Walter Dean Myers's novel Fallen Angels was published in 1988. The novel is based on the author's own experiences as a young American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War lasted from 1959 to 1973, but the United States had the most boots on the ground in 1967, the year in which Fallen Angels is set. Much of the international community saw the Vietnam War as a Civil War and did not believe that there was a place for non-Vietnamese troops in the conflict. However, the United States government felt strongly that intervention was necessary in order to stop Communism from spreading. As the war raged on and the American body count rose, this anti-war sentiment took hold within the United States. Ultimately, the American army was forced to withdraw, leaving South Vietnam in tatters. The controversy surrounding the war resulted in a generation of soldiers who were unwelcome in the United States after completing their tours of duty. By chronicling the experiences of a seventeen-year-old soldier, Fallen Angels explores they ways in which the Vietnam War led to the dissolution of the myth of the American war hero.
It is also important to note that Walter Dean Myers has been widely criticized for his graphic depiction of war in Fallen Angels. The novel was #16 on the American Library Association's list of 100 most frequently challenged or banned books from 1990-2000. Myers took a risk by including profanity and detailed depictions of violence and gore in his young adult novel, but he made those choices to provide the most authentic account of the Vietnam War. He dedicated the novel to his brother, Thomas Wayne "Sonny" Myers, who died in Vietnam on May 7, 1968. "Losing a friend in combat brings home the realization of what a fragile hold we have on life," Myers has said.
Fallen Angels is both fictional and semi-autobiographical. Myers asserted that the character of Richie Perry was of his own creation, but that his personal experience heavily influenced the novel. By writing a work of fiction rather than committing to a memoir, Myers was able to employ rhetorical devices to communicate important themes like disillusionment and subjective reality. Additionally, he expanded his personal narrative to include fictional characters and situations that serve to enhance the reader's understanding of the war experience. The effect is a highly visceral, realistic, and dynamic work of fiction that has resonated with readers for decades.