Doug Stanton's Big Year
By Clark Miller | Sept. 4, 2017
Travese City’s Doug Stanton has a busy year ahead of him: His latest book, The Odyssey of Echo Company, will be the focus of a National Writers Series event in TC September 17 (the book hits bookstores later this month). Stanton will soon embark on a book promotional tour, and then in January, his bestseller Horse Soldiers is slated for release as a major motion picture produced by Jerry Bruckheimer of Black Hawk Down, Pirates of the Caribbean and Top Gun fame.
In his new book, Stanton again visits war – this time Vietnam – in the run up to (and at the height of) the 1968 Tet Offensive. The book follows the life of Stan Parker, who volunteers for the Army’s 101st Airborne at the height of the war. Parker’s reconnaissance platoon was often ordered to seek out and engage the enemy. Based on Army after-action reports, Parker’s own notes and memory, readers see how the war presents an extreme test of frontline soldiers’ physical and psychological limits.
The Ticker caught up with Stanton recently to discuss his big year ahead and more.
Ticker: There’s violence and depravity, but Odyssey also immerses us in Stan Parker’s inner dialogue as he tries to process what’s happening to him.
Stanton: He’s a natural storyteller. I think he’s a courageous guy – physically, but also emotionally. He had a story to tell. He asked me to write it. He never tried to gloss over anything. And he never asked me to take anything out of the book.
Ticker: Stan comes across as a very reflective guy.
Stanton: I hope the result is a book about what happens to the human soul in nearly impossible circumstances.
Ticker: Many veterans refuse to talk about their experiences. But as Tom Brokaw showed in The Greatest Generation, at a certain point in their lives, many vets want to tell their stories.
Stanton: Yes, I think that comes with age – usually around 70. Vietnam veterans are getting to that age, and they have begun to open up.
Ticker: As with your other books, you bring this story to life with the enormous amount of eyewitness details you provide – the weather, who said what, the physical, political and psychological setting.
Stanton: I write pretty visually. I’ve always thought in terms of creating scenes and images. I even think in scenes.
Ticker: And how do you manage this level of detail?
Stanton: If you had visited me at a certain point during the writing of Odyssey, you would have seen page after page of research notes pasted up on the wall. Pages about training. The weather. The political situation back at home. I’d say 60 to 70 percent of my work is to organize and consolidate the material.
Ticker: You’re about to go on a national book tour…What sorts of interactions do you expect to have with readers?
Stanton: So far, I’m traveling to more than 20 cities. It’s often a city a day. With a book like this, it can get very emotional. There were so many losses. There will be lots of questions.
Ticker: And what are your hopes for the book? Vietnam is still a touchy topic for many people.
Stanton: I hope this book stimulates a conversation. It’s really as much about homecoming for Stan, other veterans and those who protested back at home, as it is about the war. I think it’s unhealthy to not talk about the war.
Ticker: You’ll also be asked about the movie Horse Soldiers. You visited the set. What was that like?
Stanton: I went to Alamogordo, New Mexico. I’d been on movie sets before, interviewing George Clooney, Harrison Ford and other actors for Esquire magazine and Men’s Journal. But I’d never seen the set of a big action movie with horses, explosions, smoke.
Ticker: Did you get to know the cast and crew? What was the mood there?
Stanton: Yes. Everyone stayed at a Holiday Inn. They worked out across the street at a 24-hour gym. Everyone was very serious about the work. There were no lavish meals. It was dinner at Chili’s. We sort of took over the place. For the most part, locals got used to it and left everyone alone – except for Chris Hemsworth. People asked him to pose for photos all the time, which he graciously did.
Ticker: And what was your impression of the project at that point?
Stanton: The locale looked just like Afghanistan. And I think the filmmakers were very accurate about the look and feel of Afghanis and U.S. Special Forces.
Ticker: Horse Soldiers is due for release in January. Any idea when it will appear here in northern Michigan?
Stanton: It should appear here in Traverse City then. I expect a wide release.
Ticker: A final question. What are you reading these days?
Stanton: [laughs] I’m reading about the history of the Harley Softtail [Stanton is pictured sitting on a version of this motorcyle he just purchased]. And I’m reading Constance Garnett’s translation of War and Peace, which I got for five bucks at Dog Ear Bookstore in Northport. I’m also reading Lee Child’s novel, The Killing Floor.