Eye-opening, hard-hitting, and an excellent, compelling read; this book will prove hard to put down, cultivating an intense roller coaster of emotions designed to involve readers not just in social or military issues; but in the perspectives of individual lives.
Four years before the Stonewall riots, one Bob LeBlanc informed Marine Corps investigators "you have no right to ask" when they asked if he was homosexual. He did so again a year before Stonewall. In 1975, for the first time in American history, a federal judge issued a restraining order against the U.S. Military to halt the court martial of Bob for allegedly being gay. Bob's final legal fights with the Marines in 1975 and 1976 would fuel the fledgling gay rights movement throughout the U.S., which has evolved into today's LGBTQ Civil Rights movement - and yet until the publication of Silent Drums, these facts themselves were buried.
It can be said that Bob LeBlanc is the Rosa Parks of today's LGBTQ Civil Rights movement.
Silent Drums: Adapt, Improvise, Overcome! is thus a military saga like few others, tackling overcoming adversity at the most unexpected of places: among the Marine Corps ranks. It centers on LBGT rights, gay marriage, and the experiences of one military man who struggled not on the battlefield against enemies, but against his own peers and an establishment which discriminated against gays long before "don't ask/don't tell" policies were enacted.
The biography of Robert Lyle LeBlanc is provided in the form of descriptions that read with the vividness of fiction and the immediacy of a social issues discussion, reaching beyond the usual nonfiction approach to immerse readers in a piece of military history that stems from one man's actions and an organization's changes. It remains true to its research roots, however. Pam Daniels spent three and a half years researching and confirming where Bob LeBlanc was during his two combat tours in Vietnam, before spending four and a half years writing, editing and publishing Silent Drums.
The book incorporates scans from actual Marine Corp documents, and even adds some of the reports he dictated to HQ during the fierce battles he was part of.
This is not to say that military action isn't a part of the story. Bob faced battles, struggles, life-changing brushes with death, and, forty years later, a witch-hunt affecting his service as a military policeman that seemed to belay everything he battled for and believed in, in his life.
Bob put his life on the line in Vietnam, serving his country. Now, at home, he puts his heart on the line and faces an enemy even more deadly than the Viet Cong.
Silent Drums exposes an aspect of military involvement that too commonly is hidden from the eye. Bob's story moves deftly between past and present experience as he faces various challenges in his life both within and outside the military, and as he fights the ban on gays in the military before the policy of "don't ask/don't tell" became established.
Readers who find his story compelling should be aware that the timeline jumps back and forth between different periods in Bob's life, and that his account reads with the third-person drama of fiction as it explores his world, his choices, and their lasting impacts. A thought or emotion can transport him back in time even as he's in his partner's kitchen cooking dinner, for example. Such jumps are nicely done and are not confusing; but they may stymie readers seeking a methodical, linear story line that stays true to its timeline and progression of events.
However, in choosing this special form of delivery, Pam Daniels assures that the connections between past experience and the choices and lives they've affected and created are clearly delivered. Readers also receive visuals which take the form of Marine command incidence reports, journal entries, and logs that support the battles and events that immerse Bob and his comrades in various struggles.
Silent Drums is not a singular story in any respect. It's not straight biography, military history, fiction or social probe; but incorporates all these elements in a powerful, hard-hitting and solid work of journalism designed to give readers much food for thought and insights on a relatively little-known aspect of military history and processes.
The result blends Marine Corp culture with a powerful story of dangers that come from unexpected places. As Bob adapts to and changes from his experiences and faces after-battle health issues that continue to threaten his life, a personal struggle for full equality in the military assumes a life of its own in a story which embraces and reflects the entire timeline of the LGBT civil rights movement.
This story of how a Vietnam Marine fought anti-gay attitudes in the military should be on the reading lists of anyone concerned about gay rights history in general and military culture in particular. It's eye-opening, hard-hitting, and compelling reading that will prove hard to put down, cultivating an intense roller coaster of emotions designed to involve readers not just in social or military issues; but in the perspectives of individual lives.
Very highly recommended, Silent Drums is a portrait of courage operating on more than one level, and deserves a medal for its in-depth research achievements.