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Rock 'n' Roll Soldier: A Memoir

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"During a time when none of us knew for sure if we would live or die, I came to know the true power of music." Dean Kohler is about to make it big—he's finally scored a national record deal! But his dreams are abruptly put on hold by the arrival of his draft notice. Now he's in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, serving as a military policeman. He keeps telling himself he's a musician, not "During a time when none of us knew for sure if we would live or die, I came to know the true power of music." Dean Kohler is about to make it big—he's finally scored a national record deal! But his dreams are abruptly put on hold by the arrival of his draft notice. Now he's in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, serving as a military policeman. He keeps telling himself he's a musician, not a killer, and that he's lucky he's not fighting on the front lines. When Captain orders him to form a rock band, it's up to Dean to find instruments and players, pronto. Ingenuity and perseverance pay off and soon the band is traveling through treacherous jungle terrain to perform for troops in desperate need of an escape—even if it's only for three sets. And for Dean—who lives with death, violence, and the fear that anyone could be a potential spy (even his Vietnamese girlfriend)—the band becomes the one thing that gets him through the day. During one of the most controversial wars in recent American history, this incredible true story is about music and camaraderie in the midst of chaos.


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"During a time when none of us knew for sure if we would live or die, I came to know the true power of music." Dean Kohler is about to make it big—he's finally scored a national record deal! But his dreams are abruptly put on hold by the arrival of his draft notice. Now he's in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, serving as a military policeman. He keeps telling himself he's a musician, not "During a time when none of us knew for sure if we would live or die, I came to know the true power of music." Dean Kohler is about to make it big—he's finally scored a national record deal! But his dreams are abruptly put on hold by the arrival of his draft notice. Now he's in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, serving as a military policeman. He keeps telling himself he's a musician, not a killer, and that he's lucky he's not fighting on the front lines. When Captain orders him to form a rock band, it's up to Dean to find instruments and players, pronto. Ingenuity and perseverance pay off and soon the band is traveling through treacherous jungle terrain to perform for troops in desperate need of an escape—even if it's only for three sets. And for Dean—who lives with death, violence, and the fear that anyone could be a potential spy (even his Vietnamese girlfriend)—the band becomes the one thing that gets him through the day. During one of the most controversial wars in recent American history, this incredible true story is about music and camaraderie in the midst of chaos.

30 review for Rock 'n' Roll Soldier: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Another book club book. From reading the other reviews, it seems a lot of people really liked his book, which I feel kind of upset that I could not share in their enthusiasm. The narrative had all the potential to be highly engaging and the TWO authors, Dean Ellis Kohler and Susan VanHecke, ouched upon some very deep themes, but the use of language itself was less than that of a later elementary level chapter book. I do not know if there authors' intent was to have a high interest-low readiablit Another book club book. From reading the other reviews, it seems a lot of people really liked his book, which I feel kind of upset that I could not share in their enthusiasm. The narrative had all the potential to be highly engaging and the TWO authors, Dean Ellis Kohler and Susan VanHecke, ouched upon some very deep themes, but the use of language itself was less than that of a later elementary level chapter book. I do not know if there authors' intent was to have a high interest-low readiablity book, but I personally felt that the narrative moved too fast o become truly invested in the scope of the story. I do wish Kohler would team up with a stronger co-writer to retell this story allow for the deeper narrative this story deserves.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jase Maroszek

    I thought this book was very interesting. This book tells the reader what it's like to be in the Vietnam war, but it doesn't have to be bad. Dean Ellis Kohler starts a band in the Vietnam war and performs in front of other soldiers. I would recommend this book to a friend because it's based on a true story. So you can actually feel what it's like to be in the characters shoes. I thought this book was very interesting. This book tells the reader what it's like to be in the Vietnam war, but it doesn't have to be bad. Dean Ellis Kohler starts a band in the Vietnam war and performs in front of other soldiers. I would recommend this book to a friend because it's based on a true story. So you can actually feel what it's like to be in the characters shoes.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    I don't really like it. okay, I get it because he went to war and he had a band okay we get that. That is all he talked about him and his band and when he went to war. I don't really like it. okay, I get it because he went to war and he had a band okay we get that. That is all he talked about him and his band and when he went to war.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Pierce

    It was a wonderful book and I would recommend it to anyone who loves music and wants to know about the Vietnam War

  5. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Interesting. Learned about the Vietnam Nam war, of which I know little.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary Beth

