Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vietnam War: An Unexpected Email Brings Back Memories

I received the following email today from my junior high and high school friend Karen Clemens (now Karen Kernan). She wrote so beautifully about what we experienced at the time of the Vietnam War that I asked her permission to post this. She's now a marketing communications writer and her website is She’s on Facebook as Karen Kernan.

After reading the entire book, which I did very quickly, I had trouble sleeping. It brought back so many memories and gut reactions to those days. We did not keep in touch, and it was fascinating to me to see the journey you took.

I noted the mention of the diary in the book and wondered if you did indeed keep one, because the point of view seemed not to be influenced by the future that followed. What I mean is that the author did not seem to be one looking back to a distant past, with insights and wisdom of time. So it was a very fresh, undiluted return to those days when we did not know what would happen next.

It reminded me of when I was doing original research for a book I wrote on my husband’s ancestor who was one of the few Democratic senators in the U.S. Congress during the Civil War. The newspaper accounts written at the time were by people who did not know what the outcome of the war would be, and the tension in them was so raw in comparison to the later memoirs and history books.

So I did not sleep easily, going back into the time within my own body when the war was so distressing and uncertain, and my own young husband’s lottery number was low [17] and would be called up once he finished graduate school. But your book brought me back and showed an alternate path that might have been my own, and I think that is what caused the discomfort.

I felt a shift take place in me, and was forced to see the more terrifying and complex reality of what might have been had the war not ended in time. I felt the old helplessness in face of the enormity of history. And it did more to connect me to the families of those who are serving now, and facing the same terror of losing a loved one, than anything I have read or seen of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I see how, having had this experience, you are forever changed.

You book, your experience, changed me as well.

(Perhaps this addresses the “benefit of reading this book” challenge you posted on your website.)

Not that it makes me in favor of the war we began so stupidly, but it makes me aware of the longer war that has been waged throughout history and everywhere, in the hearts of wives, lovers, and families behind the front lines.

Many thanks for writing it!

P.S. Also, I did read your “welcome home” blog, and what struck me was that the events of one’s youth send us off in a certain direction. We never return to the juncture and re-direct. Your life will always be connected to the lives and emotions of soldiers and their families. You helped me make a connection where there had been none.

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