Monday, March 31, 2008

“The Killing Fields” of Cambodia and Vietnam vs. American Freedom

The March 31st Wall Street Journal’s news roundup “U.S. Watch” carried this brief article from the Associated Press:

“Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film "The Killing Fields," died Sunday. He was 65 years old.

“Mr. Dith died at a New Jersey hospital Sunday morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at The New York Times. Mr. Dith had been diagnosed almost three months ago.

“Mr. Dith was working as an interpreter and assistant for Mr. Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War reached its end in April 1975 and both countries were taken over by communist forces. Mr. Schanberg helped Mr. Dith's family get out but was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell; they weren't reunited until Mr. Dith escaped 4½ years later.

“Eventually, Mr. Dith resettled in the U.S. and went to work as a photographer for the Times. It was Mr. Dith who coined the term "killing fields" for the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his journey to freedom.”

I added the boldface in the above Associated Press article because that moment in history when Saigon fell is a pivotal one in U.S. history -- we abandoned the friends we had promised to save.

I describe this moment in the epilogue of my forthcoming book MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL:

“She flashes on the chaotic images of the American embassy at the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, captured on news footage: The last American helicopters lift off from the roof, desperate South Vietnamese civilians trying to cling to the helicopter skids. And in the embassy compound below, watching their last chance take off, are the masses of South Vietnamese who will become fodder for the brutality of the victorious Communists.”

Dith Pran was one of those left behind to face the brutality of the victorious Communists. But he was also one of the lucky ones – he eventually reached freedom in the United States.

And freedom in the United States is something we should never take for granted. It is a privilege for which all Americans should be grateful.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

President Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Vietnam 40 Years Ago

Forty years ago tomorrow – March 31, 1968 – President Lyndon B. Johnson announced to a surprised American public that he would not seek another term as President of the United States.

Johnson’s exact words on national television were: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

In Clay Risen’s April 2008 Smithsonian magazine article “The Unmaking of the President,” Risen says that, after making this announcement, Johnson was “by all accounts a man renewed.” Johnson felt he now had “the political capital to get passed” several of his domestic programs as well as achieving peace in Vietnam.

Yet just four days later on April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray shot and killed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. And as riots spread in cities throughout the U.S. over the loss of this major civil rights leader, Johnson’s ability to follow through on his new agenda was severely hampered, Risen says.

In my forthcoming book MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL, I describe the moment when Sharon hears the news of the killing of Martin Luther King. In 1968, only four years after the passage of the Civil Right Act, this is an incredibly dramatic moment in American history.

Yet what I had never considered, until reading Risen’s article, is that besides all the potential improvements in the lives of American blacks that might have been made if Ray had not killed King, the Vietnam War might have ended in 1968.

While the young men already in ROTC would still have served their two-year active duty commitment, in the spring of 1970 (when the novel takes place) these young men and their wives would not have had to fear an unaccompanied Vietnam tour. And the Kent State National Guard shootings would never have taken place, because the U.S. would no longer be fighting in Vietnam.

Forty years ago one man’s mad act changed the world in ways that may never fully be understood.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Vietnam War vs. the War in Iraq -- Who Should Serve?

I received an email sent to the Alliance of Women Directors about a woman director’s film opening nationwide today – writer/director Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS. (She previously wrote and directed BOYS DON’T CRY.)

According to the forwarded article by Peter Clines in “Creative Screenwriting” online magazine, Army Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) goes AWOL. He does so because he’s served two tours of combat duty and now he’s getting out of the army. Except that due to the policy of stop-loss, he’s not getting out even though he’s completed his service.

“A moment of instinctive reactions sends him running,” Clines writes. And now he’s AWOL – absent without leave.

Joanne Kaufman in her review of the movie in today’s Wall Street Journal says about that moment – “decides that hell no, he won’t go.” (A slightly paraphrased slogan of one chanted by anti-Vietnam War protesters – “Hell no, we won’t go.”)

During the Vietnam War – against which the background of my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL is set, young men who received their draft notices sometimes fled to Canada rather than serve in the army. This was a drastic decision because, at the time, they could never return to the United States without the risk of being arrested.

In the novel, Sharon’s husband asks Sharon if she thinks her brother would go to Canada if he were drafted. Sharon replies that she doesn’t know what her brother would do at that pivotal moment.

