Semper Cool by Barry Fixler

Semper Cool by Barry Fixler is a memoir of one marine’s time before, during, and after the Vietnam War.  Fixler’s writing style is accessible for all readers, though some who have read a number of military books may find themselves skipping over definitions of terms they already know, which are defined for less experienced military readers.  Through clear sentence structure, fast-paced flashbacks, and frankness about boot camp and other aspects of a marine’s training, readers get a feel for the grit these men must have to survive boot camp and beyond.

“If you were alive, that meant your unit was in one of the less dangerous places in Vietnam.  If you were a basket case, your unit was in a pretty bad place.  If you were dead, that meant you were headed straight into the deep shit.  Your unit was in the middle of the worst of the worst combat.”  (page 80 of ARC)

Fixler became obsessed with the U.S. Marines after hearing crazy stories from his father, a WWII veteran who survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor, about the rigorous training marines endured even during war and the antics they engaged in.  These stories, plus his father’s patriotism helped fuel Fixler’s desire to enter the military to find direction and discipline shortly after graduating high school.  At age 19, Fixler was a “green” marine with no combat experience, and men who were considered seasoned were generally in their early- to mid-20s.

Readers are taken on a journey through Fixler’s latter adolescent years, the trouble he caused with his friends, and the decision to enter the military, which he kept from his parents until the day before he shipped off to boot camp.  Once in boot camp, readers learn first hand what it means to become a marine in the physical and mental sense, and this foundation is what carries Fixler, a survivor of the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh or Hill 861-A, through his time in Vietnam.  When the subtitle suggest fond memories from Vietnam, the author is serious about the relationships he forged, the discipline he learned, the mental toughness he created for himself, and the achievements he made while in country.

“Minutes before, we were talking about home, watching through binoculars,’ Mike said years later, ‘and the mortars started coming in and he was completely disintegrated, no head at all.'”  (page 173)

However, readers should be prepared for blood, guts, horror, and disappointments, but those are tempered with moments of incredible luck — even what some would call miracles — and hilarity.  There are odd moments in which Fixler seems to remind himself of a moment before the war, and the narration sometimes takes a turn that is unexpected and outside the scope of the war and his military life.  While initially, these moments can jolt the reader out of the narrative flow, they help to give readers a fuller picture of Fixler’s character.

Semper Cool is a well-balanced war memoir that illustrates the good and the bad that comes with war and returning home.  Fixler’s story deviates from the typical memoir or war novel in which the atmosphere is constantly grim and dire or the protagonist is spiraling out of control mentally.  The main takeaways from this memoir are believe in yourself, remain focused, and achieve success in all you set out to do.

***It is great knowing that proceeds from the sale of this book will be shared with those military personnel in need of medical assistance that the government has either forgotten, run out of money to care for, or does not know have fallen through the cracks.***

About the Author:

After graduating from Syosset High School in Long Island, New York, Barry Fixler enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp and was shipped off to Vietnam where he fought as a member of Echo Company at the legendary Siege of Khe Sanh. He is now a jeweler living in Bardonia, New York, with his wife Linda.

Please check out the Semper Cool Website.

Yes, the Vietnam War Reading Challenge ended in 2010, but I wish I had read Semper Cool by Barry Fixler then.  Thankfully, it qualifies for this year’s Wish I’d Read that Challenge and the New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 4th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 1st book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.


  1. Julie: I hope you really enjoy the book.

  2. I just received this as part of a blog tour; it sounded so interesting to me that I actually agreed to it even though I am on a “no new review books” kick! Thanks for your review; it just makes me want to read it more!

  3. I still need to get to this one. Glad to see you feel it’s a good war memoir. While I know my focus is on the American Civil War this year, I’m hoping to get in some Vietnam books still too.

  4. I think I may read this one!!

  5. This sounds intense and very interesting. Thanks for letting me borrow your copy.