Glose writes. 

In “All the Ruined Men,” a stellar collection of intertwined stories, Glose – who is himself a combat veteran, former paratrooper, poet, and journalist – cracks open the physical and psychological challenges faced by Gulf War soldiers and their families. The hardships soldiers bear are often lost to words, with stoicism covering up unimaginable experiences of combat life – and death. This book gives dramatic and eloquent expression to veterans and their families in search of redemption and peace.

The first story, “In the Early, Cocksure Days,” finds the 82nd Battalion’s enthusiastic band of brothers commanded by Sergeant Berkholtz, the “one responsible for preparing them for life-threatening danger. And then, when danger comes, for sending them charging straight into the face of it.” Moments of humor bring light, as when two soldiers joust on camels, after which “the squad collapses on them in a back-slapping scrum, wrapped in the glee of the moment, each of Berkholtz’s boys certain he will live forever.”

A conundrum exists for military leaders like Berkholtz: “The Army had trained him to lead troops in battle, but not how to stopper up their wrath once the fighting was done.” In war, anger could be useful. (“In combat, he’s a perfect soldier, a berserker who never flinches when bullets snap the air around him,” is how another character is described.) But in peacetime, anger is detrimental. In “Exodus,” one wife facing her husband’s post-traumatic stress disorder exclaims, “It gets worse with every tour. You bring the war home with you, but you never talk about it. You just let it build up until you explode.”

Glose’s evocative prose provides emotional and physical details with a boots-on-the-ground feel. The language can be brutal and salty. His characters are real and sympathetic; one wishes them well as they return home, attempt to integrate back into society, and try to find stability in new jobs and relationships, all while dealing with flashbacks, loss of faith, loss of memory, and lost comrades.

In “All the Fractured Pieces,” a nurse tries to jog Royce Tefertiller’s memory by asking him to recount his soldier buddies’ favorite story. “‘Orion was once a great hunter on Earth,’ he begins. And as the words spill out, he falls into the myth. And then he falls, once more, through time.” Snippets of memories from his youth follow, such as Royce’s mother removing him from Boy Scouts because she worries he might go missing; working with his dad on science projects; then, back to the hospital, where Royce’s dreams recount the ambush he is processing and the guilt he harbors. 

“Dead Man’s Hand” offers a look into Bryce Pearson’s civilian life. Disfigured in the war, Bryce finds a new purpose for himself in professional poker. “Poker provides an outlet for his anger. The felt tabletop is his new battlefield, the other players his enemy.” His gruff attempts to help a neighborhood boy who mocks him show an underlying capacity for kindness and care.

The most entertaining story is “Penultimate Dad,” where a father is overcome with regret, when, after three years he reconnects with his teenage daughter who has entered a rebellious period. His mission becomes to teach her all he knows about self-defense, to protect herself from unwanted advances from boys. This act of devotion on the home front signals hope for their relationship.

Glose’s book is a privilege to read, a tribute to his comrades in war and peace, a divulgence of truth that gives necessary attention to veterans and their families. At the same time, it is a call to society for increased compassion for these men and women.

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