Letters to Uncle Richie Perry from Robin

Stephanie BurchBynum By Stephanie BurchBynum, 7th Jun 2016 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Education

This is a review of two of Walter Dean Mayers' books, Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah.

Introduction

Walter Dean Myers creates a multigenerational, fictional account of war in his two books Fallen Angels and Sunrise over Fallujah. Fallen Angels is set during the Vietnam War. The seventeen year old protagonist, Richie Perry, joins the army to save money for college and to provide financial support for his family. Because of a paperwork mistake, he is given the wrong orders and separated from his squad. He is sent to Vietnam with a bad knee. His medical profile is lost at times and ignored at other times which results in him being sent into combat. Sunrise over Fallujah is about Richie’s nephew, Robin Perry, who decides to join the army after 9-11 in order to defend his country. After experiencing the horrors of war, he gains a more mature perspective regarding the politics of war. Letters from Robin Perry to his Uncle Richie Perry connects both books.

Vivid Descriptions

In both books and in both wars, there was no easily identifiable antagonist due to the interaction with the perceived civilian population. The enemy in Vietnam and Iraq did not consistently wear uniforms. There were no illustrations other than a black and white map of each country in the books. However, there were vivid descriptions which enable the reader to see, smell, or feel the action. Fallen Angels begins with a dialogue which leads the reader to believe that they are in the middle of a combat zone. In reality, the plane was in Anchorage, Alaska. This sets the tone for the book which combines levity with grave war situations. The dialogue is engaging and Richie Perry’s inner monologue is revealed which helps the reader to get to know Perry through his thoughts and childhood memories. It also promotes empathy as Perry’s thoughts are shared as he witnesses the casualties of war. Sunrise over Fallujah shares Robin Perry’s inner thoughts allowing the reader to see the war through his eyes. Myers wrote in the character of Robin, “…nobody was thinking about the Humvees, only the sounds of the big guns booming in the distance. The vibrations from the heavy weapons traveled through the air and I could feel something deep inside my bowels react every time there was an explosion. The scent of gasoline mixed with the smell of sulfur in the warm air” (Myers, 2008, p. 38). Both books also contain day dream sequences for other characters adding another dimension. In Fallen Angels, the character, Lobel, shares his aspirations to become a Hollywood filmmaker. He casts the Vietnamese into various roles and considers various locations in the war for scenes throughout Fallen Angels. A similar character, Jones the Blues Man, who dreams of opening a club, is present in Sunrise over Fallujah.

Vocabulary

There were several terms in Fallen Angels which needed definitions such as Quonset huts, army ranger, army specialist, transfer, court martial, deep boonies, and mine. A glossary was included in Sunrise over Fallujah which improved readability. Because of the drug use, profanity and sexual language contained in both books, the books are recommended for young adult readers who are seventeen years old and older. The language was used by adults in the books in the company of other adults and it is not appropriate for children. There are also homophobic and racist terms used in both books which is typical of the era but does not promote intercultural understanding in today’s society.

Depictions of Women

Strong female characters are represented in each book but they are ultimately undermined. Fallen Angels had a female medic but falls short because she was portrayed at times as a possible love interest. Sunrise over Fallujah had different female characters of different ranks that are sexualized. There is also an attempted rape of a female major in the bathroom. She had to be saved by a male soldier. Robin Perry described female soldiers as “Strange chicks joined the army. I thought. Strange and strong” (Myers, 2008, p. 44). He calls Marla, a female soldier, who outranks him by her first name which is disrespectful and not aligned with military protocol. He stated, “Marla outranked me but she wanted to be a gunner” (Myers, 2008, p.20). He also threatened her for calling him, “Birdy” (Myers, 2008, p.8). Civilian women are likened to disease-ridden prostitutes in both books. Myers (1988) wrote, “Stay away from the women. They got venereal diseases here that eat penicillin for breakfast. Three quarters of the women over here have it” (pp. 21-22). In Sunrise over Fallujah, Myers (2008) wrote, “The cops were picking up prostitutes and Harris said that in a way most women weren’t much more than whores” (p. 153). There is a gender inequity in the books in spite of having female characters that are in the military.

