This is one amazing book.
“Walking Point,” by Minnesota author Robert Kunkel, is a soldier’s-eye view of the horrors of war and how one year forever changed the life of a Midwestern farm boy.
Kunkel grew up on a farm near Pearl Lake in central Minnesota. Far away from the jungles and heat and war in South Vietnam, little did he know how the war would change him. But it did.
This is not a book for the squeamish. The difference between Kunkel’s book and other classic Vietnam War memoirs — such as “A Rumor of War” — is that Kunkel saw more direct action in one tour than did probably many soldiers who went to Vietnam.
“This is a view of the common soldier who saw and lived a short portion of the Vietnam War,” Kunkel said in vast understatement at the beginning of his memoir. “I do not believe there is ever a good war. If one has to label a war as being bad, Vietnam falls deeply within the criteria of a bad war.”
Kunkel nearly died in Vietnam and took some lives himself, events he admits will be “forever etched in my mind.”
After being severely wounded, something in Kunkel changed. After a long recuperation in the hospital from injuries, Kunkel’s captain said he should have sent him back to the states.
But Kunkel found himself in another firefight.
“I knelt on one knee, pulled up to shoot but pulled my gun down. Kloemken ran up beside me and was aiming his rifle at them as they fled. I grabbed his rifle and pulled it down. He yelled at me, ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ I knelt there, dumbfounded. I didn’t have a clue why I didn’t shoot, or why I pulled his rifle down. My actions were impulsive and puzzling.”
Like many who had seen action, Kunkel returned home feeling out of place. For a time, he even considered reenlisting. Years later, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he finally began to come to terms with the war that he had fought and had aged him 20 years in one.
This is the ultimate Vietnam War memoir, written by someone who fought in it and was lucky enough to return. Kunkel’s gripping prose has the intensity and focus that only one who has seen war can convey.