Excerpt from Masters of the Art

Read an excerpt from Masters of the Art, Chapter 1.

War and Remembrance

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post (Excerpted)

Feb. 19, 2004

The Library of Congress's Veterans History Project, authorized by Congress in 2000, now includes the online remembrances of 62 individuals.The material on the Web allows the casual surfer some sense of the daunting challenge historians will face. Some vets remember the war through the prism of their own lives. Some remember their lives through the prism of the war.

Ronald Winter, a veteran of Vietnam who believes that war was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, remembers his experience with a strong political edge. Well into his interview, we learn that upon returning from the war he went out with his family to a favorite restaurant. A man with long hair and a peace sign greeted him with a sucker punch. It's a detail that helps explain a tone of possessive defensiveness throughout his story. America got the memory of this war wrong, he is arguing. If you weren't there, you can't remember it right. He is speaking not so much to remember personal details, but to set the record straight.

Winter is articulate and a little detached -- "I've studied [the war] extensively in the years since because I did want to know, what did it all mean," he says -- but his detachment isn't absolute. He never saw most of the people he shot with a .50-caliber machine gun that "spoke with tremendous authority," but one day one of the enemy was dragged into his helicopter. The young soldier had pictures of his home and girlfriend among his effects, and the glimpse into the boy's humanity had a strong effect on Winter.

"It's not like I never had a dream," Winter says matter-of-factly of the darker side of war. But it is a brief moment, and it doesn't quite fit the larger argument he is making about why Vietnam was a necessary and important war. Since the library put out a call for veterans of the last century's five major American wars -- the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf -- more than 13,000 submissions, and 37,000 items, have come in. Some have sent videos and recordings. Some have written their memoirs or sent memoirs completed long before. Others have sent poetry, photographs and journals. Only the tip of the iceberg will make it on the Web.

Random House picks up Hebron author's book

By Meg Duffy
For the Journal Inquirer Dec. 24, 2005 (excerpted)

HEBRON -- Lessons learned in the jungles of Vietnam are as relevant today as they were three decades ago, a Hebron author says.

Ronald E. Winter's book, "Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam," has been picked up by Random House publishers, and selected as a featured alternate to the Military Book Club's Book of the Month Club for March.

The original version was published independently through Carlton Press in 1989.

Winter left SUNY-Albany in 1966 to enlist in the Marines. Between 1966 and 1970, Winter served as a helicopter gunner, flying 300 missions and earning many prestigious honors, including the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Upon his return from Vietnam, Winter attended Hartford State Technical College and the University of New Haven, where he received degrees in electrical engineering and English literature, respectively. Later he collected his thoughts about his experience in Southeast Asia, put them in book form, and submitted copies to publishers. With anti-Vietnam sentiment still running high, publishers insisted that "Masters of the Art" portrayed soldiers too favorably and rejected his manuscript.

Winter was undeterred, explaining, "I refused to betray my fellow veterans in that political climate."

Instead of backing down, he tried a different route. With his own financial backing, Carlton Press published and distributed the book.

Winter was determined to tell his story as a non-fiction account, and to "stick to the facts."

The book is a departure from other period pieces that, Winter argues, portrayed Vietnam veterans as "losers or the dregs of American society."

Winter says he has been mocked for defending the U.S. presence in Vietnam, fighting an enemy that didn't directly attack America.

"We were in Vietnam so we didn't have to fight on American soil," he says.

He emphasizes the importance of learning from the past, particularly 9/11. "The terrorist attacks dispelled the myth that American soil was untouchable," he says.

The paperback edition is not merely the original text with a soft cover. In this writing, Winter includes a fuller context of the American presence in Vietnam, and includes more accounts from his former squadron members.

Winter says he hopes his book will be used as a teaching tool in high school classrooms.

Because of the content, he believes the book would be "best suited for juniors in high school and beyond".

Currently, Winter is working on two novels, "one about people who are not what they seem," and another on politics, "especially as it works on the local level."

Author Paints Powerful Wartime Images

“ All these years later I am convinced that my decision back in 1966 was the right one, and I can’t even begin to consider who or what I might have become if I hadn’t been a Marine and gone to Vietnam.”

Local resident Ronald Winter’s book, Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine’s Memoir of Vietnam, has already earned the #6 top bestseller spot in Amazon.com’s Vietnam Military History category.  It is also the Military History Book Club’s Alternate Book of the Month Selection for March 2006.

  1. is not for children.  But for those who can handle the graphic language and bloody wartime images, it should be on everyone’s recommended reading list.

Winter’s book is evenly divided between his time at boot camp and fighting in Vietnam, between the life-long relationships he developed as a Marine and the ultimate resolution of his tumultuous relationship with his father. 

“I hear people talking about today’s Iraq war, saying ‘We don’t want another Vietnam’,” said Winter.  “I wrote this book because American armed forces serving in Vietnam were misrepresented by the press, and the same thing should not happen to our fighting men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have to understand the consequences of our actions, both when we take action, and when we turn our back on allies who trust us.  Vietnam taught us that; those lessons must not be forgotten when we dissect the Iraq war twenty years down the road.”

Winter is quick to compare the results of the South Korean and Vietnam conflicts.  “Why didn’t Kissinger negotiate a treaty for South Vietnam similar to the treaty negotiated for South Korea?” he said.  “Look at South Korea today; we didn’t abandon them.  They are a strong democracy and a strong ally.  Then look at South Vietnam; we withdrew our financial and air support, and the South Vietnamese, the Cambodians and the Laotians suffered bloody consequences.  ‘The Killing Fields’ isn’t just a movie, it really happened after the United States pulled out.”

“I have no quarrel with people who honestly believe in peace and work for it to flourish… some of us have to be warriors so the others can live freely.”

Reprinted with permission by Donna J. McCalla, The Hebronian, March 2006.