Beth Taylor: I'd like to introduce today Frank Grzyb, first, and then Marilyn McMahon. Frank was drafted into the army in 1969, and he was sent to Vietnam in 1970. He was assigned to the Command of the US Army. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation. He got his education at Nichols College and at Fairleigh Dickinson University Graduate School. He is now employed at a Research Development Laboratory as a Personnel Management Specialist. He lives in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, with his family, and he is the author of Touched by the Dragon, which he just mentioned to you, that you can buy here, if you wish, or also at Salomon Center tonight, which is the story of Vietnam veterans from Newport County, Rhode Island, including these two gentlemen right here, Doug Johnson and Ken Garthee, whose very moving stories are part of Touched by the Dragon, and I hope you have a chance to read them. They are both poets and storytellers in their own right.
Marilyn McMahon served as a U.S. Navy nurse from 1967 to 1972, including almost two years of working with Marine Corps war casualties in Philadelphia, and a 1969-1970 stint at Da Nang Naval Hospital. Her poems have been published in The Vietnam War in America: Stories, Songs and Poems, and in the anthology Visions of War, Dreams of Peace, which my students, who have been having a course all spring called "Writing Vietnam," have enjoyed reading. So now to them.
Frank Grzyb: I just asked Marilyn if she had any opening remarks and she said she didn't have any. I have a few because I think that before we can get started talking amongst ourselves, I'd like to put the Vietnam War kind of in perspective, so we get an appreciation for what we're really talking about here. We have a great audience in terms of an age group. We're fortunate to have Beth Taylor's creative writing class on Vietnam here, and I was very appreciative of her invitation to allow me to lecture one day at the class, and Beth, I enjoyed that immensely, and I appreciate the opportunity.
One thing I would like to say before we get started-the Vietnam veterans' community in Rhode Island lost one hell of an individual a few months ago. He passed away from cancer. He was originally a president of a local chapter, soon to become the president of the Rhode Island chapter, later to become the regional director. This man probably had done more things for the Vietnam vet in the state of Rhode Island and worked with a lot of the local politicians and some in Washington for the betterment of the Vietnam Veterans, and if we accomplish anything in the next two and a half days, hopefully it will be accomplished in the memory of this individual. His name was Ernie DeRocco. I don't know if anybody knows the name. If you went to the Bristol Fourth of July parade, he usually organized that parade and that contingent, and he was the one responsible last year for getting the daughters-I'm not sure the exact name of the organization-but the daughters of those who lost their fathers and never knew their fathers in the Vietnam War. He was one heck of a gentleman, and today, tomorrow, and the next day, I dedicate this to his memory. The second thing I would like to pass out, is that I want everybody to realize that Marilyn and myself have no association with Robert MacNamara being on campus on Friday, and we feel sad about that and want everyone to realize that we had nothing to do with that and it's quite by accident that that's happening.
Just to get started before we start talking amongst ourselves, I'd just like to throw some numbers out here. Obviously the one that everyone knows is the number fifty-eight thousand. There were fifty-eight thousand-now think of that for a minute-fifty-eight thousand Americans killed in ten years. I was talking to Laura here. Her husband basically died two and a half years later, and his name is now on the wall, as part of that fifty-eight thousand. What's fifty-eight thousand? The population of the town of Newport, during the off-season, is approximately forty-two thousand. So if you take that forty-two thousand and add another sixteen onto it, that's fifty-eight thousand. The next number that comes to mind is the number three hundred and three thousand. There were three hundred and three thousand Americans that were wounded in Vietnam. How many were wounded emotionally, God only knows, but I'm sure it's triple that number. What's three hundred and three thousand? The population of the city of Providence during the war years was approximately a hundred and fifty thousand people. Let's take that number and say out of that a hundred and fifty thousand men, women, and children, each one of those people would have been wounded at least twice in that ten-year period; half of those would have been wounded seriously. That's quite a staggering number. The last number is a very staggering number, and we seem to always forget that number. I know I certainly don't. There were four million North and South Vietnamese who were either killed or wounded in that ten years of fighting. Four million people. What does that number mean? If you take the present population of the state of Maryland, the entire population would have been killed or wounded in a ten-year period of time. That's a lot of people.
Now, how does that relate to what we're going to be talking about today? Approximately four and a quarter to four and a half million people were directly affected by that war. How many more were indirectly affected? The mothers, the sons, the daughters, the friends, et cetera, et cetera, I really don't know. But did it take four and a quarter million people to be affected by the war? I say no. Why I wrote the book, my book, is basically I was affected by just a few deaths. Not necessarily all of those-of course, we all were affected by all of them indirectly. I lost my best friend, William J. Cyr, in that battle, the battle of the Tet Offensive, at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and that affected me very deeply, and probably caused me to write this book. So it only took one person. I have friends like Ken and Doug who are fortunate to be here today, and I'm fortunate to have them here, as my support, and the stories that they told about the war, I thought it would have been a damn shame not to capture those stories for posterity. And I'm going to ask both Ken and Doug to read an excerpt from their stories, and I think you're going to be affected by them, as I was affected the first time I heard them. You have to keep in mind that some of these stories had never been told to their own wives and their own children until approximately a year ago, a year and a half ago, two years ago, when we first started this venture, so I certainly appreciate everything they've done. I'd like a show of hands, because we only have an hour and a half, how many people brought things to read, that they would like to read to us today, before we get into this, any people? Your name, sir?
