She said there were 2 kinds of war - just and unjust; Their war was just because it was their country; our war was not as we were the aggressors. I told her I understood that - but the horror and atrosities occured on both sides. I emphasized that both sides had also shown remarkable courage and strength of loyalty to their governments and must be commended for that. I felt angry at both countries and the one sided propaganda bull shit of both. I didn't tell her that.
Lunch time..we were all hungary and hot so Tam took us to a noodle shop - that had beetles and other lovely things like pig intestine..TJ turned sort of green. I rebelled. After the pictures we had seen, I just couldn't eat what was being offered there. Tam was left with his rice and whatever and we had our driver drop us off at the air conditioned Saigon Hotel, had rice and mixed veggies in clean plates and clear glasses and ate with forks. You all will be proud to know, that is the only time I was openly rebellious during the entire month.
I think a month is an awfully long time to stay totally out of one's on culture. I have to wonder how our men did it. I have to wonder how the immigrants to the states manage. I at least have the advantage of knowing I'll go home in a few days.
After lunch we went to the War cemetary. I was to read a letter I had written to Bill. Then Mitty did some stad up shots and pro-mo's.
Twenty-seven years have passed since your death. The single most difficult event in my life. The two most wonderful events since that time have been watching our daughters grow into the most beautiful women: kind, loving, generous and gentle of spirit, and intelligent. Along with the ups and downs and normal (some not-so-normal) mistakes of growing up, they have also developed strong character and fine moral values. Their fantasies of you were often their yardstick of what might be acceptable behavior.
. I discovered that being angry with you was a lot less painful than feeling the loss of you in my life. That anger kept me motivated and moving, albeit, sometimes in circles, sometimes in very wrong directions, and sometimes just stuck. I didn't even know what was wrong with me. The awful part was watching the girls try to figure out how to live with me and my mistakes.
I decided to try to figure me out..so I went back to school. I felt certain Psychology 101 would help me be able to solve all my problems. It just wasn't quiet enough. So after a couple of major mistakes (read that "couple of marriages") I figured I really needed to get on track. Our girls needed a wholer, healthier mom. Heck, I needed a wholer, healthier me!
After 2 degrees and "almost a doctorate" in psychology, I've learned the anger was eating me up. As it ate away at me I found inside a profound grief; Too many years of denying my feelings about you and your death.
Something else about all those degrees. While I was getting mine, Sarah earned her Master in counseling and Mitty has a B.A. and is a reporter for the ABC affiliated station in New Orleans. They are such troopers; they are my heros.
While on the way to my doctorate, I began to wonder what other war widows had done and how they had managed. Until I started searching for other widows I had never met another one. Imagine, 25 years without ever discussing it with anyone and never having met another war widow. Bill, I think you would be proud of what I am doing. I learned there is no research on widows of any war. So I am conducting research about Vietnam war widows. I've started a discussion list on the internet; oh, yeah, I forgot, you don't know what that is, well anyway, it is done through computers (they are real small now compared to the old mainframes) in people's homes, this list is a discussion group for Vietnam War widows. Finding grant money to help collect the stories of the American widows has been very difficult. However, I've been given a grant and am being sent to Vietnam twice to collect the stories of the Vietnamese widows. Of course, the Vietnamese call it the American War. I've also been invited to sit on a panel for women's grief during International Women's Month.
In March, I leave for three weeks in Vietnam. The last week I'm there, Sarah and Mitty are meeting me in Saigon. Bill, we are going to the site of your death. I don't want to go. I cry at the thought. We are also visiting the areas you mentioned in your letters.
Ah, your letters. You know how disorganized I've always been. Well, you will be amazed to know that I kept all your letters. Hundreds of them. Since our first date to the ones that were returned after you were killed. I've been putting them in order by date, yours, your parent's, mine, and anyone else who wrote to you. I came across one of the tapes you sent. Mitty was so touched to have finally heard your voice. She said she had always wondered what her daddy sounded like.
Bill, we have managed to live well, survive our mistakes, keep our sense of humor, and know that we are in God's hands. I'm certain we didn't go the way you would have led us. I am equally certain you would be proud of your little family. I regret waiting so long to do all of this; to allow the girls access to the very things they needed to know their dad; to allow myself this opportunity to heal. But to have let go of the anger, to deal with the pain would have meant letting go of you. We have all missed so much by not having you in our lives, yet the bond continues.
Dearest Bill, I have never thanked you for the values, moral character, and loyalties that enabled you to love us so well and to serve your country so well. Perhaps by letting you go now, rather than the fantasies of a life that could never be, we will have the richness of your life that was.
I love you, Bill.
The memorial at that cemetary was amazing. There was another giant statue of a woman (we are talking 2/3 stories high) holding a flag draped over her arms and hanging down. One thing about the Vietnamese, they certainly have given credit to the women's war effort.
Back to the hotel. I took a nap, Sarah and Lan went shoppin. Tam, Mitty and T.J went out for more scenery shots. When they came back, they interviewed me for almost 2 hours. By then the resturant in the hotel was closed so we went across the street and ate pizza!!
