Norman, Okla. - "Of Uncommon Birth: Dakota Sons in Vietnam" is historical non-fiction by Mark St. Pierre tracing the experiences of two young men - an Oglala Lakota from the Wounded Knee District of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the other a middle class non-Indian college student - from South Dakota beginning in 1967.
Frank Jealous of Him joins the Army to escape his life without a future at Pine Ridge and a less than positive relationship with his stepmother. Dale Nielsen (name changed by the author) is a college student who bucked the student protest trend and joined the military knowing he would likely go to Vietnam, after struggling with the realization he was no better than the young people that were dying in the jungles of Vietnam. The two men meet at an induction center and form a bond that lasts from their basic training at Fort Lewis, Wash. to Jealous of Him's death in combat on June 9, 1969.
An insightful aspect of St. Pierre's telling of this story is the institutional racism of military service during Vietnam as it concerned American Indians. Jealous of Him is portrayed as a highly-competent, natural leader who scores as high on the military tests that determined what his role will be in the military, as Nielsen, but is not offered the same opportunities. Jealous of Him is placed in a combat unit as an infantry scout and is immediately sent to Vietnam. The Army offers to send Nielsen to officer candidate school and when he declines is given training and duty positions that allow him to rise in the enlisted ranks faster than Jealous of Him before the former even sets foot in Vietnam.
St. Pierre should be commended for his exhaustive research of original source documents and interviews despite the questionable choice of the creative non-fiction format. "Of Uncommon Birth" features numerous photographs of Jealous of Him and the soldiers he served with allowing the reader to put a face to the name and adding credibility to his rendition of the events covered in the book. St. Pierre also provides a glossary of military terms used in the dialogue of the book for those who may be unfamiliar with the "alphabet soup" that has become commonplace in military speech.
"Of Uncommon Birth" deserves the highest recommendation of those interested in the Vietnam War and the role American Indians and their comrades played in the conflict.
Find out more about "Of Uncommon Birth: Dakota Sons in Vietnam" by writing to University of Oklahoma Press, 4100 28th Ave. NW, Norman, Okla. 73069, phone (405) 325-2000 or visit www.oupress.com.