Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Author Biographies (alphabetical order - click on letter)
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CLAUDE ANSHIN THOMAS
I served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967 as a helicopter crew chief. During my tour of duty, I was shot down five times and wounded once, receiving the Purple Heart. Since then, I have been working to heal the emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds from that war and to find a way to use these experiences to help others. As part of this process, I lived and studied at a Vietnamese monastery and retreat center, Plum Village, founded and guided by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, and I was later ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk by Roshi Bernie Glassman.
Writing has been a crucial tool in my journey to come to peace with the devastation of war. In 2005, my book At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace was published by Shambhala, and as a result, I’ve received many invitations to speak about violence and how to heal it. I facilitate mindfulness-meditation retreats that give participants tools to aid them in the process of healing. I have led retreats for veterans, the homeless, and prisoners, and taught in jails, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals. I also practice pilgrimage, walking in my Buddhist robes and carrying all my belongings on my back. In 1994 and 1995, I took part in an interfaith pilgrimage from Auschwitz, where I was ordained, to Vietnam. In 1998, I walked across the United States, and in 1999, I walked through many sites of concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, prisons, and other places of suffering connected to World War II. In 2002, I walked from Budapest to the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, following the paths that many Jews had to take to their imprisonment and death. In 2007, I will walk from California to Texas, along the Mexican border.
I now divide my time between the U.S., Europe, South America, and Asia, sharing with people that violence is not a solution
DANIEL MOEN THOMPSON
I served two tours with the 5th Special Forces in Viet Nam and was assigned to MACV SOG, CCN, Forward Operations Base 4, next to Marble Mountain. I returned to Da Nang in 1994 to more fully understand the essence of the mountain in its historical, spiritual, and geological sense. Afterward, I engaged a Vietnamese scholar to translate the book Ngu Hanh Son (Water Mountain, one of the five element mountains) into English. This piece is an excerpt from Marble Mountain. After returning from Da Nang in 1995, I wrote aNAMnesis (A Viet Nam Journal). In addition to the novel Marble Mountain, I have written Sleeping Soldiers, The Snake Pit (Death at Walter Reed), and numerous short stories. It is with the help and encouragement of Maxine Hong Kingston, the Veterans Group, my beautiful wife, Mary, and the Richmond Men’s Group, that I have organized a cohesive remembrance of war. I am blessed with three children, Elizabeth, Daniel, and Alexandra, and a grandson, Isaiah.
I was born in Whitefish, Montana, entered the U.S. Air Force in 1964, served in Vietnam from November 1967 to September 1968, and was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal. I left the military in 1968 as one of only two men in the Air Force in Vietnam to reach the rank of staff sergeant (E5) with fewer than four years of service.
I entered the University of Montana ten days after returning from Vietnam and within a month assaulted and almost killed an anti-draft protester. This was the first indication of my PTSD, although it took more than twenty years to diagnose it. I started treatment at the local vet center in 1988.
I obtained an M.B.A. from the University of Oregon, and spent thirty years working as a forestry consultant and real estate broker. Then I went from this successful career to becoming an alcoholic, a drug user, and came within three days of homelessness due in a large part to PTSD. Family, writing, Native American spirituality, and friends have helped me to come to terms with my Vietnam experience.
I returned to Vietnam in May 2006 and came home knowing I left “my” war behind. Following my return, I attended the first Native American ceremony during which I was completely free of any of my Vietnam “shit.” I have been clean and sober since 1997 and currently do some freelance writing and photography. I’ve been published by Harley-Davidson, Easyriders, and Biker Magazine.
I was born in 1946, in Würzburg, Germany. After graduating high school in Montana, I joined the Army and did a tour in Vietnam 1966 to 1967, as a recon and rifle company medic with the 1st Infantry Division.
I remember suggesting to a friend’s father (a Mormon elder) over a convivial family dinner, but in a pugnacious way given to untactful youth, that Christ’s death “wasn’t so significant in the way of pain and suffering considering the Resurrection.” He asked me to explain myself. I told him an embellished tale of a soldier dying on the Cambodian border. He stood up at the table and screamed at me, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” This also meant, “Get the hell out of my house.”
I went back to Vietnam in 1994 and poked around Tan Son Nhut Airport and the location of the old MACV compound. I knew that the American mortuary was located in the MACV compound and realized that an autopsy was a more convivial way to say that some young soldiers’ sacrifices are so great in pain and suffering that they are Christs. I think my feelings all through the war, and after, about the conflict between religion and war put the Christian tale of the Crucifixion up as fair game to be mocked, or challenged.