Viet Nam Veterans – What’s in it for You?
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Guest post by Victor Volkman
Earlier this year, I was interviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar about my newest anthology, a collection of stories from Viet Nam veterans entitled More Than a Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam. He asked me a question at that time that kind of stopped me cold: “Victor, what about Viet Nam intrigues you that you have edited and published books about it? Do you have a personal connection to the war?” He had quite a good point there, because I had already published several books by survivors of the conflict, beginning with Made In America, Sold in the Nam (2nd Ed), My Tour In Hell: A Marine’s Battle with Combat Trauma, and a revised edition of Don Bodey’s seminal work F.N.G.. To properly answer this question, I felt a need to stand it on its head: why wouldn’t I be concerned with veterans of the Viet Nam war? The forgotten warriors that the American people had theoretically already made their amends with for their ignoring and shaming in the 1970s, recognition of PTSD in the 1980s, and re-homecoming celebrations in the 1990s. The real unspoken question is “Aren’t we so done with Viet Nam???”
I put it to you that if you look around, there is someone in your family who has been affected by this war. It might be a friend-of –a-brother who went to war and never returned or someone closer than that. I personally lost a brother-in-law I never got to meet. He did a tour in Viet Nam and subsequently committed suicide on a base in what was known as “West Germany” a year or so later. The irony of the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall teardown this week is not lost on me. One of my most vivid recollections of that era is seeing myself watch it unfold on CNN—people deciding that were mad as hell and not going to accept the tyranny of the wall any more. It is fitting that the lasting monument to Viet Nam veterans is The Wall—an apt memory of a conflict we refuse to understand.
My first conscious contact with Viet Nam vets was when I met David W. Powell and Pieter van Aggelen in 1989. They both spoke eloquently about their recoveries from PTSD at the 1989 Institute for Research in Metapsychology Conference. At that time, the idea crystallized in my mind that the stories MUST be told. However, I didn’t act on that impulse until my publishing house started up in 2004 and I began corresponding with David, helping him tell his story. His book My Tour In Hell: A Marine’s Battle with Combat Trauma (2006) was well received and resulted in coverage on the Pentagon Channel and Retirement Living TV networks.
The scale of the event, the sheer amount of men and material deployed in Viet Nam, was only recently exceeded by Operation Iraqi Freedom in the past few years. I also saw telling the stories of Viet Nam soldiers as a prelude to understanding to the traumas that were going in Iraq, even though it is barely now starting to be admitted to its full extent.
Richard Boes (1949 – 2009)
It was my greatest privilege to be in contact with Hollywood actor, author, and raconteur Richard Boes for his personal contribution to More Than A Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam. The opening chapter of his first book, The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive (2007) an autobiographical inquiry left me stunned with its excoriating self-revelation. I was extremely lucky to be able to include one chapter as the opening story of my most recent Viet Nam anthology. Proceeds from this anthology will be donated to the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Richard enlisted into the US Army and served in Vietnam in 1969 – 1970 with the First Air Cav. He is the author of two books, The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive (2007) and Last Train Out (2008). Right up to his death Richard was writing a third, In the Valley of Dry Bones. He passed away on Feb 21st, 2009 at the VA Hospital in Albany, NY.
Although Richard never finished his trilogy, I was moved to create a memorial award to honor his plain-talking, truth-telling style which blazed a trail for other veterans who people have dissed for not “getting over” their experiences by now. The award is a $100 cash prize for best debut book by a veteran (fiction or memoir) and is sponsored by Modern History Press. The contest is administered by Reader Views Inc., which includes a general book award contest as well. Do you know a veteran who is writing? Please forward this article to him and say “Thank You”. My books and this award are only a small token of my thanks for all those who have served, are serving, and will serve from this day onward.
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