Michael Booth: Michael Booth.
Frank Grzyb: OK, Mike, I had asked if you were here earlier-
Michael Booth: I just got here.
Frank Grzyb: That's fine. I'm glad you're here. Happy to meet you. Mike is a resident of Newport. He has a few articles published. Maybe he'll tell us what those were about. I've asked him to read some excerpts of some of his articles. I'm going to try to stay away from my reading you stories unless I absolutely have to read stories, and I would like to introduce two people to you now. The first, I would like to introduce Ken Garthee. Ken was a Marine in Vietnam, and I forget the year-sixty-six, was it? 1966. To me, of course, and because Ken is in my book, I think it's one of the most fascinating stories I ever was told or read, but in my opinion it's probably the most intense story that's ever come out of Vietnam. The fact that Ken is here with us today is a miracle in itself. Ken, I don't know if you want to tell your story or just read an excerpt. If I had a choice, I would like you to tell at least a brief part of your story. One thing I would ask people if they're talking in the audience, I'm slightly deaf in my right ear, so if you wouldn't mind just standing up and talking a little louder, I'd appreciate it very much. Ken?
Ken Garthee:You guys can read the stories in the book, I would prefer to tell it in my own words, as best as I can remember it, as I have told it in the past. I was nineteen years old when I went to Vietnam in nineteen sixty-six;. I had been in country for eleven months. I had arrived in January of nineteen sixty-six. I had been assigned to the federal Marine division in Da Nang. I had participated in combat almost every day. Halfway through my tour they asked for volunteers for reconnaissance. Now, anybody who knows anything about volunteering knows you only do it once in your life, and the one time I did, although I have volunteered since I my life, I don't regret it. What happened was I became a reconnaissance cop, which means that two Marines would lead a group of men from one point to another, and we were first. So if we encounter anyone, we engage contact, we're the first ones to realize we're either in deep yogurt or we're able to wait for the rest of the company, to the people that we're leading, to come up. The purpose of the reconnaissance advance people were to gather intelligence, determine the contour of the land, whether it was navigable for others, determine and take the intelligence to the back, to the rear, so we could develop operations or other kinds of things that Marines and soldiers do. In my case, since I was there that time, eleven months, almost twelve months, my lieutenant had said, "Ken, I need you to go one more time." I said, "Please, I'm short!" You know what short means? Short means you don't have much time left in country. We valued our time left in country as being very valuable, very important, because we didn't want to do anything stupid, because people that were in country either got hurt or killed early on, or at the end of their tour. Early on, you weren't too smart, you didn't have any experience, so you did maybe some stupid things, or a lot of the experienced people didn't talk to you because they knew you weren't going to be around much longer. For me, I was at the end of my tour, I didn't want to do anything more, I wanted to hide, I wanted to go home. By then, I was twenty-I went over when I was nineteen; I was twenty when I was in country. I was twenty years old. I went over as a nineteen year old, I came home a year later as a thirty five year old, if you can imagine that, because of the experience of growing up that I did, the focusing of my life, my career, what I wanted to do, what I didn't want to do. My lieutenant said, "One more mission. I've got this new guy, his name is Jack, he's from Cleveland, Ohio, I want you to take him with. He's a brand new scout. Take him with, you're experienced, go ahead and do it." So I said, "All right. One last time. I'll take him."
We were at the DMZ, that area called the Rockpile-anybody here heard that, so you know where that is. Pretty hilly, a lot of jungle-triple-canopy jungle, so it's really tough, tough terrain. So Jack and I led a group of about fifty Marines down the hill. It was just exploratory, let's go find out what's out there. Went down the hill, up and down some other hills, we would stop from time to time to take water breaks because it was pretty warm, we would do leech checks every fifteen or twenty minutes. We'd strip down, if we found leeches, we'd take them off one another, get dressed, haul off, put your gear on, start walking again. This took most of the morning, until we got to a river, and we had to ford the river. Now, anybody who's had any combat knows that exposing yourself to that kind of environment, it's kind of risky. Anybody on top of a mountain can pick you off pretty easy, so it was pretty frightening. What we did was we went in groups, forded the river, making sure that our weapons and gear were dry, covering for one another as they came over; as they would go over, both guys on either side would protect one another. We didn't engage any contact, no one shot at us, we didn't have to shoot at anybody else.
When we got across, Jack and I decided to go up the hill further to do some reconnaissance, and I decided to take all my gear off, because I needed to climb one of the trees, so I could get a better view of what was going on, to see if there was any movement of any of the-we had some movers out there, because there were some NVA, some North Vietnamese regulars, moving through the Ho Chi Minh Trail over there, and they were branching out through the DMZ and into South Vietnam. I took my gear off, climbed the tree, took my binoculars, and I was looking out, I saw a lot of movement. There were a lot of regulars out there, just humping all kinds of gear, and I'm thinking to myself, we're not in a good place, this is not going to be easy, nor is it going to be fun. I'm looking out, and all of a sudden, I see something looking back at me. They're looking back at me, and I'm thinking, I'm too short, I've got to get out of here. I got down from the tree, I told Jack, we've got to get the word back that there's a lot of people up here, and there's a lot of movement, and just as I did that, I felt three cracks of bullets going by me, and as I turned to fall behind or find cover, I took a hit in the chest with an AK-47. It knocked me down, it rolled me over, it's the most excruciating pain that I ever had. Rolled over, the rest of the company began to come up because now we're taking incoming. I said to Jack, piled on top of me, is returning fire, trying to protect me, as he is trying to drag me back, he's on top of me returning fire, and all of a sudden, because it's the most excruciating pain I could ever feel, it's like somebody taking a fifty pound sledge hammer, and as hard as they can, slamming it into the middle of your back, because the bullet went in here, it came out like that, I had a big gaping hole. There was nothing left of my back. Jack was on top of me, protecting me, returning fire. The other Marines were coming up forward, to return fire, to engage the enemy.