Tam set up an interview for 7:30AM witht he director of Charity Hospital. So off we went - very interesting program. The director is also a war widow. She gave each of us a photo album of the work done in the clinic. They do a lot of work on children who have severe birth deformities, many were children of parents exposed to agent orange though the director was quick was add that the research was inconclusive. I asked about the funding for their programs. Most of it comes from large coporations in Asia and Europe. I was pleased to see two American companies: Merrill Lynch and Chrystler Corp.
After the interview, Tam, Lan, and I drove to Vung Tau. First stop was the obligatory visit witht he provincial leaders, then the vet assn. escort. We went to an orphanage partially funded by the Australian Vet Assn. I don't know for sure this was the same one Vern Wietzel was working on (helping to build the actual plant). The children there were deaf-mutes. It seemed odd to hear the director refer to them as "deaf and dumb" and blind children. They were primarily orphans. It is a really nice facility. Well done, Aussie Vets!!
Before dark we managed to find out hotel. Well, now , let me describe this place. It was quiet pleasant on the outside, across the road from the lovely beach where the sun was preparing to set. Inside was another story. It moved into first place for WORST HOTEL of the trip. The lobby was sparcely furnished with plastic chairs and a sofa grouped around a small TV. On the sofa was a man (guest?) in his undershirt (I'm not talking t-shirt) smoking. We go to our rooms - outside each room is a power switch, which the manager switched when he opened the doors. AThen he could turn on the light and AC.
The bed had no sheets, only a rayon sort of bedspread with ruffled sides. The pillows were covered to match and a throw at the foot of the bed. No problem..I'll just call down, get sheets, make the bed....no phone. No TV, no bathtub (not a surprise), no hot water, almost no water pressure, no soap. I went downstairs and learned there are no sheets or pillow cases. The really bright spot in all this is that we did have toilet paper and the view of the sunset was incredible.
After picture taking we went to the village "hot spot" to eat....delicious!!!! I could understand why the natives ate there. Then back to the hotel. There is something reall gross about a mattress with no sheets. Lan and I sat up talking and laughing until we both were sleepy enough to risk the perils of our rooms.
Interesting note: The hotel manager wanted to know if I had been a war correspondent (Tam's press officer card). We talked a little, then he told me he had been with the south and had spent 2 years in a reeducation camp. Prior to that he had taught English. A
On the way back to Saigon, Tam asked if I would write a letter of my impression of the Vietnamese and the country. No problem. He gave me a sheet of paper. I told him I would do it when we returned to HCMC. That wasn't good enough. He had the driver pull over a few miles out of Vung Tau so I could write the letter. He added that I "owed" him a good letter. That felt a little like blackmail since we couldn't get anything through customs without the foreign Press Senior Consultant's OK. The letter:
Foreign Press Center Minister of Foreign Affairs Attn: Mr. Nauyen Thanh Tam Hanoi, Viet Nam Dear Mr. Tam: It was a most fortunate day when you were assigned to work with me and my daughters and the camera man. We had 2 objectives: 1) to interview widows of the American War, and 2) to find and visit the location of my husband's death site. For the 1st objective, the widows contacted in Cu Chi, Ben Tre, and HCMC were excellent subjects. Through their stories I have a better understanding of Vietnam's great losses; that regardless of country, our feelings of loss are great. I am extremely impressed by the courage and strength of these women and the Vietnamese people. Our 2nd objective seemed impossible but for a combined effort of many people from both countries. Because of this I waas able to go to the exact location of his death. I was especially touched when the workers left their work and the villagers joined us and sat in silent condolence for us. The Vietnamese officials and the people of Vietnam have met me and my projects with warmth and understanding. Thier committment and motivation to their country helps me to understand how the greater technology and fighting forces of America could not achieve their objective. You and your countrymen have my friendship and my admiration. This has been an extraordinary experience for me and my little family. With sincere wishes of good health to you and your family. Your friend, SallyI
Meanwhile in all the standing around, I met a man traveling with his mother. As they were Vietnamese, I asked how long they had been in the states..19 years..his father had been killed in the war fighting for the south. They had escaped as boat people. Now he is with Union Bank of California. His mother was very shy, but he thinks she will tell me their story.
This trip has been an extrordinary experience for my girls and me.
Having talked with widows, visited with just plain people, and even having to convince the "Big Potatoes" of my earnest sincerity in this project, I've come away from Vietnam with a feeling of warmth and appreciation for their struggle.
I have an even greater feeling of warmth and admiration for the men and women of American and Allied Forces who participated in the war. To those of you who served in any possible way - Welcome Home!
To those who lost loved ones, please accept my condolences and a sincere thank you for the sacrificies you have made. War is not easy for anyone.
This trip would not have been possible without the grant from theWilliam Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, located on the Boston campus of the University of Mass. I am deeply grateful to them.
To Lady Borton who wrote After Sorrow, a grateful thankyou for the hours of telephone conversation helping me to have some small idea of the culture I was about to visit. Your information was an essential ingredient of the success of this journey.
The goal of finding and reaching Bill's death site would not have been possible without the maps and coordinates and the network that is the miracle of the Vietnam Veterans HomePage, The Network of Helicopter Crew Members, and e-mail.
This adventure is well documented thanks to WGNO ABC channel 26 in New Orleans. Thank you, Paula.
Thank you friends, known and unknown, who followed us on our journey and kept us in your prayers.