    It’s 1966; Dean Kohler is going to Vietnam. He leaves behind a job, a girlfriend and a promise of a recording contract. After a year of basic training he lands in Qui Nhon as a member of the 127th Military Police Company. He patrols their camp, dubbed Dodge City; he guards Viet Cong prisoners at the EVAC hospital and visits with wounded American soldiers; he patrols in town cleaning up after explosions and accidents. CO, Captain Leadbettor, recalls a wailing good pre-departure concert in Fort Br It’s 1966; Dean Kohler is going to Vietnam. He leaves behind a job, a girlfriend and a promise of a recording contract. After a year of basic training he lands in Qui Nhon as a member of the 127th Military Police Company. He patrols their camp, dubbed Dodge City; he guards Viet Cong prisoners at the EVAC hospital and visits with wounded American soldiers; he patrols in town cleaning up after explosions and accidents. CO, Captain Leadbettor, recalls a wailing good pre-departure concert in Fort Bragg given by Kohler and three other soldiers; he understands the importance of distraction for soldiers who flirt with danger on a daily basis. He commands Private Kohler to put together a band to entertain the Dodge City crowd. Dean recruits a drummer, keyboard guy and a second guitar player. They scrounge up instruments and equipment; they jerry-rig microphone set-ups and begin practice in between duty assignments. They rock ‘n roll for fellow Dodge City soldiers and in other soldier camps in the area; they even travel to the front. Kohler and VanHecke use first person, which brings a vivid, immediate excitement to the story. Kohler, now in his 50’s, writes in an author’s note that he has taken some liberties in reconstructing dialog, changing a few names and adjusting the timing of some events. “My intent, always, was to allow the truth of our experience to shine brightly.” The heat is palpable, the fear bristling, the reaction to killing and death powerful. Kohler reflects about how the war changes him and worries about losing his true self as he becomes numb to the horrors. Making music flips Kohler and his band to an emotional high - the kick of a concert well received, the loud raucous rock ‘n roll release for weary, stressed soldiers, the joy of a number nailed. Kohler, looking back, appreciates how his music making served an important function, for himself and his fellow soldiers; it provided opportunity for emotional release from the craziness of war. NOTE: I was a bit conflicted while beginning this memoir. While the conversational tone made the story immediate and engaging, I kept flashing back to the James Frey controversy with A Million Little Pieces. Kohler, too, has taken liberties by recreating conversations that he couldn’t possible remember, using some pseudonyms and creating composite characters; at least he explains these liberties right up front in an Author’s Note. The conversational story-telling style kept making me do a kind of fistion/nonfiction double-take until I adjusted my mental gyroscope to the fact that it was a real story.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anthony G

    I thought my book was an interesting read, but I thought it was going to be different from what it turned out to be. The only memoirs that I have read weren't longer than a page long and they were probably in my old “Skateboarder Magazine”. So picking up a two hundred-eighty paged memoir was different, but entertaining. In the beginning of the book I expected a hook like any other book. This one did not have a hook but more of an introduction to himself (Dean) and his situation. I liked that thr I thought my book was an interesting read, but I thought it was going to be different from what it turned out to be. The only memoirs that I have read weren't longer than a page long and they were probably in my old “Skateboarder Magazine”. So picking up a two hundred-eighty paged memoir was different, but entertaining. In the beginning of the book I expected a hook like any other book. This one did not have a hook but more of an introduction to himself (Dean) and his situation. I liked that throughout the book it was not all bullets flying, blood splatter, all the stereotypical things about war, but it was more about how Dean handled himself and adapted to his environment. It was deeper than just war, it had a lot to do with “the power of music”, how something can bring us as people closer. It was a surprising look at things through his eyes and his outlook on things. There were a lot of connections that could be made in this book (like any other book) such as maybe you could have a relative or a friend that was in Vietnam or any war. I personally liked the book and it left me with some questions also. Such as in the beginning of the book when dean and his buddy were on night watch and a sniper had shot between them but when they had searched for the sniper all they found was a Chinese guy in rice field. Maybe he shot at him? I was thinking maybe the shot came from behind them instead of in front of them. Just a thought. In the start of the book Dean had never had any experience with real war situations, at the end of the book he could really understand and he experienced war first hand. All throughout the book he told you how he felt, what was going through his mind, and his point of view, that helped me get a feel and helped me understand him and the things he was a part of at the time. I liked this book and I would recommend it to some of my family members who were in Vietnam and they also play guitar too!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rosa