At that very minute, or very second, I felt no pain, no stress, no anxiety, no hesitation, everything was peaceful and calm. I was laying on the ground. Everything else was absolutely hitting the fan. People returning fire, people were screaming, people were yelling, it was totally chaotic. I felt myself come up out of my body, lift up, again, no pain, no stress, no pain, no anxiety, no hesitation, no challenge-what's happening, what's going on, why am I doing this-nothing. As I come up out of my body, I go to the top of the hill, and I can see all the people on both sides engaging one another. I feel a hand on my shoulder. No hands were spoken, no words were communicated, nothing, but I still felt that tranquil, calm, peaceful feeling that someone was with me, and never did I look to see who it was, or why this person, whomever it was, was standing next to me. All I did was look down and I saw a hand on my left shoulder. I saw the entire battle take place-helicopters come in, they got shot down, people coming up, still all chaotic. It turned out to be a division of NVA regulars, which is about nine hundred or so, against a company of us, which is about fifty of us. That was pretty bad for us. The Marines try to teach you that you can handle that kind of situation, but we were way outnumbered. At the end of the battle, which I, in my own memory, remember to be about forty-five minutes, the battle stopped, for whatever reason, I don't know. I got a little nudge on my shoulder, I went back down into my body, again, still no pain, no stress, no anxiety, no hesitation, no challenge-no, I don't want to go back, this is a great feeling, I don't want to do this anymore-didn't do that at all. Went back down into my body.
Still, I remember the body bag that I was put in. I still remember four guys, including Jack that got three other guys to help carry me, and they carried me to a hill called an LZ, a landing zone, where helicopters would come in, they would throw us on, the wounded first and then the bodies. By then, because I was the first hit, they carried me and then they put me down, because they thought I was dead, in the body bag, and the corpsman filled out a tag that said, KIA, killed in action, and that was attached to my body bag. The guys that carried me, they dropped me. (grunts). The helicopter's coming in, everybody yells, scrambles, yells get your gear, get your ammunition, get all the stuff that you need, they're throwing wounded on, but I'm still laying there. They dropped me, and I'm like, (grunts). That's not a sound that's supposed to come from a body bag. I'm supposed to be dead. I had a collapsed lung, but they dropped the air out of the other one that I had. Jack yells out, "Hey, Garthee's not alive!" I still remember (sound of zipper) the body bag opening up, light coming out, and they take me, and they literally throw me on the helicopter. And now, everything is still on the ground, everything is still a confusing, you've got help coming in, you've got people going out, helicopters only got so much time that they can be there before they've got to get out of town, otherwise they're going to get shot at. I leave, and I go to a medical group just outside of Da Nang, where I get a chest tube put in, which is just as painful, because it's like trying to put a stick through your ribs, and that's not fun, but it's better than the alternative, I guess. I go on the USS Repose, which is a hospital ship just outside of Da Nang that cruises up and down between Chu Lai and Da Nang and the DMZ, they just cruise up and down the Vietnam coast, to collect the wounded. A couple days later, they found out that as soon as I'd been thrown on the helicopter and taken out, everyone got together to find out what they needed to do next, and a phantom jet came in to provide air support-everybody know what a phantom jet is?-it's an F-4, it's a heavily armored airplane that were very popular at the time. Phantom jet came in, dropped six bombs, five bombs right on top of the Rockpile, and obliterated it. And I don't know how many of the NVAs were killed. One bomb ricocheted off the Rockpile, and landed right in the middle of the group that was organized to do what they needed to do next, and the four guys that had saved my life were killed instantly, and they're on the wall, they're part of the fifty-eight thousand. True story. Because of all the confusion and all the people that got killed that afternoon after I had left, along with my body bag and the KIA tag that was still affixed to it, with all the other people that were killed, my tag got still processed and still got mixed in, so a Marine Corps recruiter went to my mother's house, went to my mother and father's house, and you can imagine what said. The recruiter said, "I'm sorry to tell you, but your son's been killed." Now, what do you think my mother said?
Patricia Symonds: No, he hasn't.
Ken Garthee: No, he hasn't. And, honest to God, that's the truth, and my mother's not here today, but she will tell you that's exactly what happened, my father still says that's the way it happened, my brothers who were there say it still happened, it didn't happen. It wasn't until ten days later, when I was able to jot a note, and the Americna Red Cross was able to deliver it to my mother, that said, I'm fine, I'm alive, I can't see what's wrong with me, I've got two hands, I've got two feet, my ears are still OK, I can hear-I just feel OK. I was in a hospital for almost two years recovering from the gunshot wound-I'd lost three ribs, I had several skin graft operations on my back. The bullet never did touch my spine, thank God, my lung is fine, and I'm here today to tell the story. Are there any questions?
