Yesterday’s Soldier by Tom Keating

Yesterday’s Soldier

Yesterday’s Soldier is a Vietnam War memoir of a different flavor. Packed into this book is the story of a young man’s coming of age in troubled times. The author spent five years studying for the priesthood in a religious seminary, then leaves and rather be drafted, chooses to enlist, and proceeds through the Army’s infantry training cycle of weapons and war tactics, which clash with his years of prayer.

“Peace is something you have or do not have. If you are yourself at peace, then there is a least some peace in the world”  – Thomas Merton

Summary

During his attendance at the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School he makes a moral decision: He will wear the uniform and serve anywhere, but in a non-combat role. He will not kill. The decision to be a noncombatant puts him at odds with the Army, his family and his Church.

Keating uses real language to tell a very accessible story that will put you in his boots. His words show how the US and Vietnam were worlds apart while having underlying similarities. War, religion, and morality are always in the background of his tale, but they move to the surface when a North Vietnamese refugee gives Keating a holy card with a picture with Vietnamese features of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Anne for protection.

The story of his transformation from infantry rifleman and officer candidate through enlisted soldier status in Vietnam, and the joys and trials he faced with his Church, the Army and his family along the way, is well told and definitely worth reading.

Keating uses real language to tell a very accessible story that will put you in his boots. His words show how the US and Vietnam were worlds apart while having underlying similarities. War, religion, and morality are always in the background of his tale, but they move to the surface when a North Vietnamese refugee gives Keating a holy card with a picture with Vietnamese features of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Anne for protection.

Yesterday’s Soldier

Introduction

As I write this it has been 50 years since these events in my life occurred. My memory of these events has been with me every day. Some details are sharper than others, some are less sharp, but my emotions are depicted accurately.

The two years I spent in the US Army from 1968 to 1970 were in sharp contrast to the five-plus years I spent studying to be a priest and living a religious life in a Roman Catholic Seminary in Massachusetts. This book is my record of my struggle to find my way from a living a holy life to a life of combat.

Names of people have been changed in some cases, but the places have not. Some of the events depicted I have had to render from memory, and thanks to my own journal, plus letters and photographs saved by my dear wife, helped me in reconstructing the events I described.

I would like to thank Matthew Brennan, a Vietnam Veteran and excellent writer, for his inspiration and encouragements. Matt has written three excellent books recounting his Vietnam war and its effect on him as he returned to civilian life.

I want to also thank Sean Davis, an Iraqi war veteran and writer, who encouraged me to write my memoir when I attended his nonfiction workshop at the William Joiner Institute’s Writers’ Workshop at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Thank, also to Roxana Von Kraus, my writing instructor at the AGAPE Writing Workshops for Veterans which I attended at Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College in 2018. Roxana provided me with encouragement to pursue completing this memoir.

My thanks to my editor, Catherine Parnell, who is a real professional and knows how to make a writer better, and to my book designer, Christa Johnson, for such a lovely job.

Finally, my thanks and love to my wife Kathleen for her encouragement and patience, and her assistance in making this book happen.

Praise for Yesterday’s Soldier

Yesterday’s Soldier is a Vietnam War memoir of a different flavor. Packed into this tidy book is the story of a young man’s coming of age in troubled times. The author, after five years of studying for the priesthood in a religious seminary, leaves and is quickly exposed to the Draft. He chooses to enlist rather than be drafted, and proceeds through the Army’s infantry training cycle of weapons and war tactics, which clash with his years of prayer. During his attendance at the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School he makes a moral decision: He will wear the uniform and serve anywhere, but in a non-combat role. That decision to be a noncombatant puts him at odds with the Army, his family and his Church.

The story is of his transformation from infantryman to conscientious Objector and his experiences in Vietnam. He shares his joys and trials along the way, is definitely worth reading.”

— Mathew Brennan, Vietnam combat veteran and author of Brennan’s War, and Flashing Saber: Three Years in Vietnam, Broken Helmet, and Headhunters.


“Keating describes his war and its effect on him in clean detail. His words are personable, yet direct, and brings you right in to his experience. Skills like his are invaluable, so that we may revisit these important experiences in history.”

— Amber Telford, Firefighter, EMT, and US Marine combat veteran of Iraq


“Tom Keating writes with courage and honesty. Not an easy task when you write about things that you don’t want to write about. Wars never end in the mind of those who fight in them. And those around them who witnessed it.”

— Roxana Von Kraus, Director, AGAPE Writing Workshop for Veterans, Woods College at Boston College.


“A young, patriotic student who has been studying the priesthood in a Catholic seminary for six years leaves to become an army infantry officer in Vietnam. No, this isn’t the plot to the next Hollywood Blockbuster, this is Tom Keating’s life. The belief in his God and his country inspired him to enlist in the US Army during wartime, but his faith and his ideals caused him to struggle to become a non-combatant conscientious objector. Yesterday’s Soldier is his story of serving in the same combat theater as all the other military men and women. Keating uses real language to tell a very accessible story that will put you in his boots. His words show how the US and Vietnam were worlds apart while having underlying similarities. War, religion, and morality are always in the background of his tales, but they move to the surface every once in a while. His memories show a need for understanding others different than us, and our country needs more of these stories today than ever before.”

— Sean Davis, Iraq Combat Veteran, author of The Wax Bullet War, Chronicles of a Soldier & Artist

Photos from Vietnam

Below are some photos from my time served in Vietnam.

bunker line in Long Binh

A section of the bunker line in Long Binh 1970

Long Binh Post

Main street of enlisted barracks, Long Binh, 1970

The author at a captured Russian Anti-aircraft weapon

The Author as a seminarian

The author as a seminarian

The author at one of the defense bunkers Long Binh

The author at one of the defense bunkers Long Binh

Tom Keating Graduation Photograph as Seminarian

Tom Keating Graduation Photograph as Seminarian

Vietnamese Women repairing bunkers, Long Binh 1969

Map of buildings at Long Binh Army Base

Map of buildings at Long Binh Army Base

The author receiving the first Army Commendation Medal

The author receiving the first Army Commendation Medal

The author enjoying a PBR at the Engineers bar

Enlisted barracks Street 1st Logistical Command

Enlisted barracks Street 1st Logistical Command

Tom and Jeep

Tom and Jeep