    When Dean Kohler was 19 years old he was drafted to Vietnam. While serving as an MP he was asked by his commanding officer to start a band, to help soldiers keep their moral up. This is the story of Dean's year in Vietnam and the band The Electrical Banana told in his own words. The story is interesting and Dean does manage to give an idea of just how bad it could be in Vietnam; however I don't think he really manages to stress just how lucky he really was. There is mention of people he met who When Dean Kohler was 19 years old he was drafted to Vietnam. While serving as an MP he was asked by his commanding officer to start a band, to help soldiers keep their moral up. This is the story of Dean's year in Vietnam and the band The Electrical Banana told in his own words. The story is interesting and Dean does manage to give an idea of just how bad it could be in Vietnam; however I don't think he really manages to stress just how lucky he really was. There is mention of people he met who were stationed in Pieku, one of the most dangerous duties of the time, and how they were going home in body bags or missing chunks of themselves. I just felt he could have acknowledge how lucky he truly truly was. The writing is a little uneven at times. There are people who were minor characters in his life, such as the Goodridge from Detroit. He only knew the man for two days, and yet from the two conversations the reader really feels like he comes away with an idea of what this person was like. However I didn't feel like we really came away knowing much about the guys in the band with Dean. These are guys mentioned on every page and yet I felt I really didn't know anything about them as people. That all being said, Dean really describes the difficult he had adjusting to coming home well. Anybody who has ever found themselves at a crossroads in life, not quite sure where to go from here will be able to relate to that part of the story. This should also remind people of how important the little things are to soldiers stuck oversees and perhaps bring home how one thing can completely change your life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Rock 'n' Roll Soldier, a 278 pages book written by Dean Ellis Kohler, is an autobiography talking about how he (Dean) got drafted to Vietnam to serve as an MP. It is a great story showing how music can make you escape the cruel reality- in this case, war in Vietnam. Dean was a musician, a guitarist to be specific, he has had a band before but had to give up his passion to serve for the army. A tragic experience for him. What he didn't know yet though, was that he would eventually find his future Rock 'n' Roll Soldier, a 278 pages book written by Dean Ellis Kohler, is an autobiography talking about how he (Dean) got drafted to Vietnam to serve as an MP. It is a great story showing how music can make you escape the cruel reality- in this case, war in Vietnam. Dean was a musician, a guitarist to be specific, he has had a band before but had to give up his passion to serve for the army. A tragic experience for him. What he didn't know yet though, was that he would eventually find his future 'job' during the war time. Dean found some guys that also enjoyed making music- a guy who pulled it off playing the bass, a drummer, and another guitarist. They play as a band. There are several gigs for them. They don't have to do what all the other soldier have to do, but they still have their duties. Even though there is all the fun, loud music, Rock 'n' Roll, all the parties, the drinking, the dancing, the shouting and laughing- war is around, everywhere, waiting- it could hit you any time. I really enjoyed reading this autobiography, it is a great, heart-felt story, giving you an insight of the life of an untypical musician. The author creates a great imagery throughout the entire book, there's a lot of detail and once you start reading you really want to know how the story ends. As a reader, you can easily follow the authors thoughts and feelings in each and every situation he is exposed to. There is really nothing you could potentially dislike, if you are into such a genre (somewhat an adventure story). I would recommend this book to anyone- especially musicians.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Dean was 19 when he was drafted by the Army to serve in Vietnam. Being drafted was like having someone hit the pause button on your life for nearly two years. Dean leaves behind a loving family, a girlfriend, his band, and a record deal to serve as a member of the Military Police in Qui Nhon. With the soldiers’ lives on hold and vicious fighting all around, Dean’s captain decides something needs to be done about troop morale. His solution: ask Dean to start a band. Rock’n’Roll Soldier is the sto Dean was 19 when he was drafted by the Army to serve in Vietnam. Being drafted was like having someone hit the pause button on your life for nearly two years. Dean leaves behind a loving family, a girlfriend, his band, and a record deal to serve as a member of the Military Police in Qui Nhon. With the soldiers’ lives on hold and vicious fighting all around, Dean’s captain decides something needs to be done about troop morale. His solution: ask Dean to start a band. Rock’n’Roll Soldier is the story of how Dean does just that--from getting instruments in a remote part of the world, finding band mates among his fellow MPs, practicing, and even touring--all the while serving his country in a war zone. Witnessing death and terror, facing snipers, explosions, and ambushes, and interacting with the natives, Dean wonders whether he is a musician or a killer--does he create or does he destroy? This is, of course, a war story, but it is also a love letter to the power of music and friendship to get us through the bleakest times in our life. An excellent read for anyone whose ever wanted to know more about Vietnam or just wanted to be in a band. http://tatalonline.blogspot.com/2011/...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Sherpa

    [...] A straight-forward account of how one young man went to war and came back, and the people he met along the way. As a guitarist, Ellis nearly had a record deal when his draft number came up. He shipped off to Vietnam as a military policeman. His unit found conditions rustic, but improved with hard work. After his quirky captain learns about Ellis' musical talents, he's tasked with starting a rock band. Enter the (ahem) "Swinging Banana," later renamed "The Electrical Banana," in hopes of avoi [...] A straight-forward account of how one young man went to war and came back, and the people he met along the way. As a guitarist, Ellis nearly had a record deal when his draft number came up. He shipped off to Vietnam as a military policeman. His unit found conditions rustic, but improved with hard work. After his quirky captain learns about Ellis' musical talents, he's tasked with starting a rock band. Enter the (ahem) "Swinging Banana," later renamed "The Electrical Banana," in hopes of avoiding doubling too much entendre. The Electrical Banana turns out to be good--good enough to get picked up by Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (M.W.R.) services, and good enough to warrant a few gigs closer to the front lines. They get to carry guitars. Sometimes, they get to carry weapons, too. Parents of all stripes will enjoy the apolitical tone of the book, as well as little flourishes like the forward by Graham Nash. Young people will probably enjoy that their parents could once go to war with rock'n'roll in their hearts, too. [...] [For the full review, visit: http://www.redbullrising.com/2010/08/...]

