By Greg Ritchie
HOUSTON COUNTY – Former Houston County Justice of the Peace (JP) Clyde Black has published a book titled, “The Night of the Co-Van,” a series of recollections and lessons learned during his service in Vietnam. Black served three tours in the U.S. Marine Corps during that conflict, spending much of that time behind the lines, living and fighting amongst the Vietnamese people.
Before serving as JP for 16 years, Black served in law enforcement after returning home from Vietnam. His experiences there led him to suffer many years of guilt for surviving, bitterness at how many veterans were treated when they returned home and a promise made to his daughter to put his experiences and reflections in print. Ashley Renee Black Krajca – before her untimely death – always encouraged Black to share his story – both the exciting parts and the difficult ones with the wider world.
After Black’s retirement last year, he figured he had the time now to fulfill that promise.
“When I retired, I finally had the opportunity to fulfill a daughter’s request,” Black said. “I’m concerned about veterans’ health issues and all the veteran suicides. I wanted more than just adventure stories. I wanted to talk about the mental process – maybe people shouldn’t feel guilty about expressing the fact they were afraid and that it’s okay. It’s okay to survive.”
The book chronicles not only Black’s experiences in boot camp and the lessons he took from the war, the first part is a riveting page-turner, a story of one night beside one river, separated from his backup, with a small squad of Vietnamese soldiers. Black was the lone American in the group, trying to protect these men, while not totally sure of their loyalty. This reporter has read the book and will give no spoilers here. Black tells the story of one very long and difficult night, laying out what went through his mind at each stage and questioning his decisions – even to this day.
Black admitted he wrote the book a little at a time, as memories were still raw and he found himself needed breaks from time to time to process the feelings. He did admit it was therapeutic, putting those memories, feelings and doubts out there for all the world to see.
Black said there is a historical stigma on veterans talking too much about what really went on in Vietnam and how they felt about it.
“Veterans don’t talk about it because it’s too hard or whatever. Then, they keep this stuff in their minds and I think veterans need to express themselves. They get these things out and feel better. I think families are inquisitive and wanting to know what their lives were like and maybe this will help some families understand their veteran a little better and why they don’t hear a lot from them,” Black explained.
Black was supported in writing the book by his wife Claire, who writes a column for The Messenger.
Cheril Vernon, who serves as The Messenger’s copy editor and is known by Black as “The Professor,” helped edit, design and publish the book. Vernon said she was intrigued by the style of Black’s writing.
“I like how he makes you feel like you were there – like you could hear the brush moving where he crawling,” Vernon said. “You feel the breeze. You put yourself in his shoes – what would you do in this life or death situation.”
A very famous icon – John Wayne – also is mentioned in the book, as Black and his dad saw the movie star at an East Texas café not long before Black was deployed to Vietnam.
“I love how Clyde mentions in the book how the words of John Wayne came back to him when he was trying to decide how to stay alive that night,” Vernon said.
Asked very specific questions about certain aspects of that difficult night – sorry, no spoilers – Black said he still has many of those same questions himself. A young man who had been in intelligence, turning up on the bank of a muddy river in the middle of the night, where one breath taken at the wrong time could cost you your life.
“As I sit here speaking with you, I still ask myself some of those questions,” Black revealed. “It was something you don’t really prepare for and the last thing I expected, but it certainly was an interesting and different experience.”
Vernon was proud she was able to assist Black to bring one corner of a big war that cost the lives of 58,000 American soldiers.
“It was a great experience,” Vernon concluded. “It was exciting to bring a Vietnam veteran’s story to life, especially one that had a particularly strong meaning to him because he wanted to do it in honor of his daughter. For me, it was honor to be able to help him fulfill that dream.”
The book is on sale now online at Amazon.com and you will soon see Black himself at local events such as the Peanut Festival in Grapeland, where he will have books available to purchase. The book also will be available at local businesses in the near future.
Black has struggled with “survivor’s guilt” for many years – the question of why he was able to survive when others did not. In the end, through deep thought and writing this book, he understood it wasn’t up to him and he could only do his best for himself and his men.
“We did our job. When the morning came around, we survived and we had gotten rid of some of the bad guys,” Black said.
As mentioned in the book, the Veterans Crisis Line is available by dialing 988 then pressing “1.” This crisis line offers 24/7 confidential crisis support for veterans and their loved ones. Veterans also can text 838255 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]