James Coan is a former Marine Corps captain who served in Vietnam from September 1967 through July 1968. The tank platoon that he commanded with Alpha Company, 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division operated out of Con Thien for eight of those months. He is the author of two well-received books based on those experiences, Con Thien: The Hill of Angels (University of Alabama Press, 2004) and Time in the Barrel: A Marine’s Account of the Battle for Con Thien (University of Alabama Press, 2019). In his endorsement of A Time Past, Or What Might Have Been . . . The Odyssey of Norman Lane, he writes:

I have never previously encountered such a thoroughly researched manuscript until reviewing what Al Claiborne has written about the abbreviated life of Norman Lane. His page-turning tribute to Marine combat veteran Lane weaves together official historical documents with personal letters written by Norman and several from friends and family sent to him in Vietnam. As a combat veteran who lost too many Marine brothers in Vietnam, I can fully appreciate the grief and sorrow suffered by the family and friends of Lt. Lane. This exceptional book is mandatory reading for anyone wanting to fully understand and comprehend what it was like to serve in combat with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam.

Dan Moore was a classmate of Norman Lane’s in Officer Candidates School (OCS) at Quantico and graduated from The Basic School class 3-67 with Norman as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve in March 1967. He served in Vietnam, beginning that August, as an artillery forward observer with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and as an Executive Officer with 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines. He is the author of Promise Lost: Stephen Joyner, the Marine Corps, and the Vietnam War (Hidden Shelf Publishing, 2016), which tells the story of an OCS classmate who began his tour in Vietnam with Norman Lane. Lt. Stephen Joyner was killed in action on June 15, 1968. Dan’s personal Vietnam War memoir, Whatever Cause We Have: Memoir of a Marine Forward Observer in the Vietnam War, will be published by McFarland in 2023. In Dan’s endorsement of A Time Past, Or What Might Have Been . . . The Odyssey of Norman Lane, he writes:

Detailing the ill-starred life of his older cousin, Marine officer Norman Lane, author Al Claiborne has provided rich context to the Vietnam War. He uses primary sources - letters, archival material, and interviews with friends and colleagues of Lane - and overlays it on the complex political and cultural currents of the late 1960s in the nation and in Norman's hometown. By juxtaposing Lane's life and his service in Vietnam with the tumultuous 60s, Claiborne creates a seamless history of his cousin's war and how it fits into the larger panorama of 1968. Claiborne's mastery of the era is impressive. The author's grasp of the details and the restraint of his narrative adds to the emotional impact of the story. Claiborne set out to understand what Norman Lane did and why he did it. I'm sure he succeeded in that quest.

Lynn Schiro Fitzwater (BA, 1966) and Morton Holbrook (BA, 1964) were Norman Lane’s two closest friends during his time at Vanderbilt University, where he graduated with the class of 1962 and attended law school through the summer of 1965. In her endorsement of A Time Past, Or What Might Have Been . . . The Odyssey of Norman Lane, Lynn writes:

Norman Lane, an extraordinary person in every way, at last has the biography he deserves. Not every rare and original person is famous, but each one is worth knowing. I feel greatly privileged to have known at least one very well. Norm, you'll never be forgotten.

Morton Holbrook, who went on to serve a long and distinguished career with the State Department, writes:

Norman Lane Jr. was my closest friend in and after college, at Vanderbilt University. Norman was killed in the Vietnam War in 1968. All who knew Norman recognized his infectious spirit, his vast reserves of energy, his sense of humor, his wide range of knowledge, and his desire and interest to learn more. In fact, to learn everything!

Now his relative, Al Claiborne, has written an homage that shares Norman with the wider world. After many years of work, including conversations with many of Norman’s friends and relatives, Claiborne has succeeded in portraying Norman in many dimensions - as a relative, a friend and good-time buddy, a scholar, a soldier, and a patriot. Norman would be pleased!

Does he represent his generation? Yes, in the sense of the best of that generation; yes, in the sense of his potential for meaningful life, cut short by war. Along with the author, I too wonder, What Might Have Been? This volume provides clues, but not an answer.

The book also places Norman’s life in the context of both his own family’s history, and wider events. The tragedy of the Vietnam War and the tragedy of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King were linked in time and place, with the funeral of Vietnam veteran Lane taking place near Memphis just one day after Dr. King’s death in that city on April 4, 1968. I recommend this book to all who are interested in both tragedies, and their continuing relevance today.

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