The wars are different – a Vietnam-era drafted army vs. an Iraq and Afghanistan-era all-volunteer army. Yet there are still questions being raised about who should serve.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Michigan State University – the Vietnam War vs. the War in Iraq and Afghanistan

My forthcoming book MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL takes place in the spring of 1970, right after the Kent State National Guard shootings and during Nixon’s two-month incursion into Cambodia. The novel is told from the point of view of four women, one of whom is Sharon Gold.

During the course of the novel Sharon reflects on certain events that took place a year or two earlier when she was Sharon Bloom and a student at Michigan State University.

I graduated from MSU in journalism in 1969 and have not been back since then. Thus it was with anticipation that I looked forward this week to meeting Sarah Blom, the director of development and alumni relations for MSU’s College of Social Science.

My husband Mitch (B.A. and M.A. from MSU) and I enjoyed hearing what’s new on campus since our time. But it was surprising to learn that in the last few days there had been two war-related protests at MSU.

I quickly went on the website of the MSU college newspaper – the State News – where my husband and I both worked during college. (In fact, that’s where we met.) And here were the two stories:

On March 20 – “Hundreds of protesters marched through the MSU campus and clogged East Lansing streets … in protest of the war with Iraq.

On March 25 – “Protesters swarmed the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road … as more than 50 people gathered for a vigil to honor U.S. soldiers who have been killed in the Iraq war.”

It’s almost 40 years since I graduated MSU, and yet history seems to be in a loop, with the same news stories covered by the State News. There’s one main difference, though. Back in the late ‘60s there were protests against the Vietnam War AND against the draft. Now we have an all-volunteer army.

And regardless of what we think of this current war, American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve to be supported by the people back home. When the website for my novel launches in a few days, you’ll be able to learn about supporting some worthwhile organizations that help military personnel and their families. Let’s take care of the people who take care of us!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Life After Active Military Duty

The front-page of the March 25th Wall Street Journal has this news blurb:

“Returning veterans earn less than civilians and have a harder time finding work, a government report concluded.”

An hour after reading this news item I received a message on MySpace from “Jay.” He told me about a website to help former military personnel earn good pay in civilian jobs.

I’m not endorsing this website because I don’t know enough to do so.

What I am saying is that this is a very important topic – civilian employers frequently do not adequately value the skills and talents that ex-military personnel have learned in the military. And this leads to the lowered earning power and harder time finding work.

One reason for this may be because civilian employers have never been in the military themselves. Thus these prospective employers have no idea what skills and talents are learned. And putting “Reconnaissance Marine” on your resume probably doesn’t mean a great deal to people who have no experience with the military.

I have another blog – – in which I discuss career considerations for young people and making your own luck. While national programs to help ex-military personnel enter civilian life are needed, I also believe that ex-military personnel must learn how to leverage their service skills for the civilian workforce.

A Reconnaissance Marine, for example, must figure out – by himself/herself or with help from others – how to translate military skills into civilian work skills. Here’s a partial list of military skills that are very important in business:





People can be taught civilian skills such as marketing or bookkeeping much easier than people can be taught teamwork, cooperation, initiative and preparation. These four skills are best learned while actually doing them – and these skills are practiced every single day in a person’s military career.

I will return to this subject sometime in the future. I have the letters I wrote home to my parents while my husband and I were stationed in Munich, Germany. In the letters I complained that my husband was losing valuable years out of the workforce. And my mother wrote me very encouraging letters about all the skills and knowledge my husband was gaining that others were not.

It’s important to focus on all these important “business” skills that military personnel utilize every single day. These skills can be great assets to any prospective employer.

Monday, March 24, 2008

ROTC – Reserve Officers Training Corps – in the U.S.

In MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL, the husbands of the four newly married women each earned an officer’s commission in the U.S. Army by participating in Reserve Officers Training Corps – ROTC – on their college campuses.

At the start of the novel in the spring of 1970, anti-Vietnam War protests have frequently targeted these ROTC on-campus programs.

The Wikipedia entry on ROTC gives the history of the program:

“The concept of ROTC in the United States began with the Morrill Act of 1862 which established the land-grant colleges. Part of the federal government's requirement for these schools was that they include military tactics as part of their curriculum, forming what became known as ROTC.

“Until the 1960s, many major universities required compulsory ROTC for all of their male students. However, because of the protests that culminated in the opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, compulsory ROTC was dropped in favor of voluntary programs. In some places ROTC was expelled from campus altogether, although it was always possible to participate in off-campus ROTC.”

