Texan veteran writes the truth by way of fiction

Published 5:45 pm Friday, August 12, 2016

U.S veteran and longtime Southeast Texan, Al Navarro, finished and released his novel, “Provincial Advisory Team Vietnam.” It was a work many years in the making.

Navarro originally immigrated to the United States from Panama with his mother in 1958. They lived in Indiana until the move to Port Arthur six years later. There, Navarro graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School as part of the Class of ’66 and enlisted in the United States Army right afterwards. His tour lasted from ’66 to ’69, in which he attended Lamar University when he returned and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English.

Navarro served in Vietnam from November of ’67 to November of ’68. While the book draws from his experiences in Vietnam, the story is fictional. However, according to Navarro, that doesn’t make it any less true. It was an experience that he never forgot, and one that he felt compelled to write about, though not all at once.

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“The book actually began while I was at Lamar,” Navarro said, who graduated from Lamar University in 1974. “I was in a creative writing class and I was the only veteran there. The teacher asked me to write a short story about Vietnam.”

After Navarro wrote the initial story, a friend in another English class suggested that he expand upon it. Years later, Navarro did so.

“I went to a writer’s conference in Austin in the early ‘80s and had about a hundred pages written. It was a fiction novel; it was not a memoir.”

Navarro added with a light chuckle, “It got bad reviews.”

Still, that did not stop him from working on it further. In fact, it only seemed to prove what he was trying to say with the fictional work.

“The point of it was to show how absurd the book was,” Navarro said. “Some points of the book may not make sense and that’s the point — the war didn’t make sense.

“There is no central character because the central character is the war.”

Navarro went on to explain one of the central tenets of his book.

“We were supposed to help the Vietnamese fight the war, but then we didn’t trust them. [So] they didn’t trust us.”

The U.S veteran grabbed a copy of his book and pointed to the cover. There are two army insignias on the lower half — one belonging to an American squad and the other one to a Vietnamese squad.

“There was supposed to be trust together,” Navarro said, indicating the apparent lack of it on either side.

“One of the Vietnamese guys, he told me that the U.S. Army came over here and wanted to train us how to fight, but we had already been fighting for 30 years. What we need is support — weapons, equipment. What we need is equal justice.

“‘[The Americans] were supposed to help us, but then ended up fighting their own battle.”

Navarro ultimately credited his wife, Ernie, for being the reason why he would finish his novel. Although, he admitted that it was mostly for himself.

“It was therapy for myself — to let my emotions out, to let my feelings out.”

In publishing his novel for the general public, Navarro hopes that the average person gets something out of it.

“I want people to understand us Vietnam veterans and what we went through. We had to do a job and we did a job. We [also] lost the war. Some people would say we only lost battles, but we lost the war. North Vietnam took over. People have to get over it.”

As for a synopsis of the novel’s story, Navarro returned to the main theme of the book:

“It’s about trust between American advisors and the Vietnamese counterpart — why it wasn’t there and what could have been done to win the war.”

Navarro now lives in Katy with his wife. He is retired from his career with the U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. His book was published by a local printing company based out of Katy.