David Boone, Western North Carolina wood carver of nationally renowned fame and accomplished painter and musician, has pulled a new trick out of his hat of artistic talents: that of master story teller. With his newly published book, Sing Me Back Home, Boone at long last brings to the public his Vietnam War stories that give credit to veterans as few books from that time have done.
Told in a voice that is rich with the heritage of the Black Mountains in whose shadows he grew up, Sing Me Back Home is a collection of tales and photographs that bring to life in an often humorous fashion some otherwise very dark moments. “I wanted to tell about the Vietnam War the way I saw it, not how Hollywood tells it,” Boone reports. “So many negative things have been said about this war. All the movies dwell on the gory aspects, on bombing villages, whatever. But that’s not what I saw.”
Boone was drafted into the Army in December of 1966, barely a year after he married Elaine Hensley, also a Yancey County native. Less than a year and many funny tales later, he landed in Cam Ranh Bay to join the 1097 Medium Boat Company, only to discover on his first night there that his arrival would mark the very first time the giant, sprawling base was to come under enemy attack. “I could hear machine gun fire, small arms fire, and mortar rounds coming from everywhere. It did not sound very good,” he dryly recounts. From that point things went down hill fast for the next 12 months, as he so clearly relates in his humorous story teller’s voice honed as a youngster sitting at the feet of his grandfather Ewart Wilson, long regarded as a master story teller of Western North Carolina mountain lore.
Why the humor about such a grizzly experience, one might ask.
“Well, it wasn’t really a lot of fun in Vietnam, but I didn’t want to be a whiner. If you sort of didn’t put a bit of a twist on things, it could get under your skin pretty bad,” Boone explains. “It could get you a bit crazy, and I didn’t want to be that way, so you sort of put a wall up. You needed that wall so that you weren’t upset and nervous all the time.” Humor was that wall.
Boone’s Vietnam book is actually a memoir, recounting how he tried to get into the Nashville music scene, then met his wife Elaine and settled down a bit, and then got his unexpected draft notice at age 27. He recounts in great detail his training experiences and his surprise posting to of all things an Army boat company. His stories unfold through some of the worst fighting in the Mekong Delta, all the way through the infamous Tet Offensive. He does not gloss over the fighting and bloodshed, but he does not dwell on it either. “Everybody knows it was a war,” he notes. Instead, he goes to great pains to humanize his fellow soldiers. “I wanted to tell about what went on between the battles, what we were really like.”
Boone also wanted to leave a legacy to his children and grandchildren, and his next project will continue that effort. Called “Papa’s Bear Stories,” his second book will be a collection of tales as told by his grandfather Ewart Wilson, grandson of Big Tom Wilson, a famous bear hunter and guide from Yancey County. “My granddaddy, whom we all called ‘Papa’, and his granddaddy did a lot of bear hunting together, and my brother and I heard his wonderful stories over and over again sitting at Papa’s knees. These tales are really worth preserving.”
Review written by Worth Weller.