The four husbands in MRS. LIEUTENANT have signed on for a two-year active duty commitment. When they arrive at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, right after the Kent State National Guard shootings, the expectation is that each of these four officers will serve a “short tour” – a year in Vietnam. And each night on the television news are the reports of the dead and wounded, a daily reminder of what their wives fear most.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shakespeare, Jealousy and “Mrs. Lieutenant”

I’ve just seen the terrific production of “Othello” by the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company.

The playbill notes of producing artistic director Lisa Wolpe state: “(T)he story is not just about racism, but also classism, sexism – and even heroism.”

She believes Iago’s motivation for what he does to Othello comes from being a working-class career soldier whose deserved promotion goes to someone else who has “advantages of breeding, position, and class, regardless of his inexperience in the field.”

In my opinion, Shakespeare wrote this play about one primary human emotion – jealousy. Shakespeare dramatically portrays how jealousy provokes even leaders of men to easily believe the worse without seeking any contrary opinions.

In my forthcoming novel MRS. LIEUTENANT, jealousy plays an important part in the story of one officer’s wife. While some readers may feel that the denouement of this story line is overly dramatic, I believe the role of literature in certain stories is to grab us by the throat, shake us, and say: “Learn from this and watch what you yourself do.”

The next time you’re jealous of someone, think about Shakespeare’s plays such as “Othello,” “Richard III” and “Macbeth.” Then try to curb the little green-eyed monster we all have within us before you do yourself and others much harm.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Barack Obama’s “Race” Speech

No, I am not discussing politics in this post. I don’t even discuss politics with my friends, preferring to keep them as friends.

Why then bring up this speech given in Philadelphia on March 18?

Because in this speech Obama addresses a history of discrimination against blacks in America that is still present today.

And one of the main themes in my upcoming novel MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL is that very prejudice against blacks, along with one person’s overcoming of her ingrained prejudice.

When I was a new officer’s wife at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, in the spring of 1970, something happened for which no explanation was given. And thus I set out in my novel to find an explanation for myself, an explanation in keeping with the social and political climate of 1970 – only 20 years after the U.S. Army first integrated combat units (in the Korean War).

Regardless of how many World War II movies we’ve seen that may have African-Americans in combat units with whites, this is not historically accurate. (White officers frequently headed a unit of all-black soldiers.) And although some all-black units did amazing feats of bravery in World War II, those feats are not well-known.

The manuscript of MRS. LIEUTENANT was once rejected by a New York publishing house editor because she said there’s no such discrimination against blacks any more so readers wouldn’t find the story pertinent. I’ve always wondered what block of Manhattan the editor lived on to be so totally wrong.

Thus Obama’s discussion of race in America is a fitting background for the introduction of MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL. Because prejudice does exist all around us – and we are all guilty of it to some extent.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Etiquette Rules for the Wives of Military Personnel

I found Whitney Bailey’s article on about what to do and what not to do while accompanying your uniformed husband quite interesting.

In my forthcoming book MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL the four main characters of the novel in the spring of 1970 must learn what to do from the pages of the booklet “Mrs. Lieutenant” (Third Edition) by Mary Preston Gross.

Some of the rules in 1970 -- including “outlawing” the wearing of pants -- seem somewhat silly in hindsight. Yet I know from personal experience that following the rules of military etiquette can save people from embarrassment.

I’ll never forget when a captain said to a visiting colonel at religious services: “Colonel, what’s your first name?” The rest of us gasped at this audacity.

I repeat Whitney Bailey’s list here in hopes that her advice can save other people from embarrassing situations. (FYI – We didn’t have to worry about proper cellphone etiquette in 1970.)

Whitney Bailey’s list from


Walk on your husband’s left side so he can salute others.

Refer to your spouse by his first name or nickname, or as “my husband.” Do not refer to your husband as “Capt. Smith” or “the Captain.”

Stand at a public function or ceremony when the senior officer enters and is announced. This applies to everyone in attendance.

Offer your husband an umbrella in the rain, but only if it’s black. He’s not allowed to carry any other color.

Push the baby carriage or stroller so your spouse doesn’t have to. It’s considered “unmilitary” to do so while in uniform.

Help your spouse carry any packages or bundles to make it easier for him to salute. (Are you wondering if a man made up these rules so that wives would have to do all the heavy lifting?)