  12. 5 out of 5

    Paulette

    Well-written and poignant. The story of how the author grew up in the midst of the Vietnam War. The author was a high school classmate. I enjoyed the references to Portsmouth, Va. and our high school, Cradock High School. I was taken back in time--- much of it was not a pleasant return to a time when we watched a war play out across our television screens in black and white. How much worse it had to be for a nineteen year old young man to put his dreams on hold and go away to a strange land. Thi Well-written and poignant. The story of how the author grew up in the midst of the Vietnam War. The author was a high school classmate. I enjoyed the references to Portsmouth, Va. and our high school, Cradock High School. I was taken back in time--- much of it was not a pleasant return to a time when we watched a war play out across our television screens in black and white. How much worse it had to be for a nineteen year old young man to put his dreams on hold and go away to a strange land. This is a story of how music helped him survive. Very touching.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carro Herdegen

    Language - R (117 swears, 2 "f"), Sexual Content - PG-13; Violence - PG-13 Dean is a musician, always has been and always will. But when he gets drafted into the Vietnam war, everything changes--including him. But does living in war change him for the better? Or for worse? Despite all the swearing, I adore this book. I love all the hope and faith that is expressed in it. I always knew that war was hard, but I have a new appreciation for all those who have and will serve. Reviewed for https://kissth Language - R (117 swears, 2 "f"), Sexual Content - PG-13; Violence - PG-13 Dean is a musician, always has been and always will. But when he gets drafted into the Vietnam war, everything changes--including him. But does living in war change him for the better? Or for worse? Despite all the swearing, I adore this book. I love all the hope and faith that is expressed in it. I always knew that war was hard, but I have a new appreciation for all those who have and will serve. Reviewed for https://kissthebook.blogspot.com/

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    I liked this one a lot. I'm a fan of Vietnam War memoirs, and this one is an interesting story about life one step removed from the front line. not a literary masterpiece, but it reads fast and easy. I'm doubt it will have mass appeal with teens, since this war is ancient history, but with a little hand-selling it should find an audience. I liked this one a lot. I'm a fan of Vietnam War memoirs, and this one is an interesting story about life one step removed from the front line. not a literary masterpiece, but it reads fast and easy. I'm doubt it will have mass appeal with teens, since this war is ancient history, but with a little hand-selling it should find an audience.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    Kohler experiences the redemptive power of music even in war. I really, really wanted to like this book, but I just can't see it being relevant for most of today's teens. The constant 'Nam jargon makes it feel dated and irrelevant, although it might be right for a teen with close ties to military service. Kohler experiences the redemptive power of music even in war. I really, really wanted to like this book, but I just can't see it being relevant for most of today's teens. The constant 'Nam jargon makes it feel dated and irrelevant, although it might be right for a teen with close ties to military service.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan Adams

    Great read! This was a very readable biography of a young (19 year-old) man who was drafted and sent to Viet Nam. He had just gotten a recording contract for his band but his draft made that impossible. This is the story of his time in Viet Nam where, at the urging of his commanding officer, he and several of his fellow soldiers formed a band that entertained troops there.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Gross-Rhode

    This story takes the reader to Vietnam with a musician who had to give up a record deal when he was drafted into the war. He and some friends form a band and entertain other servicemen. This is a good story that takes the reader into the jungles of Vietnam.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bennett Rosner

    If Goodread's had a 4.5/5 option, than this book would get it. If Goodread's had a 4.5/5 option, than this book would get it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I completely agree with the review excerpt on the cover "A unique perspective to the Vietnam War. An easy and entertaining read." Can't wait to add it to the high school library collection! I completely agree with the review excerpt on the cover "A unique perspective to the Vietnam War. An easy and entertaining read." Can't wait to add it to the high school library collection!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    Great, boy-friendly teen nonfiction.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    A classmate of mine recounts his time in Vietnam and how music kept his sanity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Excellent memoir of a young man drafted into the Vietnam War discovering who he really is...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Briana

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ann

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ted

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aliyah Ann

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Wardrip

  28. 4 out of 5

    Woody Karchner

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara Latta

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

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