Book Review April 2020

The VVA Veteran Magazine

Yesterday’s Soldier by Tom Keating

After graduating from Stonehill College’s Holy Cross Seminary in Massachusetts, but denied further advancement to ordination as a Catholic priest, Tom Keating surrendered to the inevitable and volunteered for the draft in 1968. Army Basic Training and Infantry AIT, along with his superior skill with weapons, overpowered Keating’s semi-monastic religious life style. And he began to concentrate on “how to survive and kill in battle,” Keating writes in his memoir, Yesterday’s Soldier (153 pp., $16.99, paper), and he moved on to Officer Candidate School.

As his infantry training continued, Keating re-evaluated this character transformation, and once again followed his religious training. Not wanting to kill people or order others to do so, he sought conscientious objector status.

In the first half of Yesterday’s Soldier Tom Keating does an excellent job explaining the dynamics of attaining conscientious objector status as an active-duty soldier during the Vietnam War. His recollections provided me with new knowledge and insights about a punishing, tedious, and sinister process. How sinister? Keating’s best friend became an Army Criminal Investigation Division agent assigned to evaluate the sincerity of his religious beliefs. Although a Defense Department policy limited the number of conscientious objectors serving in the armed forces, Keating won his case: He would not be assigned a combat role or issued a weapon for the rest of his tour in the Army. Nevertheless, he owed the military one more year of active-duty service. Without a job specialty, he was sent to Vietnam. On his arrival, Keating lucked out when a college friend classified him as an administrator and assigned him to a job with the 1st Logistical Command at Long Binh.

Keating’s writing style flows smoothly. I enjoyed reading his stories about the Vietnam War. But his book offers little new information about life behind the lines. There are descriptions of surviving close calls during rocket, mortar, and sapper attacks on Long Binh. He tells of giving up his “seminarian virginity” in a Saigon bathhouse. Issued a Jeep, he chauffeured officers and performed other minor chores. He befriended a housemaid who was Catholic. R&R in Australia was a highlight of his tour. And then he came home.

Tom Keating found a different world than the one he had left two years earlier, especially within the Catholic Church. As part of a continuing evolution of character, his limited exposure to death had magnified his perception of the past. He determined he “could never return to that world, not after Vietnam. That world had collapsed.”

So he began a new life, earning a master’s degree in education and teaching high school for eight years before starting a long career in corporate communications.

Posted by Tom Keating

Tom Keating is a graduate of Stonehill College, where he studied for the priesthood at Holy Cross Seminary for five years before serving in the United States Army, including a tour of Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as a conscientious objector. He served with the 47th Military History Detachment, then served with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Logistical Command, and Headquarters Company, US Army Vietnam, (USARV) also in Long Binh. His service earned him two Army Commendation Medals. His memoir of his military experiences in the US Army, "Yesterday’s Soldier, A Passage From Prayer to the Vietnam War" is the story of his journey from Infantry Officer Candidate to conscientious objector. After his military service, Tom attended Boston University and completed his Master’s degree in Education.. A career in corporate communications and learning with companies like Wang Laboratories, Digital Equipment Corporation, IBM and EMC Corporation followed his brief years of teaching high school. He also produced news and public affairs broadcasts for local Boston television and national cable television programs. Tom joined the AGAPE writing program for veterans at the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College under the direction of Roxana Von Kraus. He attended the Joiner Institute Master Writing Program at the Joiner Institute Writers’ Workshop Festival held at the University of Massachusetts, Boston in 2017 and 2018. Excerpts from his memoir have appeared in national anthologies. “Convoy for the Con Voi” was published in “War Stories 2017”, an anthology edited by Sean Davis, writer, artist and combat veteran of Iraq. . Another excerpt, “Shakedown” appears in Complacency Kills, an anthology published by Warrior Writers Boston in their book. Tom and his wife, the artist Kathleen Keating, live in Massachusetts where he is an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and is committed to assisting veterans of all ages.

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