Show public displays of affection, except at homecomings and goodbyes. This includes kissing and holding hands.

Offer your spouse a piece of gum. It is not “military” for him to chew it. The same goes for smoking while in uniform.

Allow him to put his hands in his pockets unless he is placing or retrieving an item.

Refer to your husband’s orders as “our orders” unless you are a service member yourself.

Offer him food or drink while he’s walking. He should not be eating, drinking or using a cell phone while walking in uniform.

Refer to others in the service as “sir” or “ma’am,” even if your spouse does. Refer to them by their rank and last name (“Capt. Smith”).

Allow your child to wear your spouse’s uniform for Halloween. Uniforms bearing insignia, badges and tabs should be worn only by authorized personnel.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Support for War Widows – Vietnam vs. Iraq and Afghanistan

I was reminded today of one of the most dramatic differences between the Vietnam War and the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This difference is the same thing that enables me to write this blog:

The internet.

In an article on the website, Nikki Lomax-Larson writes about a young wife – identified only as Emily -- who two years ago at age 22 became a widow after being married less than a year. Emily’s deployed husband had been on patrol handing out pamphlets to encourage Iraqis to vote when a sniper’s bullet killed him.

The new widow posted a thread titled “My DH was just killed,” and the other members of the military spouse board responded online with comfort. Some of these other wives drove or flew in to attend the funeral.

Back in 1970 this online support would have been a thing of science fiction novels. And while the military personnel and families of that time would have been supportive, away from a post a new widow might have found little support from a country filled with anti-war protesters.

The additional beauty of the internet today is that two years later Nikki Lomax-Larson can write that Emily “graduated from college, landed her first real job, bought a house and started dating again.” And now Emily is engaged to be married.

Imagine if the internet had existed during the Vietnam War! It could have helped the widows of the Vietnam War as much as it is helping the families of deployed military personnel today.

Read the entire article at

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wounded Warrior March at Pentagon Is a Little-Known Event

The March 13th Wall Street Journal front-page article by Yochi J. Dreazen entitled “Wounded Soldiers See the Pentagon in Private Parade” describes the Wounded Warrior March, which takes place at the Pentagon about every six weeks and is a little-known event.

The article describes the Pentagon visit of 22-year-old Marine Corporal Kenny Lyon, who lost his leg in a mortar attack on a small U.S. outpost near Fallujah in Iraq. Though he had hoped to walk on his prosthetic leg for the Pentagon march, he had to be pushed in a wheelchair by his mother, Gigi Windsor.

According to The Wall Street Journal article, hundreds of Defense Department employees lined the corridor to cheer for Cpl. Lyon and the other military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I especially connected to Cpl. Lyon’s quoted comments about the Defense Department employees: “Some of them make important decisions but never get to see their decisions being carried ou. When they applaud us, it gives them a little bit of closure for what they do every day. It makes things real for them.”

Credit for implementing the program goes to Diane Bodman, who volunteers at the Red Cross office at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She is the wife of Energy Sectrretary Samuel Bodman.

This a heartwarming emotional story, and an example of what good newspaper reporting can do when it brings to the rest of America such little-known stories.

Do you know other little-known events that honor American military personnel who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Help Children of Fallen Soldiers (

Ever since I decided that, on the website for my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT, I want to have information about organizations helping military personnel, their spouses and children, I’ve been discovering many worthwhile organizations.

One such organization is the Quietly Working Foundation. Here’s what the website of this organization says:

The Quietly Working Foundation is a non-political, non-denominational, non-profit organization focused on meeting the needs of children who have lost a parent serving in the United States Armed Forces.

The driving motivation behind every effort the Quietly Working Foundation undertakes is that we want each of these children to know that the citizens of the United States of America recognize their loss, and are committed to helping them achieve their highest potential in life.

Go to to learn how you can help.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Provide Prepaid Calling Cards Through

Yesterday I got a book in the mail from Amazon. Given how many books I order from Amazon, this was no big deal. Except that this time, enclosed with the book was a postage paid mailer to send in old cell phones in order to support the mission of

I ran into the bedroom and got two old cells that I had wanted to give away to some place where the cells could help out. And lo and behold, here was an opportunity where these two cells could do real good.

