Four decades after serving his country in Vietnam, Steven A. Johnson took on a rather involved project.
The man who had served as a reconnaissance Marine in Vietnam from 1967-1968 had memories at his disposal but had to dig for other resources. The diary he had used on his patrols had long since been destroyed.
"Basically, it was a diary of everything we were doing every day - everything we saw or heard," Johnson said. "The main objective of ground reconnaissance personnel is to go deep in enemy territory, not be seen and yet observe everything we can. Even nothing is something. We can come back from out on patrol having seen nothing and that's information."
“Cammie Up!” by Steven A. Johnson of Busti is a memoir of his time spent as a reconnaissance Marine in Vietnam.
Johnson could've kept the diary, but he burned it. Just before coming home, he felt what he described as a "misguided sense of safeguarding information," none of which was classified.
"What a stupid thing to do," he said. "That is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I destroyed that notebook, and never thought much of it until I started writing the book. It would've been twice as thick if I had those patrol notes."
Johnson, a Jamestown native and Busti resident, never planned to write "Cammie Up!" Fellow Marines and his family had other ideas, however.
Johnson returned to Vietnam for the first time in 1998 with a group of fellow veterans. His wife, Judy, encouraged him to keep a journal during of the trip, which he did.
After returning home, Johnson typed up his thoughts into a 30-page narrative. He sent the pages to family and friends. Johnson's sister then encouraged him to write about his active duty tour in Vietnam. Johnson knew it would be a difficult task. It had been many years and remembering details wouldn't be easy.
"I finally thought, 'Well, I'll start it. If it doesn't work out, at least I tried,'" said Johnson, who began work on the book in late 2007.
He took a legal pad and wrote down every phrase and thought he could remember from his tour, combining the details into a six-page list.
"As I would think of something, I would think of something else," he said.
His memories only took him so far, however. Johnson found a box of letters he had written to his father from Vietnam that served as a wealth of information.
"They were nearly as valuable as that patrol notebook could've been," Johnson said.
He looked through his list, the letters, military documents and photos, which triggered more memories.
As is the case for most writers, Johnson did hit snags every now and then.
"There were times I would put the thing aside for three months," he said. "I'd let it sit for a while. It's a good thing my livelihood doesn't depend on getting a speedy publication out."
He finished the manuscript last year, sending it to the Naval Institute Press first. The editor, a Vietnam veteran, wrote him a personalized letter, telling Johnson he enjoyed the book but would be unable to publish it due to the institute's marketing needs at the time.
Johnson decided he would try to get the book published one more time. He has many books on various topics in his personal collection. When looking through them, he noticed the name McFarland Publishing several times. He sent the manuscript to McFarland, and was pleasantly surprised to hear back from them. The company wanted to work on a contract with him.
"They made almost no requests to change the manuscript," Johnson said.
Editors had a couple of suggestions for Johnson, who polished up his manuscript. He had to change his footnotes into endnotes and add a table of contents. He decided to tone down a couple of passages that expressed his opinions on former government leaders.
Creating the index, which will help researchers find what they're looking for, was quite the challenge.
"I had to go back over the book, page by page, word by word," he said. "Now I understand why fiction writers write fiction because there's not an index involved."
As for the title, Johnson had an initial idea, but changed it to "Cammie Up!" at the company's suggestion. To "cammie up" more or less means to get ready and put on camouflage face paint, Johnson said. Since veterans would be familiar with the title's meaning, Johnson thought it would catch the attention of those who would find the book most interesting.
"Cammie Up!" can be purchased locally at the Fenton History Center. It is also available online on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and several other websites.