Downtime in the Military

The downtime during the war is portrayed fairly accurately. There is a lot of time sitting around. There were shops, movie theaters, and restaurants built around the base in Iraq especially during the later years of the war. However, there were some inaccuracies in both books. For example, rank insignias are placed on bathrobes; civilian workers on the base are not mistaken for the Vietcong; and there is no choice given to a soldier between a transfer and a court martial in a disciplinary action (Myers, 1988, pp. 210, 10, 11, 18). Robin Perry considered not hydrating. He stated, “…I saw guys going for their water bottles. I wasn’t sure whether I should drink as much water as possible or try to train myself to drink less “(Myers, 2008, p.8). This is a cardinal sin in the military. It puts the service member at risk for heat injury especially in extreme heat conditions. Continual monitoring of hydration is encouraged by the military by placing hydration analysis charts in the bathrooms (Navy, 2003). There was once a belief that limiting water could increase tolerance in the 1940’s but research disavowed this belief (Montain and Ely, n.d., p.3). There are no consequences for insubordination in both books.

Depictions of the Army

The army is also depicted as incompetent. In Fallen Angels, Richie Perry is sent to Vietnam without his company because of a paper work mix up then his medical profile is lost which causes him to go into combat with an injured knee (Myers, 1988, pp. 5, 27-28). In another example, none of the restaurants would accept the meal tickets issued to the deployed soldiers at the airport and they had to pay for their own meals. In response to the incident, Richie simply states, “Typical army” (Myers, 1988, pp. 5-6). In Sunrise over Fallujah, Robin Perry is sent to the Iraqi War with other soldiers who were unsure of who to shoot and when shooting is permitted. He is also not confident in his own training (Myers, 2008, pp. 26, 29).

Themes

One of the most interesting themes present in both books is the relationship that deployed soldiers maintain with their families at home. Souvenirs are collected along the way to send home. The birthdays of loved ones are still remembered even in a war zone. There is a desire to write letters but to censor them to avoid worrying the family at home. Mail call and care packages from home are important events. Richie Perry stated, “We got mail call and I didn’t get anything. I had to find somebody to write to beside Mama so I would get mail” (Myers, 1988, p. 49). Churches, community groups, and schools also send care packages. Robin Perry said, “Any time a guy gets a large package from home, everybody gathers around hoping it’s something to eat” (Myers, 2008, p. 138). Mail is important for moral and any news from home is appreciated even if it is about someone else’s mother’s bad feet (Myers, 1988, p. 58). When my own husband was deployed he would request miscellaneous items from home in a piece meal fashion to increase the frequency of receiving care packages. According to my husband, people who received multiple and consistent care packages every week were perceived to have more support than others. I think the ambivalent feelings about having a child in the military should have been depicted. Parents are proud to have children who serve in the military but are reluctant to have them join. Families with children also are proud and supportive of the service member but there is a notable absence in the home. Spouses are forced to raise their children as single parents. Children face conflicting feelings about having a missing parent. The threat of losing the service member becomes a continuous concern. Wills and life insurance are updated. Funeral arrangements are discussed and the power of attorney is granted to a family member left behind. Since both books are written from the point of view of the service member, the point of view of the family during wartime is limited.

Conclusion

Fallen Angels and Sunrise over Fallujah are both fictional books which can be enjoyed by young adults who are at least seventeen years old or who have parental consent. Both books can be read together or independently. They can be used as a starting point for a discussion of the army, the Vietnam War, and the Iraqi War. Care should be taken to address the inaccuracies and negative portrayals of women, the army, and different cultural groups.

References

Myers, W.D. (1988). Fallen Angels. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
Myers, W.D. (2008). Sunrise over Fallujah. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
Montain, S. and Ely, M. (n.d.). Water Requirements and Soldier Hydration. Monograph. Retrieved from http://www.usariem.army.mil/pages/download/HydrationPDF.pdf
Navy. (2003). Am I Hydrated? Urine Color Chart. Retrieved from http://www-nehc.med.navy.mil/downloads/healthyliv/nutrition/urinekleurenkaart.pdf

Tags

Fallen Angels, Iraq, Military, Sunrise Over Fallujah, Vietnam, Walter Dean Mayer, War

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author avatar Stephanie BurchBynum
Dr. Stephanie Burch-Bynum is a professor at the American College of Education.

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