Unfriendly Fire: A Mother's Memoir by Peg Mullen.

Book Review: Unfriendly Fire: A Mother's Memoir

16 January 2006

Gary Linderer

Back in September (1995) I attended the Kokomo, Indiana 10th Annual Vietnam Veterans Rally. Met a lot of brothers and ran into an occasional dyed in the wool phoney. But the highlight of the weekend was meeting Vietnam era God Star mother and authoress Peg Mullen. During the course of our conversation Peg was kind enough to autograph a copy of her book, UNFRIENDLY FIRE: A Mother's Memoir, for me and I was grateful enough to promise her a review in the next issue of BTL. Well, Peg, I didn't let you down.

When I got home from the reunion and caught up all that had happened at BTL during my absence, I decided to rest my throbbing feet and relax for a while with a lister bag of ice tea and a good book. UNFRIENDLY FIRE seemed like an obvious choice. After all, I had just met its writer and it really wasn't big enough to occupy my time for more than a day or two. Major mistake! Twelve hours later I was to discover that UNFRIENDLY FIRE was actually one of the “Biggest” books I have read.

Peg Mullen is no ordinary woman. She's “your” mom and “my” mom rolled into one. Remember when we all had those special ladies who wrote those wonderfully supportive letters and sent those weekly CARE packages that assured us there was still like on the other side of the planet. Well, Peg Mullen is definitely one of them.

Half of an Iowa farm couple that brought four children into the Vietnam generation; this lovely lady tells the story of her lost son, SGT Michael E. Mullen, who was killed by “friendly” fire on 18th February 1970, while serving with the Americal Division near Chu Lai, South Vietnam. Peg Mullen was different from the rest of the 58,000 moms who lost a piece of their hearts in the Vietnam War. Peg Mullen wouldn't accept the Army's excuse for what happened to her boy. She wanted answers – answers that the U.S. Army and the government of the United States of America didn't want to give. Peg Mullen wanted to know why her son had died under the shrapnel rain of American artillery – and Peg Mullen wanted to know why her first born had to give his life for a cause with purpose.

UNFRIENDLY FIRE takes the reader through this courageous lady's twenty five year battle to find the answers to her questions, and to make certain that the American public began to question the politicians and generals who found it so easy to pave their careers with the death certificates of young American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. I found it particularly ironic that the officer she ultimately held responsible for her Michael's death was none other than our own “hero of the Gulf War”, Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf.

Peg Mullen pulls no punches in her personal crusade for answers. She is a special lady, full of spunk and the drive-on attitude that America was founded on. Her quest for truth takes her far beyond her original goals. Her newspaper, radio and TV interviews and her personal appearances at colleges, universities and before congress helped to awaken the American public to what was going on in Vietnam. Undaunted by the pat answers and “let it be” attitude of government officials who tried to thwart her at every turn, Peg Mullen took the battle to the “enemy” and came away a winner.

My heart went out to her a hundred time as I read her book. I found myself wanting to call her and tell her, “It's okay, mom, some of us are still alive!” but I caught myself just in time. I'm not Michael. No one can ever replace her Michael. It's just that the impact of a mother's grief is still more than I can handle. She does not need my comfort, this lady of strength who has comforted so many others.

Her story, partially misrepresented by author C. D. B. Bryan's FRIENDLY FIRE, and later portrayed more favourably in a TV movie of the same name, starring well known actress Carol Burnette, was shared by many. Because of it, Peg Mullen became a national symbol of the grassroots movement that eventually forced the U.S. to pull out of Vietnam.

Many condemned her for her efforts to end the war, but time and hindsight have combined to prove that she was always right in her pursuit of peace.

This is a must read for those of you who haven't yet done so.

Unfriendly Fire: A Mother's Memoir is available from Amazon.com (affiliate link)

This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.

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