(Appreciative laughter from the audience)
Frank Grzyb: By the way, Ken's son Matthew did the illustrations for my book. Ken is obviously quite a guy. For someone to go through that experience and come out ht way he did, and I'm proud to call him a friend. We were Little League coaches together, and had some good years together, but it just goes to tell you that if you're a reasonable person before you go and even when you face a traumatic event, you can still come out being a whole person in the end, and I'm proud that you told your entire story, Ken, because I know it's been years since you've-when we were in Little League baseball together, I only heard half the story, and a few people in the community had heard half the story, but they didn't hear the rest of the story. Ken, I'm wondering if anyone has any questions, if you'd take them.
Male audience member: Ken, from one fellow Marine to another-
Ken Garthee: Semper fi.
Male audience member: Twenty seven-company twenty seven-I was real impressed with your journey, taking us on a wonderful journey through your experiences, but also, uh, how you found peace in your journey.
Ken Garthee: I did.
Male audience member two: And to be able to share that, that made-for a lot of our brothers that are not here-because so many of us are not here. To know that-like, I'll be visiting a friend that I lost-he never made it to forty-nine-he never came back from his experiences, and right here, what you're sharing is so important, so necessary, because you're sharing what matters, and what's important in the journey, and the lesson-what do you see as the lesson? What are some of the lessons that you'd like to share with us?
Ken Garthee: The lessons I learned from that?
Male audience member two: Yeah, from the Vietnam experience.
Ken Garthee: From the Vietnam experience, including that-faith in God, because there is a higher God-love of family, absolutely love of family, I wouldn't have been able to get through it. And love of friends. No question. Those three are the most influential issues that are important for any of us, and for me, to be able to communicate this to everyone, as well as to be able to write it. It was the love of my family-let me tell you the story of why I wrote the story-I have two boys, Seth and Matthew, Matthew is an art student. When he was a freshman in college, I don't know how many freshmen we have here, or how many juniors and seniors, but when they were away at school, they would say, "Oh, geez, I'm having a tough time, my professors don't like me, my girlfriends don't like me, I don't have enough time to study for the test, I don't know what I'm going to do, I'm so overwhelmed," and I said, "OK, let's talk about what's really important. Let's talk first about you, what you want to do and where you want to go," and they would talk to me, and they would still say, "Oh, it such a tough time, I don't know what I want to do," and I'd say, "Well, let me tell you about a tough day." That's why when Frank, two years ago, put together the outline for this book, he asked me, do you think this will work, I said, "It'll work. Because there are a lot of stories that need to be told."
Frank Grzyb: Ken, I think we'd better cut it off now-
Ken Garthee: And they've never complained since I wrote the story!
(Applause from the audience)
Frank Grzyb: Laura-I just met Laura about forty-five minutes ago, and Laura, I wonder if you'd be kind enough to tell us your story.
Laura Lehigh Yeah, except I'm going to stay right here! It's interesting to be asked because I hadn't thought about it in such a long time. Probably-I want to say that's because there was closure, except when I hear you talk, I realize there's no closure. Um, my husband, Michael Schmidt, was wounded in Vietnam in April nineteen sixty-eight. April 28, because it's coming up and that's a key day for me. I was in college at the time, we were not married at the time, um, I got a call from his mother, and his father, they were both on extensions, but his dad couldn't talk, but they called to tell me that Mike had been hit. He was critically wounded in April sixty-eight, and we really didn't expect him to survive. Um, for the next three months, give or take, and I kind of recollect that, because I was finishing up exams, going home, getting messages from his family when they would be getting messages from the Red Cross, uh, and planning, finally, to go to Washington to go see him at Walter Reed when he finally was transported back to the States.
So from April until September, he was somewhere outside of the United States-Saigon hospital, I think, for quite a while, then they were supposed to move him, but they couldn't, because they thought they were going to lose him. He was in Japan for a while, then they were going to move him, but they couldn't-he finally came home. When I got to see him- (pauses) when I got to see him, um, he was very thin, practically dead in the bed-I don't know how he recovered-possibly sheer fortitude and will, because that's kind of how he was-um, he was in Walter Reed Hospital from September until-let's say discharged the following spring-we were engaged in this hospital. We were planning a wedding for June of nineteen sixty-nine. That was the goal. And the goal was realized, so we were married in the June of nineteen sixty-nine, a couple of months after he was discharged. The Service granted disability, um, and we had plans, uh-- (laughs) First thing was our honeymoon, and about three weeks into that, Mike became very sick, so we were-we were beach bumming for the summer, and we were, at the time, somewhere in Charlestown, and rented a car when he became sick, so we went to Quonset, and they admitted him, and then, not only did they admit him, but they sent him to Chelsea Naval Hospital, and the doctor came out and told me that he's critically ill. And I said, you know, "What do you mean, critically ill?" And he said, "Well, he's got hepatitis, we think, and we can't treat him here." So they gave me a couple shots of gammaglobulin, and I went home, um, until I could go to the hospital in Chelsea the next day, of course my parents thought I was kidding-
Frank Grzyb: What kind of hepatitis was it?
Laura Lehigh: It was viral hepatitis. Killer hepatitis. It was determined that the hepatitis had been contracted while he was in service, but the lapse of time from the last possible exposure until it manifested itself was really substantial, and the doctors were-well, I was lucky, who was lucky-um, it was determined to be a service-connected disease. Mike recovered from that, on and off.
