When Steve Bookout first came up with the concept for his book, “Boys of Jasper County: Tales from the ’Nam,” he didn’t expect much success. Since then, the first run has sold out and he has sold copies around the world.
“The guy in New Zealand said ‘It was bloody good,’ and Denmark said, ‘It was cool,’” Bookout said. “A lot of people have said, ‘If you write another one, I’ve got a story to tell.’”
Bookout, who served as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and his good friend Navy Vietnam veteran Tom McKinney traveled to the Iowa State Capitol on Wednesday to personally deliver a first-run edition of the book to Gov. Terry Branstad.
“I wanted to give a copy to the State Library, because they collect writings from Iowa, that’s their main function,” Bookout said. “One of the guys says, ‘Branstad was an E4.’ and I go, ‘Well maybe it will help if he had one. He’s in charge of Iowa, and it’s about Jasper County.”
Bookout said after that contact was made with the governor’s office, a meeting was set up.
“It’s cool that he is interested enough in to it to do this,” Bookout said. “There’s no self aggrandizement in this at all for me. It just cost me $10.”
“And a lot of work,” McKinney added. “More work than you realize.”
The cost of the book is $10, and Bookout needs 100 orders minimum to warrant a second printing from his publisher.
“If he doesn’t like it, I won’t vote for him,” Bookout said jokingly.
During the ride down Interstate 80, the duo swapped different tales about working at Maytag, travels to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to scrap a helicopter for parts and Bookout’s hobby of making handcrafted firearms.
Upon arrival at the statehouse, the duo joked around with a security guard, who just happened to be a Marine and took in the sights of the building until their appointment. Bookout pointed out the differences in some of the displays from his previous visits and McKinney seemed to be taking in the majesty in the design of the more than 100-year-old building.
When one o’clock rolled around, one of the governor’s assistants collected the duo.
“Welcome to the governor’s formal office,” Branstad said welcoming his guests.
Bookout gave Branstad a personal copy of the book and asked him to deliver another copy to the State Library.
“We put this book together, and since you’ve paid your dues too, we wanted you to have it,” Bookout told the governor. “There is no BS in it; it’s just straight facts from the guys in the book. I don’t think you can accept presents, so you have to earn that book.”
Bookout and McKinney gave an abridged version of how the book came about.
“I had started writing down stories for my grandkids and I thought, ‘People like Tom here had something to tell, and we could put it in a book form.’ This is the end result,” Bookout said. “There are books about Vietnam that are about guys from just one company. I think this is the first book about guys from just one geographic area.”
“Vietnam vets didn’t used to talk much about the service,” McKinney said. “Steve and I are both Maytagers. Thirty years we worked together and we never once talked about it.”
Branstad continuously thumbed through the book while engaged in the conversation with Bookout and McKinney and even shared a story about his recent trip to Vicksburg, Miss., to help rededicate the Iowa Monument.
“This was a special dinner at some mansion there in Vicksburg,” Branstad said. “They had black eyed peas, grits, catfish, fried chicken and watermelon — a real southern meal, I’ll tell you.”
Branstad’s visit also served another purpose.
“First Iowa governor since Gov. (Albert) Cummings dedicated it in 1906,” Branstad said of the visit. “I was surprised to hear that and they even played my favorite song, ‘The Battle of New Orleans,’ and that was pretty good.”
The duo also shared stories about the Jasper County Freedom Flights with the governor and how interest in veterans has skyrocketed in the county the last several years and how County Treasurer Doug Bishop has played a part in that.
Like all good things, the duo’s time with the governor came to an end as he had to attend another engagement. Bookout and McKinney commented on the situation afterward.
“I think he thinks it’s pretty cool, and I bet it gets read,” Bookout said.
“I think it helps that he’s a veteran,” McKinney said.
“He’s just people. He’s a farmer, and I meant to ask about his crops,” Bookout added.
After thinking about it more, Bookout had another thought pop into his head.
“I would say that he knows who the Jasper County Vietnam Veterans are now,” Bookout said. “I’m glad we went, even if it cost me 10 bucks. I really wanted him to have it. He represents Iowa.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.