TEWKSBURY — Michael Kelley, a Tewksbury resident, has written and published a book titled The Gunner and the Grunt. Following Kelley’s lifelong friendship with fellow “Boston Boy” Peter Burbank during the Vietnam War, the book provides reflection on the Vietnam War, as well as early aspects of the Civil Rights Movement through the perspective of the men during their time serving, as well as their lives after returning home.
Raised in the Cambridge/Somerville area, Kelley has had ties to the Tewksbury/Wilmington area for the entirety of his life. During his childhood, his family would vacation in a cottage in Wilmington, and he would ride his bike from his home in Cambridge to a friend’s on South Street in Tewksbury. After getting married, he relocated to Wilmington, where he lived for 20 years. Later, he moved to Tewksbury, where he currently resides.
Even before writing his book, Kelley enjoyed writing. After his time in the service, Kelley took up freelancing, publishing pieces in the Lowell Sun and the Town Crier. At one point, he had his own column entitled “Country Roads,” in which he discussed his childhood experiences in the area.
Kelley began writing his memoir back in 1974, soon after returning from Vietnam. However, kept busy with the demands of work and family life, he did not finish the book until recently. Motivated by the desire to finish the book so it could be shared with those he served with in Vietnam and their families, he completed it after his own retirement.
The root of Kelley’s inspiration behind the creation of The Gunner and the Grunt lies primarily in his friendship with Burbank. Described by Kelley as “brothers in the jungle and brothers in life,” the two met after training, serving as part of the cavalry division. Kelley found that their unusual story of friendship, spanning from the Vietnam War back to post-war life in New England, gave him a unique perspective worthy of discussion.
Looking at another influential relationship in his life, Kelley’s connection to his sister Joan Kelley, who served in Vietnam as well as a nurse, retiring as a colonel after 20 years of service, was also a key influence in the book’s creation. According to Kelley, it was believed that they were among the only brother/sister officers, adding to the uniqueness of the story.
An additional focal point in the book centers around the early Civil Rights Movement. After joining the service in 1964, shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Kelley was stationed in the South. His time there allowed him to see the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act, especially in the context of race relations within the army itself.
Overall, The Gunner and the Grunt provides readers with a unique view into the Vietnam War, focusing on influential relationships as well as greater social change in society as key discussion points.
After finishing the book, he went about publishing the book through a local publishing company based in Lowell. To help with the process, he hired a freelance cover designer, and a graduate from Columbia to act as a freelance editor. They are currently in the process of courting a larger publishing company, in order to increase the book’s distribution and overall reach.
The Gunner and the Grunt will soon be available for check-out at the Tewksbury Public Library. After the current COVID-19 pandemic slows, Kelley says there are plans in the works for a discussion and book-signing event at the library.
To purchase The Gunner and the Grunt, contact Kelley directly by phone at 978-851-3792.