We were married about two and a half years, during which time he went back to school, got his master's degree, um, we were moving from an apartment in Boston to another apartment in Marlboro MA because he was about to start his first job, and he-all during this time, he was in and out of the hospital with relapses-in September of nineteen seventy-one was his last relapse, which was shortly after we had moved from Boston to Marlboro, and he died the following month. I was shocked. I was not prepared for that death at all, because I was prepared for it in April of nineteen sixty-eight, but I was not prepared for it in September of nineteen seventy-one. Um, so I dealt with that by just denying it and moving forward with my life. So in nineteen eighty or eighty-one or whenever it was, I read an article about the to-be-constructed, at that time, Vietnam Memorial. And when I read that article, I thought, "Mike's name's got to go up there." So I started making phone calls to try and find out who I could talk to to see if his name was on the list of the fifty-eight thousand who were going to be memorialized. And I don't remember who it was I talked to, but whoever it was was kind enough to inform me that his name was not included because he had not died in country. This didn't really set too well with me, so I decided that I was going to get his name inscribed on the wall. Um, that was my coming out for the grief work. So it took, what, twenty years, no, I guess it wasn't that long-
Male audience member: When was it put on?
Laura Lehigh: I'm sorry?
Male audience member: When was it put on?
Laura Lehigh: It was put on-I don't remember the year-but it was about five or six years after I started writing letters to the D.O.D., it was finally added. And I was lucky enough to go down there for the ceremony that they had, although, as I was telling Frank, his name was not originally included in that ceremony. It was only by chance that I found out that they were having that ceremony for all of the added names, so I called whoever I needed to call, again, going here, going there, finally getting to, to see if his name was going to be included in that, and they didn't have any record of his name, so I told them that I wanted an invitation, and I wanted his family to be invited, so we all ended up meeting in Washington to memorialize him. For me, the Vietnam experience is multifaceted because-I have a box of letters which I just recently took out-there's something waiting to be written, I don't know what it is. Mike loved to write, and I have letters written to me from him from his entire service, including his convalescence, practically every day-this is a box full of letters-and when I-I never really shared much-well, he never really shared much with me about his experience in Vietnam, but most guys don't from there.
Frank Grzyb: Well, hopefully something will come from those letters. I don't mean to be too abrupt, but we're going to have to cut it off to give others a chance, but we appreciate you telling us all that story.
Beth Taylor: Also one of the things we are here for is to hear that kind of, "This sort of material is here, and now what do I do with it?" and I think that discussion will come after we hear some more of the-
Frank Grzyb: Mike and I have talked over the telephone a few times, and Mike has written several articles that have been published-he's got some publication work, some writing work-in the Newport area-he was also published in US magazine. Mike, why don't you introduce yourself, tell us your ?connections? and-
Michael Booth: Well, my name is Michael Booth. As Frank mentioned, I'm really humbled here to listen to Ken's story, because I was in the Army also, but I was a medical foreman, and I-as such, I was lucky enough to to be in a hospital-I worked in a hospital. It was kind of the luck of the draw-you know, if you went over there as a medic, you didn't know if you were going into a unit or to a field hospital or what, and I came in right after Tet, and I'll never forget-in fact, it was right during Tet, because I'll never forget that, uh, the plane couldn't' land. We were trying to land at Tet, or land at Tan Son Nhut and Tet had started while we were on our way over to Vietnam, and so the plane couldn't land because the airfield was under attack. So we had to-the plane was diverted to, uh, I forget, the other big island there, and we waited about six or eight hours, listening to all these rumors, you know, about, the Chinese had just entered the war, the Russians were getting ready to drop A-bombs-and just all sorts of wild and crazy rumors, you know, so you didn't know where you were going or what was going on. And then, finally, they put us back on the plane at Guam-actually, they had taken us to Guam-they put us back on the plane at four or five in the afternoon, and the told us it was clear now, we could land at Tan Son Nhut, so we flew in and landed at Tan Son Nhut and went to the replacement center-I'll never forget, though, coming off the plane, I was coming like this (gestures), because I thought, I had a feeling I was going to get shot right away. But I was very lucky, as I mentioned-I got sent to a field hospital, and I worked in a field hospital, for eighteen months, and it was the only field hospital in Vietnam that was run by the US Army that was designated for civilian war casualties. So we actually treated Vietnamese. And, so we had a lot of, uh, pretty nasty stuff-you know, we had traumatic amputations and fragmentation wounds and a lot of burns and so on. And the first six months-or the first seven months we were there, I think we worked twelve hour shifts, ix days a week, initially, because the casualties were just coming in like crazy. And I saw the war at that time from a different perspective, because, being in a rear unit like that, you-I wasn't exposed to combat, except that things would happen, like soldiers would kind of go a little bit cuckoo once in a while, and there was a lot of drug abuse, you know, I mean, from the day I got there and got to the base and reported and went out the back of the base and there would be groups of ten or twenty guys just standing around, just blowing dope like you wouldn't believe, and the clouds of marijuana smoke practically enveloping the place-I mean, it was really, really crazy in that respect, so-it would be the pressure and the boredom of kind of doing the same thing day in and day out that would kind of cause people to go a little crazy once in a while, so-
Frank Grzyb: Mike, you never inhaled, right?
