Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
On May 10, 1968, my husband, Sgt. Howard E. Querry, was killed in the jungles of Vietnam. I was twenty-two years old and seven months pregnant.For the following twenty-five years, I suffered from nightmares, depression, and unresolved grief. In 1990 after a significant loss, I fell into a major depressive episode. For the first time in my life, I lost my will to live.
Because I had a daughter still dependent upon me, I chose to investigate the loss rather than commit suicide. I started therapy, began 12-Step Recovery work for my addictions, and most importantly, started writing.
Writing was the container that could hold my grief. The blank page wanted to hear every last detail.
Since publishing my memoir, Grief Denied: A Vietnam Widow’s Story, I have been helping others explore their unresolved issues through my work as a Life Coach, an Inspirational Speaker, and a Workshop Leader. For more information visit: www.griefdenied.com and www.gutsycoaching.com
LE MINH KHUE
During the American War, I served in the Youth Volunteer Brigades working on the Ho Chi Minh Trails. Later I became a war correspondent. I was in the war from 1966 until its end in 1975, serving on some of the most dangerous battlefields. I’ve written eleven short story collections and novels, and I’m currently chief fiction editor of the Vietnam Writers Association Publishing House, and a consulting editor of Curbstone’s Voices from Vietnam series. Many of my stories and books are concerned with culture, environmental degradation, and human kindness, and in “Fragile as a Sunray” the dream of healing some of the wounds war left in my country.
From my earliest memory, I was told what my duties and responsibilities to my family and my race were as a first-generation Chinese girl learning English in 1940s San Francisco Chinatown. The concepts of responsibility and duty were difficult for me to understand, though I did get that they were important and something I had to do, though I wasn’t sure why. As I was growing up, I faced sexual abuse, battering, and cultural and religious conflicts. I was usually told that the sexual abuse and beatings were my fault for something that was intrinsically wrong or “bad” about me, so I focused on myself to avoid being “bad.”
The events described in “Beating” marked a major change in my thinking and perception of my place in the world. When I saw the blood on the back of my grandmother’s bathrobe, I felt responsible for her pain, and from that time took on the responsibility for the wellbeing of the people I loved and, for many years later on, for the world.
It took several years of counseling, support groups, and “talk story” for me to be able to come to terms with the pain of my childhood. As a counselor and an activist I became comfortable speaking of the abuses in my childhood without shame or fear. A close comrade took me to the Veteran’s Writers’ group, led by Maxine Hong Kingston. “Beating” was the second thing I attempted to write after joining the group. After reading it and getting feedback from the group, I was able to see myself as a veteran of domestic wars.
Two American wars bookend the middle passage of my life and the lives of the writers alongside me in the pages of this book. While my father was leading a battalion of helicopters in Viet Nam, I quit military service for good reason.
Let me begin at the beginning. In the spring of 1944, I crouched in my mother’s belly. At twenty-one years, my father was the trainer of bomber pilots until the U.S. Army Air Force put him on the short list of pilots to drop the atom bomb. I thank the infinite wisdom of the Pentagon that he was passed over as too young for the job.
I was born just as World War II ended. Civilian life didn’t suit my folks, so they reenlisted in the new aviation branch of the Army and got sent to Austria in 1949. During the fifties and sixties, I traveled as one of three dependents from Austria to Fort Bragg, Japan to Fort Rucker, France to Fort Leavenworth. My father is credited for his role in creating the helicopter-mounted machine gun. In 1965 to 1966, when my father joined the 1st Air Cav as a helicopter battalion commander, I joined ROTC at Dartmouth College. I twice refused military service: once with courage, once with cunning. After the birth of two sons, I began teaching college and making movies. In 2003, I went home to Fort Hood. Texas, to take care of my father in his last round with Parkinson’s disease just as the liberation of Iraq turned sour. While on errands, I began to interview the families of soldiers. (Readers can use Google to find the community blog HomefrontBulletin and watch these interviews.)
Over forty years, shame and guilt have circled over my manhood like birds of prey. Shame that I betrayed my father, guilt that good men went to war in my place. This is the account of how, watching over my father’s dying while the American War in Iraq turns sour, I redeem myself.
MORGAN JANE LOTT
I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, of an Armenian father whose family escaped the 1911 genocide by the Turks, and I grew up under the shadow of the DEW line—the Distant Early Warning system that was supposed to alert the United States when the Russians attacked. My dad was a civil defense director, and it was his job to ensure that citizens stocked up on emergency supplies in the event of nuclear war. I worried because permafrost prevented anyone from digging a bomb shelter. But the things we worry about are seldom the things that destroy us.
Vietnam was at the other end of the world from my isolated life in Alaska. But it was a different enemy that took me prisoner a quarter of a century later. After eight years, I am still caught in the crossfire of the so-called War on Drugs, a war that blames its victims, criminalizes its wounded, and enriches its enemies. Like Vietnam, this U.S-backed war is a losing battle, and America has once again turned its back on those forced to fight on the front lines.