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Vietnam veteran publishes memoir

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By Calen McKinney

 

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He is a husband, father, grandfather, musician and war veteran. And now, he can add one more title to the list - published author.

Campbellsville resident Joe Fair has published a book, "Call Sign Dracula: My Tour with the Black Scarves, April 1969 to March 1970."

The book, three years in the making, details the 12 months Fair spent as a soldier in the Vietnam war.

After 27 years of serving in the United States Army and Campbellsville National Guard combined and working at Ingersoll Rand for 40 years, Fair retired in 2011.

Since then, he said, he has talked openly about his Army experience, particularly his time spent in heavy combat during the Vietnam War.

Fair volunteered for the Army draft after graduating from high school in 1968. He spent three years in active duty, one fighting in Vietnam.

In October 1974, Fair joined the Kentucky National Guard. He retired in 1997. As members of the Campbellsville National Guard unit, Fair and his brother, Terry, served in Desert Storm together. An infantry solider in Vietnam, Fair joined as a private and left as a 1st Sgt.

"Stayed in the jungle," he said. "We had a lot of combat. But we had a lot of camaraderie though."

Fair's path to becoming a published author didn't really start out as that. He said he began writing his Vietnam experiences when his children said he should write about them so his grandchildren will know what he went through.

Fair is married to Regnia Fair. They have three children, Natasha Wright, Jennifer Jones and Derick Fair, and seven grandchildren.

"[Jones] said, 'Dad, you're retired now. Why don't you write a journal of what you did in Vietnam, because you never told us,'" Fair said.

But Fair says he didn't write the book just for his family.

"It's not about me," he said. "It's about honoring the guys. Particularly the 18 that were killed in action."

So, after receiving encouragement, Fair began writing. He said his parents saved the letters he wrote to them. That is where he started.

Some days he would spend all morning writing. Other days he would do research.

"My wife would say, 'You need to get off your computer and get outside.'"

That was three years ago.

Last week, his book was available on Amazon and his publisher Sunbury Press's and his personal websites and, according to early reports, is already selling well.

"I was really excited," he said, "and it's going well because I can't get books."

Fair said the books are available as print on demand from Amazon, but he hasn't received the shipment he ordered yet. Those who have ordered from Fair personally will get them soon, he said. He is expecting them to arrive next Monday.

The process of getting published was a long one. He said writing the book was only half the process. The rest, he said, was a search to find a publisher.

Fair said he received rejections from publishers who didn't believe a Vietnam book would sell well and those who weren't accepting manuscripts. Others only wanted to only publish an e-book version. But Fair said he wanted an actual book published first, and he wanted a work with a publisher.

"I didn't want to self-publish," he said.

With help from author and friend Steven Spruill, Fair found Sunbury Press, based in Pennsylvania. The company had 1,000 manuscripts submitted for publication this year. Seven were chosen from new authors, and Fair's was one of them.

Over the past several years, Fair has contacted many of those he served with and they have met for reunions. About 30 helped him verify the facts for his book.

"It's how I saw Vietnam, my perspective. But the events are factual," he said. "I didn't want to put it out there and it be fiction."

Fair's book begins with a description of the first time he saw Vietnam, from the air in his seat on a helicopter. And the last scene details the last time he saw Vietnam from a helicopter.

The book is 53,000 words in 220 pages, with 12 chapters, one for each month Fair spent in Vietnam. There are also many vintage photographs in the book, of Fair and his fellow soldiers. Fair also took the two photos featured on the cover.

"The guys love to see their picture in it," he said.

The title of the book, Fair said, might not be understood by the general public.

"If you're in the military, you don't have a problem with it," he said.

Fair said "Dracula" was his unit's call sign on the Army's radios. And the "black scarves," he said, were what members of his unit wore around their necks. They were the only unit given permission to wear scarves.

Fair said he worked with Pat and Diana Keefe of Campbellsville to edit his book. Hours and hours were spent making sure his grammar and spelling were correct, he said, and he would often receive drafts full of marks and highlighting.

"I though, 'Gosh, I got to do it all over again," he said. "I know what to say. I would say it and write it down, except the spelling and grammar might not have been right."

Fair said he will spend a while working to promote his book. He said he has been told the "life" of a new book is two years.

While the paperback version of the book is available now, Fair said, an electronic version is expected by the end of the year.

Book distributing company Baker & Taylor is working to get the books available in stores. Fair said he doesn't know where his book will be sold, but knows it will be available in Australia, India, Singapore, nearly all of western Europe, Canada and the United States.

Fair will also be at several festivals in surrounding counties and plans to be at the upcoming July Fourth celebration in Campbellsville.

But for Fair, all of his work won't be to raise money for himself. He said he will raise enough to cover his expenses and donate proceeds to organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project or the Gary Sinise Foundation. He also hopes to buy a track chair, an off-road wheelchair, for a veteran in Kentucky.

Fair's book is selling for $16.95. For local residents, Fair said, he will be glad to sell them signed copies. He can be contacted via www.callsigndracula.com.

Veterans who would like a copy of the book, Fair said, but can't afford to pay, can receive one for free.

"I don't expect them to buy the book," he said. "It's not about the money."

Fair's book will also be available at the Taylor County Public Library. He will also give copies to the local school libraries.

The book is available at www.sunburypressstore.com and by searching for "Call Sign Dracula" on Amazon.com.

On Friday morning, Fair's book was ranked 46,484 in the books available at Amazon. He said there are about seven to eight million books for sale on the Amazon.com website. And if one is ranked anywhere below one million, Fair said he was told, that means the book is doing well.

The book recently ranked No. 52 on a listing of Vietnam history books.

"It's been a ride," Fair said.

Fair said a reader recently told him he used the book as a way to finally talk about his experience in Vietnam with his children. And it's stories like that, Fair said, that has made him excited to get his story out to the public.

"I almost gave up sometimes. I had my doubts," he said. "I want to get the book out to people who want to read it."