Michael Booth: Actually, I did, so-It was, you know, it was pretty crazy, and I guess the biggest danger was every once in a while, fairly often, someone would kind of go nuts ands start shooting up the place-from time to time-but-
Frank Grzyb: Mike, what made you write about Vietnam, with those kinds of experiences? What got you started?
Michael Booth: Well, I think I always kind of wanted to be a writer anyway-I've been working at it for a long time. So when I came home, I started kind of putting things together, and I'd written a few stories, I had a couple published here and there, but I just thank God that I made it through OK, and I agree with Ken that, with time, you start to realize how important God is, and I think there were times that he was watching over me, and some of my friends, because I know that, for example, we used to go over the fence and down into the town just about every night, because it was so boring to just sit around the base all the time, everyone was just listening to music, and kind of partying a lot, but we would go downtown and we used to barter from the Vietnamese and we would rent motorcycles from them and we would ride motorcycles out in the rice paddies and things like that. It was a lot of fun, but once in a while, some people would-not come back, you know? So, you've got to respect that kind of-and thank God that I made it through all right. As I say, I had some friends also who didn't make it for one reason or another, and I myself got very sick just before I cam home, I was in the hospital for a couple weeks, but I made it through, and just thank God that I did, so-.
Frank Grzyb: Mike, thanks for your story. I appreciate it very much. Uh, I'd like to introduce Doug Johnson. Doug, again, is in my book. Both Doug and Ken's stories are stories that are taken from personal memoirs, which I slightly edited, and then when we published it, we edited it a little bit more. Very intense stories, almost books in themself. Doug, I'd leave it to you on what you would like to tell.
Doug Johnson: Um-.
Frank Grzyb: Could I interject one thing? I like that story about Smitty, I think that's-
Doug Johnson: Well, it's hard to-to know what to talk about, particularly following Ken Garthee-um, I had a somewhat similar experience to Ken's-I was in the 25th infantry division, in the ???Chi??? area, and I graduated from college, I was bored, didn't want to continue on in school, I was really kind of curious about Vietnam, I didn't really know anybody that had been to Vietnam, and I guess all of you who have read the kids' stories, like Curious George-I was curious. So I signed up- I got out of college, I went own to the draft board-I'm from Newport, Rhode Island, a small town, I knew sooner or later they'd come knocking at my door, so I said, "Let's get it over with." I graduated in June; I was in the Army in August, and in February of nineteen sixty-nine I was in Vietnam. To make a long story short, in October of nineteen sixty-nine, I was out in a fire support base. You may be familiar with them is you used to watch any film footage from the war-most of those real small sandbag areas that units worked out of, they were usually out in the middle of nowhere, I was going out one night to guard the perimeter, and-one of the first times in my life I was going early. I was usually late for things, and for some reason, this night I was going early.
We started getting incoming mortars, they put three mortars into our area-one of the first things we're taught in training is, when something comes in, you hit the ground, and you hug Mother Earth. Well, I'll tell you something, your feet start working before your brain does, and I saw bunker close by, and I tried to make a run for it, and, unlike Superman, I was not faster than a speeding bullet. An 82-millimeter rocket came in-sorry, not a rocket, a mortar-pretty good size shells; when they hit, they explode out-I was by myself-I remember literally being picked up in the air and hurled through the air-unbelievable ringing in my ears-I was on the ground, I remember this intense pain, and I remember trying to stand up, and I actually did get to my feet and go down again, but your mind starts playing tricks on you, and I thought I had lost one of my legs because I couldn't stand up. Um, I'm Catholic, I don't know if you'll hold that against me, I started saying an Act of Contrition, Oh my God, I'm heartily sorry-Medic!!! I never made it through the Act of Contrition. I had some pretty severe wounds, I was medevaced out to the local evacuation hospital, I had lost pretty much most of my blood from internal bleeding, I had my insides kind of rearranged-the thing I'll never forget, probably, for the rest of my life was being taken in and put on one of these steel tables, and while I was laying there, I was conscious the whole time, from the time I was hit, the helicopter arrived, I remember trying to sit up, I remember the guy telling me relax, we're going to be there, I remember not wanting to close my eyes, I remember knowing that if I closed my eyes, maybe I'd never wake up again. I remember being taken and put on the table, and all of a sudden I heard this media say, "No pulse and no blood pressure." And I kind of looked around, and I was the only one there. Could be a problem. And I remember thinking, I'm in deep trouble. Shortly after that, I dropped off and I lost consciousness, and that's the last I remember for a number of days.
Now, they finally were able to stop the bleeding, fortunately I just had to have some of my insides resected-I did have a pretty bad shrapnel wound in my sciatic nerve, but fortunately it was just bruised rather than severed, or else I would have lost the use of my left leg. Um, probably the thing I remember most is being in the hospital and having a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. And I remember just thinking to myself, you know, why me? Why me, when all the planes we used to see go out, knowing they were carrying bodies back to the United States, why was I spared? I remember taking a wheelchair in the hospital in Japan, just going around to the different wards, and staring at rows upon rows of amputated legs hanging up in the air, and sights that you'll never forget, and just wondering, you know, why all this carnage? And I don't know if I'll ever have the answer to that question-it's something I'm still grappling with-but for me, the writing helps to kind of liberate some of those things that I still feel very deeply. I live in Washington and I go to the wall a lot. I go there on Memorial Day, I go there on Veterans Day, because I feel that I owe the guys that I served with at least that, to go back and honor them on those days. I read those letters and I see the pain that people are still feeling, thirty years later. People are still suffering. It's been touched upon, but a lot of the people that came back are not listed among those three hundred some thousand. There were people that were severely mentally affected by that war that have never been able to talk about it. I know guys who will not go to the wall-
Frank Grzyb: Doug, based on what you're saying now, uh, I thought Doug wrote an interesting story in the book about a gentleman named Smitty-I don't even know if that was a real name-
Doug Johnson: Yep, yep-
Frank Grzyb: Doug has a gift for words and the way he tells a story-I don't want to put you on the spot, but could you relay that story to us, about Smitty?
