Once a reluctant soldier, Nau is a proud veteran

Once a reluctant soldier, Nau is a proud veteran

New book details the journey of former sports editor

PAWTUCKET - He doesn't fit the old stereotype of the Vietnam veteran, says Terry Nau, but make no mistake, the war changed him. In some ways, it aged him.

Like others he served with, Nau wasn't one of those "who was tormented by what I'd seen," because, frankly, he and many of his friends didn't experience the worst there was to see.

"We weren't the typical Vietnam veterans that you read about in the 70s who were drug addicts and crazed by the war," he said. "We were just guys who came home and tried to fit into society."

The title of Nau's new book, his first, says it all: "Reluctant Soldier...Proud Veteran. How a cynical Vietnam vet learned to take pride in his service to the USA."

Many will remember Nau, a Pawtucket resident, as the popular sports editor for The Times of Pawtucket and later The Call of Woonsocket, too.

Now retired, he has written a book he says is a truthful telling of his experience as an artilleryman in Vietnam and the long and difficult journey to adjust to civilian life.

Nau was drafted into the military as a 19-year-old in 1966. Anyone who's drafted is by nature a "reluctant soldier," he said.

"At the age of 19, I was either too dumb or too smart to flunk the Selective Service System's intelligence test that determined whether I was mentally qualified to kill people in Vietnam," reads the opening sentence of his book.

After a one-year tour in Vietnam, Nau later felt "about 30" at Penn State where the college girls just kept giggling about anything and everything, he says, but "I didn't see anything to laugh about."

Watch Nau explain in his own words the thinking behind his book:

Back in 1969, returning veterans stood out on college campuses, writes Nau in Chapter 9, "Burying my Military Past."

"Many wore some part of their old uniforms, just to let people know they had served," he writes. "It was a natural thing to do at the time. It just wasn't my style at all. I was trying to go to school undercover, incognito, sneaking around like the Viet Cong. Reluctant soldier makes the transition into college life."

The book takes a probing look at the human toll of war, not just in lives lost on the battlefield, but in lives shattered when soldiers returned home. Marriages were lost, relationships strained.

As one veteran who reviewed Nau's book puts it, the book is "a very personal look at the effects of the war on the individual soldier lucky enough, or maybe unlucky enough, to have come home alive."

For many years, said Nau, he "submerged" his thoughts on Vietnam, but in 2002, he made a connection with veterans he had served with and quickly realized that they "had a lot of things we need to talk about." That group of veterans found they were "really proud" of the time they had served, said Nau.

"Most of us did not agree with the war but it was an exciting place to be when you're 20 years old in your life," he said.

When the Vietnam ordeal was over, Nau was just one of those veterans who "came home and tried to live a normal and productive life." He would launch a successful 40-year-plus career as a local sportswriter and editor.

It wasn't long after Nau retired two years ago as part of a downsizing at the newspapers that he got the idea for his book. He had taken on the task of keeping up a military page during his last days in the newspaper business, and as a result had come across many veterans.

With so much free time on his hands, and with a renewed pride in his military service, he embarked on this latest writing journey, quickly realizing that penning a newspaper article was like a "50-yard dash" compared to the "mile run" of writing a book.

Nau admits that some of his military friends might find his book a little too "anti-war" for their liking, but he said his perspective is a needed one as politicians continue to so easily send young soldiers to wars they have no business being involved in.

But don't misread him or his loyalty to his country, says Nau, "I love this country. It's the greatest country in the world."

An easy read, the self-published "Reluctant Soldier...Proud Veteran" is not just about Vietnam veterans, says Nau, but all veterans. He takes readers into the minds of local veterans of other wars too, sharing the experiences of veterans like Ben Mondor, the late owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Nau's 177-page book is available in paperback at amazon.com for $8.99 and in Kindle for $4.99.