Love and war: Author recounts tales from Vietnam tunnels, flower receipts


Jack Flowers joked he only writes books about love and war.

Flowers, who graduated from Fishers High School in 1963, wrote a book called “Flowers: A Love Story,” which was released last year. His previous novel, “Rat Six,” is based on his personal experiences as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. It came out four years ago. After many years away, Flowers returned to Fishers earlier this year. After spending some time with his sister, he recently found a place to live in Carmel.

“I’m coming home to the roots and will probably stay,” he said.

Captain flowers
Jack Flowers, right, and his father, Jack Flowers Sr., were both captains. (Photo courtesy of Jack Flowers)

Flowers’ epistolary novel is told in floral receipts about a girl who was born in 1935 in Boston and a boy born in 1941 in St. Louis. It follows their lives for 40 years.

The idea for the book has been bouncing around in Flowers’ head for years.

“When I was 17, my high school sweetheart dumped me,” he said. “I was distraught, and I was going to get her back. I went to McNamara Florist and bought one long-stemmed rose, which cost 50 cents and a box cost 25 cents. He was writing out a receipt. I said my name was Jack Flowers and he kind of giggled. When I was leaving, he said to the guy with him, ‘You run into all kinds of crazy people at this place.’ He didn’t believe my name was Flowers.”

Through the years, Flowers had ordered flowers, and they always asked his name. He said there was often the same giggle. So, he had the idea to tell a story through receipts.

“The receipts are facsimiles, and the story is told through the letters that might accompany a bouquet of flowers,” he said.

Flowers researched what the receipts looked like by contacting the company in Michigan that had been making the receipts for a number of years.

“It took me years to find the right kind of artist. She had to be a graphic artist as well as an artist,” he said of his illustrator. “The receipts and illustrations complement the events. The little girl’s family is close to the Kennedy family, so she got involved with John and Bobby Kennedy’s campaigns.”

Flowers was the leader of the First Infantry Division of the tunnel rats during the Vietnam War in 1968 and 1969.

His code name was Rat Six. Flowers was a graduate of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We were engineers with demolition capabilities,” Flowers said. “After we cleared the tunnels, we destroyed them as much as we could.”

Flowers said he had a tough time when he got back from Vietnam, so writing out his history was cathartic.

Flowers was approached by British authors Tom Mangold and John Penycate, who were writing a book about tunnel warfare in Vietnam when he was working as a stockbroker in Philadelphia. The book was released in 1985. Flowers had written many of the after-action reports during the war and was the battalion historian.

“When John Penycate found me, he found a plethora of information,” Flowers said. “I had 700 typed pages from my own research.”

“60 Minutes” and Life Magazine picked up on it.

Flowers and five other tunnel rats were interviewed by Morley Safer by ’60 Minutes.”

MGM considered making a movie, but it never happened.

“I say I had more than my 15 minutes of fame because the ’60 Minutes’ interview lasted 24 minutes,” he said.

Years later, he finally turned his own history into a book.

“I’ve changed most of the names to protect the innocent as well as the guilty,” he said.

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From left, Gen. Orwin C. Talbot awards 1st Lt. Jack Flowers and Robert Batten the Bronze Star for Valor in 1969 for a tunnel cleaning operation. (Photo courtesy of Jack Flowers)

High praise

Jack Flowers’ book drew praise from one very famous author.

Frederick Forsyth, author of “The Day of the Jackal” and “The Odessa File,” had interviewed Flowers for his book “Avenger.”

For Flowers’ book, Forsyth wrote a comment: “Perchance I suffer only mildly from claustrophobia but when I learned of the horrors and scarcely imaginable dangers of the tunnels of Cu Chi under the Iron Triangle of Vietnam all those years back, I was one big goose bump. Then I met and talked with Tunnel Rat Six, aka Jack Flowers. Now he has written his memoir, telling us the way it was. So if you are prepared to be really frightened (by proxy) read it.”

John Penycate, co-author of “The Tunnels of Cu Chi,” wrote “Jack Flowers has distilled his harrowing experience of war into a story of stark realism, authenticity and psychological insight. His narrator, Cliff Price, volunteers (as did the author) for, in his words, ‘perhaps the worst job in Vietnam.’ Only a few men could handle the terrors of fighting the Viet Cong in their tunnels, and we are forced to appreciate the exceptional courage and steadiness a ‘tunnel rat’ needed.”