Doug Johnson: Yeah, well, there was a guy who had come back-he had been a combat soldier in the 45th infantry division-I really didn't know him that well, but he was recycling back to go back home again. I'd say Smitty was probably nineteen years old-he was just a young kid, baby-faced kid, and something in his eyes and the way he carried himself you knew he was a lot older than that. But I just remember him, one day, he was out, in front of our area, and he's walking around and he's just kind of looking on the ground, and I went over to him and I said, "Smitty, you know, what are you doing?" and he said, "Can't you see it? Can't you see it?" And I said, "No, what? What?" And he said, "Footprints. The V.C. Can't you see the footprints?" And I just looked at him, and I knew that Smitty was never going to be right for the rest of his life. And there's a lot of Smittys that are walking around right now that experienced what he experienced and just kind of lost it. Everyone has their breaking point. I'm a firm believer in that. And some people saw some horrific things take place. I know Ken saw a lot worse things than I did take place, but I saw enough to influence me that I want to make sure when we enter wars again that we make sure we're doing the right thing, and that we have the country behind us.
Frank Grzyb: Doug, prior to writing the experiences for this book, had you written anything about Vietnam before?
Doug Johnson: Well, I had written a poem-I went down to the wall in nineteen eighty-eight, and I had written a poem called "Reflections on Vietnam, Memorial Day, 1988." It's included in the book. And it's just-you know, like Ken was talking, these things come back to you, and I sat down-I actually had driven by the memorial that day, and I saw them getting ready for the Memorial Day weekend, people come in from all over, and I think I went home and in about an hour or two, I wrote the poem, and probably the thing I remember most about that, my neighbor asked me if she wanted me to type it up. She had been very active in the anti-war movement, and she brought the poem back to me and she was in tears, and she said, "You know, I hated the war. I didn't hate the soldiers. But I realize, in reading your poem, that the soldiers didn't get that message."
And probably, that was one of the legacies of that time that hurt the most, that people were criticizing the war, but they were also criticizing the soldiers, and that distinction was not made. Fortunately, it's been made since that time, and I think it's been one of the very helpful things that's happened as far as the reconciliation. I just want to say two other quick things-the kind of service that you guys did in the rear kept a lot of us alive, so I owe a debt of gratitude to the medics and the nurses-I had a corpsman who came in and cleaned my wounds out every day, and I'm sure saved me from some serious infections, so everybody's service was appreciated, and I'd also like to say that when I get down to the wall, when I do, I will visit your husband, because I honor the memory of all the people who died there, and all the people who served there, and hopefully there's going to be some other things that are going to come out in my writing experiences that will express some things that we all felt, serving in that really difficult time.
Frank Grzyb: Thanks, Doug. Does anybody have any questions? Yes.
David Morse: I want to say-this is in response to you-I'm here to learn more about-I was active in the anti-war movement, and I'm going to feel dishonest if I don't say that out front, and I'm here gathering material for a second novel that is set in nineteen seventy-two about what I experienced, and it's enormously helpful for me to hear you guys talk. That's all.
Frank Grzyb: You would be surprised at how many people came back from Vietnam that did exactly what you did. And there's nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of us realize that a lot of the things we did over there were immoral, so don't feel like anything you're doing or anything you're saying is hurting any of us here.
Ken Garthee:: When I came back and was able to get out of the hospital, I started at the University of Wisconsin-in May of nineteen sixty-eight, when I got out is when all that anti-war movement material, activity, distribution began-well, by September of nineteen sixty-eight, when I was enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, that's when they did things in Madison that became the hallmark of the anti-war movement-they did protests, they occupied buildings, they did all that, and they wanted me to participate, and I said, "I don't want to do that. I fought my war. You guys let me know when you want to go back to school, and I'll be right there, first class." And I didn't participate in any of that. It was very hard for me. But I understood. My first professor, when school did start, called me a baby-killer. And that hurt a lot. My first class, my first semester at the university, he saw my short hair, he said, "You're one of them, aren't you?" And I said, "One of who?" He said, "You were in Vietnam, weren't you?" "Yes." "You were a baby-killer."
Frank Grzyb: Now when you came back-excuse me-we didn't look like the average citizen when we came back-I'm sure Marilyn will side with me there-we were all pretty skinny. I was a skinny runt when I went there, when came back I had lost about twenty pounds, and I couldn't well afford to lose any more weight, because at 124 pounds I was a walking skeleton. The other thing was my wife always commented on the color of my skin when I came back-when you did see the sun-a lot of things that happened, happened at night-but when you did see the sun, for some reason, she says my tan was, like, a greenish color-I don't know if anybody else had the same experience. It was a strange place-I don't know if you were finished with what you were saying-I don't mean to interrupt-
Doug Johnson: I would also point out that's going to be a very valuable contribution, too. I think one of the things that's happened over the years is we've all learned a lot about each other, and for a country that was tremendously divided and basically torn apart, probably the only worse thing that happened was probably the Civil War. We really need to continue to learn about the things that happened. I also think that in some ways it helps us to learn some lessons for the future, too.
