May 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
Like the great majority of the American population, I have no one in my family who died in military service. Generations of my ancestors served in conflicts from the Civil War to World War II, but no one died in combat. Five years ago I knew only one man who had been killed in Vietnam. The grief of war was an abstract thing to me. I understood Memorial Day, meaning I knew the difference between it and Veterans Day and the Fourth of July, but it still felt like a day of observance that belonged to other people. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 26, 2016 § 1 Comment
I had dinner recently with someone I had known from my neighborhood for several years. She wanted to get us away from our construction chaos, give us a very welcome break. I have known her only as kind and community-minded. She makes a point of greeting new neighbors, signing them up for the listserv, and inviting them to the picnic. She offers to help and she does. She is a few years older than I am. She carries memories. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 17, 2016 § 1 Comment
A few years ago, Mark and I were sitting with a friend in a Panera restaurant having coffee and talking. Suddenly a man I call the Panera Stranger, thrust his hand at Mark and said, “Thank you for your service!” Mark mumbled something, I was paralyzed, and we were all – including, most likely, the Stranger, were left feeling awkward and uncomfortable. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
Well, it’s only the evening of the first day and I am already unglued. Eight years ago today, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood in the amphitheater at Chautauqua, the place I was sitting, to deliver what came to be known as the “I Hate War” speech. Tonight the program interspersed anthems and hymns with recorded segments of that speech. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 11, 2016 § 2 Comments
I found this, “How To Listen To Me, a Veteran,” on the website of the Office of Veterans and Military Personnel at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis and found it quite useful, not just for listening to veterans but for listening to anyone who has a difficult story to tell. Some of his points challenge the assumptions of a culture all-too-given to lionizing anything military while at the same time not taking the time to listen to what they say.
His point of view merits discussion. This, for instance: “If you make the offer to listen to me though, you had better mean it. You had better mean that you will sit with me and listen till I am done telling, not until you are bored or uncomfortable. Make the offer to listen to me, and then be prepared in case I decide you are the right person to tell my story to.” Those sentences alone are worth separate discussion and he has many of them. Respond in the comments, if you will. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 19, 2015 § 3 Comments
It is March 1969 in a place west of Saigon that the men called the Tobacco Field. They also called it Ambush Valley. Civilians were rare here, so when this group of farmers walked nearby, Captain Meager (second from right) with his interpreter went to talk to them. Mark (who took the picture) said Capt. Meager asked them if there were Viet Cong nearby and they said, no, they didn’t know about any Viet Cong, which seemed too mundane a story for me so I saw more in it.
July 24, 2015 § 2 Comments
The One String Violin, the book I am working on with Mark Smith, is almost finished. Finally I put all the sections together and added up the words: way, way too many. Even our most devoted readers might think we had overestimated their patience. So I set about to edit. First to go are all the extra words, of course, but there weren’t that many. I had to cut whole incidents, entire thoughts. Happily, we plan a website where the outtakes will find a home but until I create that I will put a few things here. This is from my epilogue, in which I talk about the process we went through that made it possible for such different people to write a book together.
Mark and I share a disdain for stories that focus only on one aspect of the war. Too many books and movies hit only one emotional note – all horror, or glory, or fury or brutality. Mark says war was 10% terror and 90% boredom. To me, 10% terror is plenty but there is that 90%.
So I learned about the ordinary. I learned about shipping film back and forth and what happens to clothing and skin in the heat and humidity. I learned about the way helmets were decorated and that the letters Mark received from home did not survive because he simply could not carry them around.
I learned, though, that dried spices were worth carrying because they could turn dreary C-rations into a kind of stew they called “Saigon Slumgullion.”
The war was filled with ordinary moments but nothing I could do would make them ordinary to me.