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Controversy expected to follow publication of Vietnam War memoir

Posted on 7/2/2012

By Kristine Kostuck, Bismarck Tribune

For Gary Skogen, the reality of Vietnam was that heroin and marijuana were cheap and easily accessible, people were committing suicide after receiving Dear John letters and deadly accidents were common in the war zone.

"When you think about what was going on in the States: flower power, drugs and authority questioning, you can't expect people drafted would do anything different," said Skogen, a North Dakota native, who served in Vietnam in 1971.

Skogen's Vietnam War memoir, "Not All Heroes," will be published in early September by the Dakota Institute Press.

"For most, when they hear about a book on Vietnam, they imagine a young, innocent kid who went to the front lines and watched their friends die in their arms," said Clay Jenkinson, director of the Dakota Institute. "Those are important books, but that's not this one."

During his stay in Vietnam, Skogen lived in a beach hut with three men. He drove around in a powder-blue jeep investigating criminal activity. He was assigned for his first eight months in Vietnam to the Military Police Company before he was relocated to work with the Criminal Investigative Department. As a CID agent, he investigated a wide variety of crimes. Skogen admits his greatest interest was narcotics.

"Here is this mid-20-year-old living off the beach, with three other guys, lots of women and lots of alcohol; it was like a frat house. And on top of it he got to practice his profession. I can see why he insists it was the best time of his life," said Jenkinson.

"Not All Heroes" was written to shine a different light on the Vietnam War. Skogen said he wants his readers to recognize that not everyone had a terrible experience in Vietnam and 80 percent of those who served were not in combat.

"They called it shell shock, the Nam syndrome," Skogen said about post-traumatic stress disorder. "But as far as I'm concerned, if you drove a truck you don't deserve to have PTSD. I know there are plenty of people who fake it to get attention or to seek financial help."

Skogen's opinion is that just because someone served, that doesn't make them a hero.

"I was under the impression that the monument (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall) was to honor those who died in combat. Not those who overdosed or who died in a brawl over a 50-cent whore," said Skogen.

Skogen's only concern is that the readers will misunderstand his position.

"I have nothing against military personnel or veterans. I think it is admirable to serve," he said.

Jenkinson also recognizes the opinions in the book could anger its readers, but he is prepared to stand behind the foundation's decision in publishing it.

"We would never publish something just because it is sensational or controversial," said Jenkinson. "These are his opinions and they don't discredit the book."

The criminal cases told in "Not all Heroes" were researched before the book was printed.

Skogen's brother, Larry Skogen, the president of Bismarck State College, encouraged him to publish "Not all Heroes" after a trip he took. Larry Skogen traveled to Washigton, D.C., and explored the national archives. He researched many of the cases he had heard his brother talk about over the years and found each credible. Afterward, he gave the manuscript to Jenkinson.

"I couldn't believe how well written it was for someone who had no prior writing experience," said Jenkinson.

At that time, Gary Skogen had been trying to publish the book, but thought it was rejected by so many publishers because of the content. Jenkinson felt differently.

"I think Vietnam continues to be a huge issue in American life and we are still debating this war. We thought it was important to print this while the soldiers of that time are still alive and because it is by a North Dakota author."

Upon Gary Skogen's return to the U.S. in 1972 he was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

"My dad is over 80 years old and still thinks I did something heroic that I just don't want to talk about," said Skogen. "I've been honest and continue to tell him, I didn't do a thing, but my job. That doesn't make me a hero.'"

Skogen recently retired from the Los Angeles Police Department, where he worked narcotics, and lives in southern California.

View the full story here.

Learn more about "Not All Heroes" here.

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