David A. Willson reviews Empty Open Hands

Empty Open Hands: A Survivor’s Story; A Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Family Abuse and Trauma:  The Life and Legacy of Martial Arts Master Willy Johannes Cristoffel Wetzel by Wim H. Wetzel, PhD. (2016) 

Reviewed by David A. Willson, shown in his study.


Wim Wetzel is a retired 24-year Air Force Combat aircrew veteran who served as a C-130 and C-141A/B Loadmaster.  During his military career and civilian careers he held numerous highly successful senior leadership and management positions.  

Both of Wetzel’s parents were captured in the Dutch East Indies during World War II and were held prisoners of war by the Japanese in internment camps for over four years.  Wetzel’s family legally immigrated to the United States in 1956.

Wetzel is a 100% disabled Vietnam veteran.  In his book, he uses the phrases “sitting ducks” multiple times to describe his feeling about his vulnerability during his Air Force tour of duty in Vietnam.  This must be a phrase that is peculiar to the Air Force, as it is used as the title of a prominent Air Force memoir, but I’ve not encountered it in U. S. Army Vietnam War memoirs.  The reader also encounters mention of Agent Orange and its depredations, and the legendary Viet Cong barber who spends part of his day pacing off targets in the compound in preparation for night time attacks.  

As I read this book, I also felt I’d met Wim Wetzel before.  I wracked my brains and realized that I’d just finished reading and reviewing Kristin Hannah’s best-selling novel The Great Alone, and the main character might as well have been a blueprint for the abusive side of Willy J. C. Wetzel—“the family patriarch…a man of many faces and multiple personalities; a cruel master of his domain within the home, a hard working dedicated and respected man in the community…”  

The blurbs on the back jacket of this book cannot be improved upon for sucking the vital pith from this book:  “Gut-wrenching.” “Strict and unrelenting rules and expectations of perfection,” “the cloud of despair,” “unspeakable cruelties during childhood,” constant threats of harm and even death.”  

Wim Wetzel survived the above and more, but he decided to not perpetuate this abuse cycle, but to rather break it forever.  He did so. This book tells how he managed to do the near impossible. I was on the edge of my seat while reading this book which is well beyond “gut-wrenching.”  I highly recommend this book to those who have strong stomachs or perhaps who come from similar backgrounds of abuse. I fit both categories, so I was able to read the book and come away from it with positive feelings about the author and his intent in telling his story.

All but top photo of David A. Willson copyright (c) 2017-8 Wim Wetzel, found in his book and copied from its website in fair use for purposes of criticism and review.  

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