Two brothers, traumatized as children by seeing their father murder their mother’s parents. Then as young adults, both serve in the Vietnam War.
When I began work on Memories of Jake, my intention wasn’t to write a book about the war. But what I’ve learned has become an important part of the book: it wasn’t possible to separate Andrew’s and Jake’s life experiences from the impact of their time in Vietnam.
I have a family member who served as a Marine, and it’s taken him decades to deal with what the war and its aftermath meant in his life. And I have come to believe he is a typical veteran of the Vietnam War. This nation, it seems to me, has still not really reached an understanding of what that war did to us. It divided the country as nothing has since the Civil War.
So writing about Andrew, the artist, and Jacob, the warrior, meant I needed to find out as much as I could about how their time in Vietnam changed each of their lives … and find a way for them to deal with that. Hundreds of hours of research, many first person accounts (books and articles), videos, films. We Were Soldiers is very powerful, and from what veterans tell me, very honest … the first time the U.S. military really understood what they were up against.
Many members of the military found themselves conflicted by the experience. While fighting hard while in country ─ not just against the enemy, but against the climate and the terrain ─ they did everything they could to follow orders and to function as warriors. As the years passed, these warriors began to question why they were there and what they were fighting for.
Some veterans returned home to be actively opposed to the war. They had seen too many young men die. They were against this country continuing to send more recruits into what began to be seen as an “unwinnable” conflict. Many draft dodgers fled to Canada, where they found refuge. Some returning veterans could not adjust to civilian life and made their way into wilderness areas of this country, avoiding civilian life sometimes for decades.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with a remarkable soldier, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Lt. Col. Charles Vincent (U.S. Army, retired) was kind enough to agree to read those portions of the book in which the war is important and offer me suggestions and corrections. Yet after all these years and a full life as a civilian, he admitted reading the passages from my book meant loss of sleep … Vietnam is still with him.
Vietnam is now a part of me as well. While I have come to believe the war was a mistake made by administrations dating back to Harry Truman, I grieve for the nearly sixty thousand lives lost, and I salute the veterans with utmost admiration. We need a strong military to defend this country. I fervently pray for our troops currently deployed.
War is hell. Mankind can’t seem to stay out of it. Let’s all honor our veterans and pray for peace … constantly.