Ashburn resident Frank E. Owens disliked reading about the Vietnam War, though he loved to read and had served a year of his 21 years of military service with the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
“Primarily, I was tired of reading books that portrayed service in Vietnam that I didn’t recognize,” Owens said, adding that much of what he read gave “the impression the Army is messing with dope addicts, baby killers and nuts.”
“The story of the typical soldier in Vietnam has been generally untold,” Owens writes in his introduction to “Soldiers Such As We,” a fictional account of the experiences of four Vietnam War servicemen set against a historically accurate background, one intended to be neither pro- or anti-war, he said. “There were thousands of brave, loyal, courageous, efficient and humane young officers who simply served their country as they were expected to. When these young men came home, many of them were made to feel ashamed of their honorable service.”
THREE MILLION men and women served in the Vietnam War, and for them, Owens wrote his book. He provided a fictional account of the experiences of four servicemen, describing how they coped during the peak of war from 1967-68. “I thought they [Vietnam veterans] were thirsting for something to read, to identify with so that they would feel like their time wasn’t a complete waste,” Owens said. “Unfortunately all of the books have been written about the couple hundred, not the three million.”
Owens began writing “Soldiers Such As We” in 1992 after retiring from Mitre Corporation in McLean, where he worked for 16 years as an information systems engineer. Previously, he served in the Army from 1954-1976 in Korea, France, Vietnam and Belgium as a communications engineer in the First Signal Brigade, provider of communications systems for the military.
In 1994, Owens copyrighted the book, publishing it through a joint publishing venture with Xlibris, a partner of Random House Ventures, LLC. Most of what he wrote was based on first-hand experience through what he witnessed, had experienced or was told by other servicemen.
The initial scene involving the shooting down of a helicopter was the only fictional account in the book, used to draw readers into the story’s main action. However, war veterans who read the story called Owens to tell him that the same sort of incident had happened to them. “Several people have read the book and most of them were vets. They all said it brought back memories and they could identify with it,” he said.
“It’s really a breath of fresh air,” said Lt. Col. Leland Jost, U.S. Army (retired), a family friend to Owens and his wife Evelyn. “I have had difficulty with a lot of movies that have been fabricating ear and eye-catching drug stories. This tells the real story. I was there. I can associate with the different military members he uses in the book, because it overlaps my 21-year military career.”
AS A COMMUNICATIONS engineer and essentially a troubleshooter, Owens traveled around as he planned and organized the repairing, rebuilding and reinstalling of downed communications systems on military and artillery bases. He provided communications support for the infantry, the artillery, the armor and the aviators, witnessing firsthand the daily happenings at the Saigon headquarters, the division quarters and the villages.
“It was like a confession. I got it off my chest,” Owens said, “My story is what ordinary people did in Vietnam War. …These people are normal Americans. Like most Americans, they cope. They didn’t all turn to drugs.”
And Owens “always wanted to write,” he said. At 10 years of age, Owens began reading as a pastime, reading about three books a week as he does today. “I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. That’s my recreation is reading. … My writing comes from reading.”
In the 1960s, Owens started writing about the military, publishing several magazine articles on military history and communications beginning in 1971. In his first full book, he wanted “to set the record straight” about what had occurred in Vietnam, he said. Instead of a welcome home, the Vietnam War veterans were punished for what had happened in Vietnam. They were spit upon, yelled at, insulted and put to shame.
“If you want to find someone in the future to protect you, you should pay tribute to those who serve you now,” Owens said. “Are you going to expect them to encourage their children to serve? It’s a terrible injustice in America.”
In the last sentence of the preface, Owens writes to his fellow veterans, “Those of you who survived the war and those who died did not serve in vain. Above all else, we were true to our oaths. The stain on the honor of our country lies with those who were not strong enough to cope.”
Owens “tells the story that hasn’t been told enough. The other is more flashy and people will listen to it more that the one about us common folk,” Jost said.
Owens is working on two additional book projects, a historical account of the best war generals and a fictional story based on a pilgrimage experience. He and Evelyn have lived in Ashburn for 14 years. They have four children and four grandchildren.