Crazy 8's: Soldiers Still
(A novel of interrelated short stories.)
Dedication: For the soldiers
The longer the Vietnam War went on the more soldiers came to the psych wards. Sometimes it seemed that more came than went. In my storytelling I have never nor would I ever use the real names of the soldiers. And here is another truth: I . . do . . not . . remember . . the soldiers' names. But I remember them.
Jim Karantonis, Medic and Psych Tech, 1966-1969.
(Crazy Eights was the favorite card game of the soldiers on the psych wards.)
It's October 1967 during the Vietnam War. Zack Tonakis (White) is a young medic/psych tech, who along with his buddy, Robert Turner, (Black), is assigned to the psychiatric ward of an Army hospital in the hills of Pennsylvania. The ward houses young soldiers who are depressed; paranoid; obsessive-compulsive; a sociopath; and even a catatonic. Others, like Joker Berkowski who's described as "crazy funny," are there for a "failure to adjust" to Army life.
A major, not of the medical profession, was brought in on temporary assignment while a qualified replacement is sought. The major, a short-timer, wants nothing to jeopardize his coming retirement. His right hand, Sergeant Helms, views patients as cowards and phonies. An inept ward psychiatrist is of little help to the patients.
An escape by a patient during a ball game prompts the major to shut down all outdoor activities. His mantra becomes: "Keep them invisible."
The refusal of the major to allow outdoor activities causes the patients to act out. A sympathetic ward sergeant compensates for the restrictions by sending the soldiers to indoor activities. But following a second escape the major expands the off-limits to include even the base chapel.
The first short story "The Ball Game" introduces the soldiers who will have their own stories told in the collection. The main protagonist, psych tech Zack Tonakis, will follow the soldiers throughout the novel. Zack carries his own demons from the past: a violent alcoholic father.
Stories include a trip to the mess hall and a food protest; a beer truck hijacking; a trip to the base bowling alley; an escape from the chapel; a Red Cross dance; ECT shock treatment; a pool game that goes awry: family room flashbacks; a suicide, and more. The novel's holiday conclusion delivers a message of hope and recovery for the patients, soldiers still.