Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
I was trained to fight from an early age. Even the way I played chess at home was to learn military strategy. As a boy I had to stand at attention before my father, salute him, and address him as “Sir.” I remember being a teenager in the army. It was the time of the Vietnam War, and I wanted to defend my beloved country from the “evil empire” of Communism. Testosterone pumping through my body, the thought of war was exciting. Basic training with my buddies at Fort Riley, Kansas, was actually a good experience. Though demanding, it felt like playing with the guys in the woods and preparing to defend our country. I was a boy soldier, enjoying my buddies and the conditioning of my male body into that of a man.
Bliss men had fought in American wars for more than two centuries. Wanting to become another General Bliss, I requested assignment in Vietnam, hoping it would help me rise up the ranks quickly. But after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preach, I resigned my commission and enrolled in the University of Chicago Divinity School, where I received a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree and was then ordained as a United Methodist minister. I became active in the resistance to the Vietnam War and then went to Chile during the democratic government of Salvador Allende.
Since that time, I have held teaching and administrative posts at
various colleges, including Harvard, New College of California, and
the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and have contributed to eighteen
books, including coauthoring A Quiet Strength. In 1992, I established
the organic Kokopelli Farm in Sonoma County, California, and in
recent years I have divided my time between Hawai‘i and California.
My current writing focuses on Peak Oil and how the decline in
I left the military forty years ago, and I have worked hard to demilitarize myself. I’m older now, and war is no longer exciting or glorious to me. I know that even if you return alive, battle scars are inevitable, not just on the body, but on the soul.
I enjoy receiving e-mails from readers. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com
CARROLL PARROTT BLUE
As a documentary filmmaker, I have won prizes for the following:
Dubai 2005, The Fern Street Circus, Mystery of the Senses: Vision, Nigerian Arts-Kindred Spirits, Conversations with Roy DeCarava, Varnette’s World: A Story of a Young Artist, and Two Women.
My recent work, The Dubai Orlando Project, was a virtual collaboration between media production students from University of Central Florida, USA and Dubai Women’s College, U.A.E.
At the end of the war in Viet Nam, pro-American groups of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hmong relocated from Southeast Asia to
the United States through Camp Pendleton, California. At the time,
I was an aspiring photojournalist and asked a local San Diego newspaper for a press pass to photograph their arrival. Three days after the
refugees landed, I photographed them throughout a makeshift tent
city built by U.S. Marines on the base. Years later I discovered that
I am a native Northern Californian and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. As a freelance writer and photographer, I contribute to such publications as: the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner Sunday Magazine, the Stockton Record, Rugby Magazine, and Poetry Flash. Bonnie Bonner is the pen and maiden name for Joanne Palamountain, my stage and married name. When outdoors, I take pleasure in running, hiking, and snow skiing. When indoors, I paint botanical watercolors. In 1968, I accompanied my late husband, Greg Palamountain, to military flight school and in 1969 to Korea, where he served as a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army. Since then, I have traveled throughout Asia and have been writing about Vietnam with the Veterans Writing Group since 2000. A version of the following story, “For Soldiers Not Known,” won the 1999 University of California Lilli Fabilli/ Eric Hoffer Essay Prize and is part of a novel in progress.
NANCY SUE BRINK
I was first invited to the Veterans Writers Group while working on a film about dog tags and was welcomed for all that I am— documentary filmmaker, writer, activist, and lover of birds, wilderness, good stories. I grew up during the Vietnam War and when I heard the courage of the veterans’ voices—the depth of their stories, the risks they take in telling those stories—I had to ask myself, “If they can do that, what do I have to be afraid of? What stories do I need to tell?” The people in this group helped me find the courage to write without fear.
Some things that are important to me: My exceptional family and friends. My small independent film and video company, Present Tense Productions. Hiking in the mountains. Working with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, monitoring migrating hawks and falcons. (I take exception to the hawk–war metaphor.) Being a member of a Friends meeting (Quakers). Teaching filmmaking and writing to young people, with the hope that they will tell their stories and break open the heart of the world.
The Saturday after the Iraq War started in March 2003, I traveled to Sebastopol to join my friends in the Veteran Writers Group. The raw despair I felt about the war starting, about our inability to thwart the violent momentum of the Bush administration, took form in“The Night the War Begins in Iraq, We’re Learning CPR.”
“Wintering Cranes in the San Joaquin Valley” reflects for me another profound aspect of days spent with the group, writing and meditating: the search for healing and peace—not only for ourselves, but for as many as we can touch through our activities. On those days, we share with each other the beauty of a changing garden, walks through a eucalyptus grove, the seasons of birds, the California hills— the complex and intricately balanced relationships of the natural world—for me, the source of peace.
I was born in Bozeman, Montana, in 1918. After my father was shot to death, my mother married Rich Gex, a Basque cowboy. A Montana boyhood among cowboys, Indians, ranchers, rodeo hands, remittance men, gamblers, and survivors was her gift to me. Rich Gex raised me to ride horses, learn cowboy jobs and rules. In 1940, I graduated in literature and journalism from the University of Washington and took a job as a farmhand so I could write at night.
In World War II, I was commissioned directly from civil life as ensign, USNR. I volunteered for armed guard duty commanding a USN gun crew on armed Liberty ships and merchantmen in all three theaters of war. In 1945, I became an operations officer on the staff of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander in Chief, Western Sea Frontier. After World War II, I moved to San Francisco, where I played roles with The Actors’ Workshop. I was emcee on KPIX’s Art in Your Life and KQED’s Discovery. Also at this time I was enrolled in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and sang and acted in the San Francisco Opera Company, the Pacific Opera Company, and the San Francisco Little Symphony. During these years, 1950 to 1980, I also worked as a painter, exhibited in one-man shows at the de Young Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Bennington College, and Cambridge University. I published poems in Poetry and had a story in Best American Short Stories.
In 1946, I married Mary Elisabeth Watts, of Seattle, Washington.
She is mother of Shuah and Luke Brotherton. In 1982, I married
Nam Kyong Hye, of Seoul, Korea. We lived in Kyoto, where I worked
as a painter, studied Japanese art, and lectured at The Japan Foundation. In 1999, after a brief residence with Kyong Hye’s family in Seoul,
we returned to San Francisco.
I served in Episode I of the Gulf War as a Marine jet engine mechanic on Harriers. I helped our jets successfully drop more than two million pounds of ordnance, which killed thousands of people.
I don’t need an alibi. I’m here to confess. I did it. I’m on the run from my own life. I ride on caffeine and fumes. I’m on the run from the Marines, from the charred bodies of young men, children, and women. Maxine and the other veterans of our workshop have given me the strength to stop running and begin healing. I found other veterans and people who understood the horrible tragedy and grief that war causes. I know now, as many Vietnam veterans have learned, that I will never be fully whole until I revisit Iraq and make peace with the people I once falsely believed were my enemies. I long for that day.
My prose poems, “Dear Commander in Chief,” “Easter,” and “Spin Drift,” are fragments from my first novel, Shrapnel, which is a
story about the weight of guilt, the levity of grace, and a soldier who
struggles to make peace with the fragments of his past and finds his
way home on America’s black velvet highways. These poems are evidences of my distrust and disbelief in war as an option, as well as
expressions of my personal experiences during and after Gulf War I.