A Police Action, is a coming of age historical novel. It the story of two young people starting out and trying to make sense of their lives. Complicating the process is a small war going on in Southeast Asia involving some two million soldiers. A war that our country, for political reasons, refused to even call a war.
Coppi’s definition of a lifer is any man who enlisted to join the service, any
soldier that has the initials RA on his dog tags, RA standing for Regular
Army. Draftees, like Coppi, are not lifers. Their dog tags begin with the letters
US, which stands for United States. The army probably doesn’t even consider
them regular soldiers.
To Coppi, there is also a difference between a lifer and a true lifer. A lifer is
a mixed-up jerk who joined the army for some stupid reason, probably to get
away from something in his pathetic life on the outside. Once in the army, the
poor slob realizes his mistake and wants to go home just as much as a draftee
does. Unfortunately for him, his mistake will cost him an extra year of active duty.
A true lifer is a loser who has made the military a career.
• • • • •
Specialist Fourth Class James Coppi comes out of the company headquarters
where he’s just reported for duty, early one mid-April evening, picks up his
duffel bag, and heads to the barracks. A drab gray building of horizontal planks,
it looks the same as all the other barracks he’s seen since being drafted. It makes
him long for home for a minute—but just a minute—and then the beautiful
Colorado evening with its night sky already full of stars reminds him that the
Bronx was no Garden of Eden, either.
Coppi hasn’t seen so many stars in the sky since he was a young boy in
his native Italy. The air is already beginning to freshen, a cool breeze moving
across his face and carrying with it the aroma of those fields of bright-blue
flowers he saw out the window of his plane as it landed earlier. What were
they called … Texas bluebells? Yes, that’s the name. The sight of acres of deep sky blue blooms had stayed with him. There is something else in the air,
too—a chill following not far behind the fading sun and the fragrance of the
flowers; he wouldn’t be surprised if during the night there’s a late-spring
freeze. He’s read that the night temperature in the Rockies can easily drop
He still can’t believe he’s headed for Vietnam. Only ten months left on his
tour—he’d thought he was in the clear. What draftee goes to Nam in his last
ten months? He will have only six months remaining on his service when this
unit heads out, sometime in July. The army must be really hard up for men.
The news coming from the conflict is bad. The Tet Offensive, mounted
by the North Vietnamese Army, has shown the general public that victory for
the Americans, as assured them by the politicians, is not imminent. The news
is so bad that Lyndon Johnson has dropped out of his reelection bid. The
stubborn fool still won’t accept reality and defeat. So, what’s his plan…to
increase the forces fighting in Southeast Asia to more than five hundred
thousand? To what end?
Coppi is one of the “lucky” ones who got picked to head for the fighting.
No need to read the news account about the war any longer; he’ll get his own
view on just how bad the war is going. As he is about to go up the steps of the
porch leading to his barracks, he hears a shout in the distance.
“Coppi, you son of a bitch, is that really you?”
James Coppi turns to the voice. Five soldiers are rushing toward him.
When they get to him, one of the men gives him a shove.
“It is you,” he hollers. “I can’t believe it! How the hell have you been? I
haven’t seen you since advanced infantry training. You remember all the fun
we had in Seattle?”
“I’m well, Cardiz,” Coppi replies. “How about you?”
“Just great, now that you’re here,” Cardiz answers and gives him a hug.
Still holding on to him, Cardiz turns to the other men and gives them a broad
smile. “Now that Coppi is here, we can start having some fun when we go into
town.” He turns back to Coppi. “These hillbillies just don’t know how to have
fun. It’s going to be just like Seattle.”
Cardiz looks just like Coppi remembers him from back in Seattle. A huge
smile always on his face. Coppi once saw Cardiz smile broadly just before
hauling off and decking a guy.
“Really, Cardiz? No one knows how to have fun? Not even Goyette? I
can’t believe that.” Coppi walks up to a tall blond man, who could have been
a poster boy for the army recruiting campaign, and shakes his hand. “How
have you been, Goyette?”
“I’m fine, Coppi,” Goyette answers. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“You guys must be the hillbillies,” Coppi says, smiling and addressing the
other men. “I’m James Coppi.”
“I’m Henry Hall. Your friend Cardiz fashions himself to be quite a lover.
Unfortunately for him, the Colorado Springs girls don’t agree. I’m from
Amarillo, and I don’t know any hillbillies from Texas.”
“Well, Hall, if you want to pick up girls,” Coppi tells him, “my first piece
of advice to you is to take off your wedding band.”
“I’m happily married, thank you,” Hall answers. “I just go with these guys
to have a beer and pass some time.”
“I’m Johnny Pegg,” another says, extending his hand to Coppi. “I’m from
“Francisco Garcia.” The last of the men introduces himself. “San Diego,
“How about you, Coppi? Where are you from?” Hall asks. “New York
City, I’m guessing by your accent?”
“The Bronx to be exact,” he picks up his duffel bag and starts up the
The men follow. Cardiz opens the door for him. “We’re all going into
town tomorrow night—you’ll come with us, won’t you?”
“Tomorrow’s only Friday. Are we off for the entire weekend?”
“Yeah, the whole weekend. Not much is going on. Serious training doesn’t
begin until Monday. Don’t make plans to go into town with anybody else.”