Vietnam War veteran Michael March wouldn’t be a published author, with a second book under contract and a third book in the works, if he’d never come to Georgia.
March — who is quick to tell the story of how he was kicked out of Hebrew school a week before his bar mitzvah celebration in Brooklyn but got to go ahead with the event because his parents had paid the bill — was drafted into the Army at age 19 in 1967 and was sent for basic training at Fort Gordon outside Augusta.
One of two Jews in his training unit, he was good enough to earn a place in officer training, but “four days into the Army, I realized the Army wasn’t for me.”
He got artillery training at Fort Sill, Okla., before shipping out to Vietnam to direct artillery fire with the 11th Armored Cavalry.
“The Army was wacko,” the 70-year-old Sandy Springs resident said.
March was in Vietnam for the High Holidays in the fall of 1967, which he remembers as being an opportunity to get an extra day of freedom in Saigon because the higher-ups didn’t know much about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
He was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, seen as the psychological turning point in early 1968, and remained until the summer of that year.
He smoked a fair amount of marijuana, and he wore out four guitars playing for himself and his fellow troops. He survived to come home and resume a civilian life, but only after he believed he received a message from G-d, delivered by another soldier: He was given the task of saving the world.
For March, who was already a singer-songwriter, that meant playing rock ’n’ roll and, perhaps inevitably, making his way to Berkeley, Calif., to represent good in the world.
“As crazy as the hippies were, I was crazier,” March said. “I just totally believed in peace and love.”
He read the Bible a lot in those days, including the Book of Daniel, which inspired the name of the main character in his debut novel, Daniel Dundee. “I just like the way it sounded,” he said. “I like DD, MM.”
His time in California inspired the plot for his second book, “Formula 13 and the Genesis of the New World Order,” an appropriately trippy tale that follows Daniel into the 1980s as he tries to stop a plot involving AIDS, the Illuminati, and science vs. faith.
But that’s a story people should be able to read sometime next year.
His first book, “Each One a Hero: A Novel of War and Brotherhood,” published in September 2016 by Hellgate Press, is about his Army experiences.
March said he wrote it 25 years ago, then forgot about it as life went on. When he moved to Atlanta to be near family, including his mother, he remembered the book. He thought it was phenomenal — until he reread it and realized how much work it needed.
He cut it from 135,000 words to 76,000, he said. “I got rid of all the soapboxes.”
What’s left, March said, is what you would get if “The Big Lebowski” and “Platoon” had a child. Not coincidentally, March dreams of doing prequel to “Lebowski” that would tell of the Dude’s Vietnam experiences.
About 70 percent of “Hero” is real, March said, despite a negative Amazon review from a reader who says he served in the 11th Armored Cavalry at the same time and didn’t see nearly as much pot.
March credits his involvement with the Atlanta Writers Club for helping him hone his craft, and he has learned that the more you write, the better you get. He’s also a member of a writers circle that meets at Georgia State’s Perimeter campus and at Panera Bread in Dunwoody, which is where you can find him most mornings writing his next book (he hopes to write eight books and three movies before he’s done).
He said he has used his military experience to try to be a better, more caring person.
“I don’t think that being in the Army is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” March said. “I think it’s something you do because your country calls on you. My dad served in World War II. And what were your choices — you serve or you run away? It just seemed like the thing to do.”