Here’s what the website for this organization started by young teens says:

The Cell Phones for Soldiers program was started in April 2004 by 13-year-old Brittany Bergquist and her 12-year-old brother Robbie of Norwell, Massachusetts.

Robbie and Brittany's goal is to help our soldiers serving overseas call home. They hope to provide as many soldiers as possible with prepaid calling cards. Through generous donations and the recycling of used cell phones, Robbie and Brittany have already distributed thousands of calling cards to soldiers around the globe.

Go to the website to learn how sending in old cell phones turns into prepaid calling cards. And read what these two teens have accomplished so far and what their current goal is.

Let’s spread the word about this program. Sending in your old cells can do so much good – and at the same time be kind to the environment (fewer landfills).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Are We Careful What We Say to Spouses of Deployed Military Personnel?

Last week I read a post on from a woman who said that she was happy to be living in military housing at this time when her husband was about to be deployed to a war zone. She said that, if she had been at a sports event with civilians instead of with military personnel, the civilians would have asked her how she was going to survive her husband’s deployment or told stories of grueling business travel schedules.

The military spouse who posted this comment went on to say that she understood why civilians responded this way, but it was tiring for a military spouse to repeat answers over and over. She said that when you live on military base housing “your closest circle of friends understand your life.”

I really empathized with this woman’s comments because I can remember so clearly how I felt when I returned to civilian life after my husband served two years in the army during the Vietnam War. Back in civilian life there was really no one I could talk to about the military part of the last two years of my life.

And I wrote the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT (which will be released at the end of this month) in part to describe to civilians how that closeness is quickly fostered between spouses experiencing the same life.

I wonder how many of us today – and I include myself here – really understand what the life of a spouse and family is like during deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. And would we say insensitive things if we were to strike up a conversation with spouses of deployed military personnel?

I hope that the internet has made it possible for more of us civilians to try to understand the life of military personnel and their families. Even if we just occasionally visit websites such as (see website statement below) or or any other such websites, perhaps we will be better prepared to speak appropriately to the families of deployed military personnel.

SpouseBUZZ is a virtual Spouse Support Group, a place where you can instantly connect with thousands of other milspouses. Here, we celebrate and embrace the tie that binds us all - military service.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Quiet War: Iraq vs. Vietnam

The front-page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried the article by Michael Phillips entitled “The Last Letter Home: When a soldier falls, commanders face a profound task: Accounting for a lost life to the family.”

After I read the article (and wiped away tears), the phrase “the quiet war” popped into my head.

At first I didn’t know what this could mean. Then it dawned on me that this was a comparison between Iraq today and Vietnam over 30 years ago.

Because today it is an all-volunteer army and there are not frequent mass anti-war protests and because of the multitude of news channels (tv, cable, radio, internet), the reality that the U.S. is fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan does not seem as much of an everyday realization for the majority of Americans as it was during the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War, the main news channels (only tv and radio) were filled every night with news of both the fighting and the protests along with constant reminders of the draft. Regardless of what you thought about the war, you were usually daily aware of it.

Even though we as a nation may not be as aware of the day-to-day fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as we were during the Vietnam War, we should try to remember – and be grateful for – that each day there are men and women fighting in our name.

You can go to to show your gratitude. Or how else can you show your gratitude?

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Book "Mrs. Lieutenant" Is Now a Reality

Ever since my husband finished two years of active army duty in the spring of 1972, I've wanted to tell the story of our two years in the army during the Vietnam War. I say "our time" because the army considers an officer's wife also in the military.

Over the years I've told pieces of the story to people, and many of them have said "that's a movie" or "that's a book." And over those same years I've been working on crafting a fiction story that would reveal what life was like in that distant past of a universal draft for all American men.

Ultimately I've divided the story up -- with the first part being a fictional telling of my first nine weeks as a new army officer's wife in the spring of 1970 at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. And this "Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel" will be available on Amazon in two or three weeks. Plus the novel was a semi-finalist in the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

In order to market this novel, I've been visiting military websites. Some of the postings from spouses of men and women deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan bring tears to my eyes. It's as if we're back in the 1970s seeing the nightly news reports of the dead and wounded.

Except I think that because today we have an all-volunteer army, less Americans think about those far-off men and women fighting in the name of our country. And I hope my novel will get more people thinking about the role of the military in the past and the present.

Do you have any stories to share from then or now about the military life?

Oh, yes, and when the book is available on Amazon, my website will be live.