A ‘Shack Rat’ in Northwest Florida: Destin area, Vietnam inspires author’s work

Jessica Coker
Nelms served in Pleiku as a military policeman with the Army during the Vietnam War.

Trading his camouflage fatigues for pen-and-paper, Stanley Nelms went from soldier to author.

The St. Louis resident has been visiting the Emerald Coast for more than 25 years with his family, and 10 years ago he made the move, buying his own piece of Northwest Florida paradise in the form of a condominium in Fort Walton Beach.

Nelms said that his first novel "Shack Rat," is loosely based on his time as an Army military policeman in Berlin and Pleiku during the Vietnam War. Wetting his feet in the literary pond for the first time, Nelms told The Log the decision to write that first book was very personal for him.

"I was the only one in my immediate peer group who went to Vietnam," Nelms said. "When I got home, I kept quiet about my time over there for a long time, so I decided to write a book."

Nelms added that people often had a hard time grasping the facts of the Vietnam War from his lost generation.

Nelms said Shack Rat is unlike most wartime novels because it focuses not only on the heat of battle and warfare, but it brings in an element of romance, making it feel a little bit softer for easier reading.

Literally taking a page from his military days, Nelms and fictional character Doug Hanson — also a military policeman — take readers on an around-the-world-trip, from the Berlin Wall to the Tet Offensive, all while vying for the heart of Vietnamese barmaid Kim.

Nelms said the novel was well-received by veterans — especially the ones he served with in Pleiku.

"The guys I served with were a big reason I wrote Shack Rat," Nelms said.

Nelms is the webmaster of the organization Vietnam Veterans of America, which is dedicated to helping Vietnam veterans and their families in any way they can.

Straying from his military roots, Nelms second book, "Head of Marti," takes place in 1958 Cuba with Fidel Castro closing in on the small island nation. Fictional, and shady, character Johnny Williams scrambles in an attempt to escape the dictator’s heavy thumb with his newborn baby Susan.

Eventually ending up in Northwest Florida 30 years later, “Head of Marti” was inspired in part by his time vacationing in the area. Nelms told The Log that many scenes from Head of Marti take place in the small canals behind Destin's iconic Holiday Isle.

"I've traveled all over," Nelms said. "The Emerald Coast is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, that's why I had to write about it." Nelms calls “Head of Marti” a "Northwest Florida adventure novel, beachy and fun — something to read while you're lying on the beach in Destin." The author said he even references a fictional Florida periodical — "Northwest Florida Times," in his book.

For more information on Nelms military career and the Vietnam Veterans of America, please visit For more information on Nelms and his novels, please visit