A War Hero - and a Peace Hero
By Hamilton Gregory (reviewer)
The Light Where Shadows End: A War Hero's Inspirational Journey Through Death, Recovery, and a World Without Home
by r.g. cantalupo
(New World Publishers, 2015)
A highly-decorated hero of the Vietnam War, r.g. cantalupo has produced a masterpiece of war, suffering, and redemption. This book grips you and won't let you go until you reach the end. As an example of his vivid, strong memories, here is an excerpt of his near-death battlefield experience:
"And then I rose. Above my body. Above my life.
"Is this my soul parting from my flesh, my spirit rising toward eternity, flying through the tunnel of white light toward people I loved?
"I rose in darkness, in shadow, the body below me — my body — graying to a shade, the medic slowly dimming to a hazy silhouette.
"...and then I fell ... I fell as if I would fall forever, as if this life — our lives — from birth until death — was surrounded by this endless dark matter through which we all must someday fall.
"...When my soul returned to the medevac, the only words I heard, came neither from a god nor an angel, but a man — green, insect-like in his helmet — his voice muted by whirling blades chopping through the heavy air, yelling — 'Wake up! Wake up, soldier! What's your name!? What's your name!? What's your name!?'"
Cantalupo shows the sickening ease with which Americans accidentally killed comrades during the madness and chaos of combat. Of his friend Lonny, he wrote, "Lonny was dead. Shot in the throat and chest by his own men. Friendly fire. Friendly. As if killing was somehow friendlier if done by your own men."
After Lonny is killed, cantalupo makes eye contact with a badly wounded enemy soldier groaning in the grass. He raises his rifle, prepared to kill him. But he stops himself. "I lowered my rifle. I was done. I was done with killing, done with death, done with war. For a long moment, the wounded soldier held my eyes, then he turned and slowly crawled away."
In 2015, in a journey towards reconciliation, cantalupo returns to Vietnam and meets former members of the People's Army, against whom he fought in Trang Bang in 1968-69. But "the legacy of leaving hundreds of thousands of unexploded bombs to kill more children; of fourth generation birth defects and genetic mutations caused by our massive spraying of Agent Orange — will not allow for my reconciliation."
He concludes, "All I can do is witness and tell, tell as I told the American public when I marched and protested as a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War; tell as we told in the Winter Soldier hearings when we admitted to war crimes and atrocities."
With admirable wisdom, he points out, "Perhaps reconciliation is not an end, but a beginning, a healing process that starts with compassion and ends with grace."
Cantalupo is a war hero, and he is also a peace hero who has written a valuable book that is filled with compassion, grace, and redemption.
Hamilton Gregory, a VVAW life member, served with Army Intelligence in Vietnam in 1968-69. He is the author of McNamara's Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, and he appears in a YouTube video entitled "McNamara's Folly."