Author, Robert Vaughan, on Brandywine's War
In 1971, the world was first introduced to Brandywine’s War, a brilliant satiric novel of army life in the midst of battle. That book was peopled by a kooky collection of characters who managed to turn the Vietnam War into a stage for bizarre events. 2018, we’re bringing Brandywine back, in hopes that more readers will fall in love with this Rabelaisian novel.
Chief Warrant Officer, and author, Robert Vaughan, completed Brandywine’s War while serving his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Robert Vaughan came home from the Vietnam War like millions of other veterans of that era, without fanfare and without respect. He wrote Brandywine's War, an enormously successful book that looked at the war with a heavy dose of humor.
Vaughan has often said, when explaining the rather zany aspects of the characters that: “To survive something like Vietnam, we had to be just a little more insane than the insanity of that war.”
When you originally wrote Brandywine’s War, was it intended for a Military audience, civilians, or everyone?
I had recently read CATCH-22 which had a universal appeal, so I hoped my book would as well. But it was particularly popular with the military at the time, especially those in Army Aviation.
You’ve said this is the most autobiographical thing you have ever written; can you tell us a bit about what parts actually occurred?
I was an aircraft recovery officer with the collateral duty as supply officer. The scene where I have my secretary painting the property book pages with coffee to age them, so I could cover for missing items is true. Also, the ongoing joke about Marsha, the $500 rat is true. And Tiny, trying to pee over the top strand of the fence is true, though that actually happened in Korea.
Readers have made comments that the characters did a lot of things they themselves wish they had done when they were in war. Were you a bit of a rule breaker when you were in the military?
I don’t like to call it “rule breaking” I prefer to think of it as taking advantage of loopholes. I was a “scrounge” expert and sort of a wheeler-dealer.
A lot of readers have said they wish the book would have a movie adaptation. If this was to ever happen who would you want to play Brandywine and the other main characters?
Ironically the book did sell to Marc Carliner Productions, but the movie M*A*S*H was in production at the time and they were incurring a lot of production problems. Also, at the time BRANDYWINE’S WAR came out, the Vietnam War was very unpopular and there was a lot of negative feedback over having a “humorous” book about a war that “wasn’t funny.” I actually spoke with Dick Van Dyke about being Brandywine, but Carliner paid out their option, and the movie was never produced. To be honest, I don’t really have any ideas as to who, from today’s actors, would be best.
Brandywine’s War has been very meaningful to a lot of men who served in the Vietnam War, did you ever expect it to have that impact?
I was actually in Vietnam while I was writing the book, and often shared passages with some of the others, so, yes, I did think it would be impactful. Those of us who served in Vietnam have become somewhat of a family. Consider that while soldiers in every other war received the gratitude and respect from the citizens, we did not. We were, in fact, ostracized by many. There were 2.4 million of us who served in country, only 800,000 of us are still alive. We are, truly, a band of brothers, and sisters.
Was there a certain moment in your life where you thought “I HAVE to write this right now?”
Oh yes, as I said in response to an earlier question, I wrote this while I was actually serving in Vietnam.
What are you hoping will come from the re-release of Brandywine’s War?
I would love to get new readers who are too young to have experienced the war, and the national attitude toward the war. I do think those earlier negative attitudes have changed. I wear my “Vietnam Veteran” cap when I go out, and quite often someone will say, “Thank you for your service.” I appreciate that, and they are the people I would like to reach with this book, especially since BRANDYWINE’S WAR is a humorous approach to the war. I have often said, when explaining the rather zany aspects of my characters that: “To survive something like Vietnam, we had to be just a little more insane than the insanity of that war.”