Lawrence grad writes Vietnam service memoir

James Oliveri covers the early years of a divisive war

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More than 30 years after James Oliveri returned from Vietnam War, he decided to write a memoir, detailing his experiences as a member of the U.S. Army advisory team.
Oliveri, 71, started writing his book 20 years ago, and said he wanted to publish a fictional account. “I re-did [the book] in several forms, and rewrote it four times before it ended up in the form it is now,” he said.
In “The Frost Weeds, Vietnam: 1964-1965” Oliveri shares the often untold stories from the earlier years of the war, a time period, he said, very few history books address.
Born in Inwood and raised in Cedarhurst, Oliveri graduated from Lawrence High School in 1961. He attended the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury and began working in the banking industry two years later. He enlisted in 1963.
The memoir covers Oliveri’s job as a radio operator, his experiences in battle, and major U.S. events that occurred during his military service, such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, “to give a better flavor of what was going on at the time,” he said.
Published in July by Hellgate Press, a military history book publisher based in Oregon, Oliveri’s book brings light to the beginning stages of the war, when only 16,000 American soldiers occupied Vietnam. “Most books concentrate on the later periods, where major battles took place. By doing that, [people] are missing out on a very important period when the war was quite different,” he said.
Harley Patrick, acquisitions editor and owner of Hellgate Press, admired Oliveri’s mission of addressing a time period seldom discussed. “The period that James writes about provides some important information and keen insight into the conflict and will, I believe, make an important contribution to the existing library of Vietnam War literature,” Patrick said.
The book’s title is based on call signs the advisory team used to communicate with other American soldiers between headquarters. “I would be assigned out to a Vietnamese unit, and communicate with [U.S.] headquarters through the radio,” Oliveri said. “Frost Weeds was one of our code names.”
The process of putting his memoir together, Oliveri said, was daunting, as the majority of the book was written from memory. “I never even kept a note of what happened there –– that would’ve been important to me now,” he admitted.
He believes the memoir maintains an honest voice. “I didn’t whitewash anything,” Oliveri said. “All the embarrassing parts are still in there.”
A literary agent advised him to publish his book as a true story, rather than a work of fiction. Once completed, Hellgate Press was the first, and only, publisher to receive Oliveri’s manuscript. “I looked online for publishers who handled military history, and took a shot at Hellgate first. I was prepared to send [my manuscript] to others, but I didn’t have to do that,” he said. Patrick said that Oliveri’s manuscript was “top-notch and required a minimum of editing on [Hellgate’s] part.”
His lack of typos and smooth-flowing prose can be attributed to Oliveri’s current occupation as a book editor and proofreader. He runs his own business, YeEditor, from home in Arizona. After his service, he returned to Long Island and banking and lived in Baldwin until 2008. “I was always a writer,” Oliveri said.
For more information about his memoir, visit www.hellgatepress.com/james-oliveri/frost-weeds.