Frank Grzyb: Thanks, Doug, and thank you. I'd like to have Marilyn tell her story now-we're kind of running out of time, and I'd like to get as many people in as possible-
Marilyn McMahon: I'll stand up-well, I grew up in Seattle, which was, in the sixties and fifties, segregated. I lived in North Seattle. There were no people of color. We had a Chinatown, but that was Chinatown-so I grew up in a very-I call it "Wonderbread white-" Catholic, forever, righteous, working-class, um, community-we were kind of a large small town. The reason I bring this up is that I had no concept of anybody else's view of the world except North Seattle, Catholic, Wonderbread-white, working-class, et cetera, et cetera. Never questioned a history book. Read novels about the war-actually, particularly liked the Revolutionary War and Civil War novels-I mean, it is kind of cool, war and all that kind of stuff-- history, wow, and all that stuff, but still, no real concept of what war really is. I joined the military because I was a Catholic working-class-and one of the things was in order to pay for school, I needed something, and they paid for my junior and senior year flat-out, everything-tuition, book, fees, and a stipend-and all I had to do was agree to stay in the Navy for three years afterwards. Easy. Uniforms. Still uniforms. Great, I love uniforms. You never have to choose what to wear in the morning. So, that's what I did.
My first duty station was in Philadelphia. I got there in first of November of nineteen sixty-seven, and I was in the orthopedic divisions ward, which meant that all amputees whose home of record was east of the Mississippi river and the Marine Corps of the Navy, and then all other orthopedic injuries from the, I don't know what exactly their area was, because there's a hospital-but that's in, the hospital in Chelsea, so you divide that up where their homes were, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for sure, would come to us, they'd all come into us first. They'd stay and be stabilized on our ward for as long as it took, on the same floor as intensive care, the operating room, and the X-ray, and the orthopedic clinic and all that stuff, and then they'd go out to other wards, and in WWII they'd built an extension to the hospital, and never managed to tear it down, and now they needed it again, and so there were approximately-well, actually, in the orthopedic service by the middle of nineteen sixty-eight, we carried a census of 1200 orthopedic patients, who always had to be-somebody had to be at home, taking the leave, medical leave, we would send them home, because we didn't have twelve hundred beds for them. But Tet sixty-eight is what I was getting at. By the time-Tet's in January sometime-I'm not really great about exactly when it occurred-but first they filled up the hospitals in Vietnam, then they filled them up in Japan and Guam, and finally we were getting patients that had just been treated in field hospitals and then sent halfway around the world to Dover, Delaware and then to Philadelphia, and so there's that piece.
I really brought up the North Seattle for-right around that time, actually-I always say that my Vietnam experience started with the assassination of Martin Luther King. Wonderbread, white, North Seattle, no other view of the world, really. In the fifties, we had very few poor in Seattle, in the sixties-everybody had a job-there was not a lot of awareness of color, prejudice-and I got back East here, and I'm like, leapfrog-ten years ahead of where we were-and it was-and I was bothered. And so that was the beginning of my growing up-and I always made the end of my Vietnam experience the killings at Kent State, and everything else was in between. I was in Philadelphia for almost two years, then I went into Vietnam for ten months. While I was there, the Marine Corps was pulling out, the Army was taking over the I Corps, the northern quarter of South Vietnam the Army was moving in, the Marines were pulling out, so we left. I went to Vietnam because I wanted to go-I asked to go-I just want you to picture this: open wards, in the military-no private rooms, just open-so I was standing in a room of thirty five permanently injured-like, missing body parts, or those guys in traction you saw a lot of, with big huge holes in their thighs, so-in big traction, arms missing, big pieces of their bodies missing-I'm surrounded by these guys, and I get orders to Vietnam, and I take their telephone, which was out in the middle of the ward, you move it from bed to bed on a cart-and I call Mom to tell her the great news that I'm going to Vietnam. Disconnect, full disconnect. For one thing, you know, nurses don't get hurt in wars. Nurses only do good in war. I was needed, I was good, quick on my feet, I knew about preventing infections and all that kind of stuff-
Frank Grzyb: Excuse me, Marilyn, I just want to interject something, because that's not totally true-
Marilyn McMahon: Oh, no, I know, I just-
Frank Grzyb: If anybody has read anything about Vietnam they realize that nurses probably suffered the same amount of PTSD as combat soldiers did, so she's being very kind to herself; I'm sure her memories are difficult.
Marilyn McMahon: It is true. I went, I learned a whole lot of different things-I don't want to drag it on--I was in Germany on leave when Kent State occurred. I was with friends who were in the Army, and they hadn't gone yet. They'd all gotten to go to Germany first, and they were going to go to Vietnam afterwards, and they were really appalled about the students. I was really appalled that our boys were shooting on kids. That was how it felt. My people were shooting my people, and it took, well, I didn't start writing until nineteen eighty-four, eighty-five, and it took another ten years, probably, to get that all into-I am one of the lucky ones; I did get PTSD. There's actually-I'm such a textbook case that there's a textbook written about me, and in one of the chapters, it's written by peace activists. And they said-this was published in about eighty-seven-that someday I would have to deal with my guilt for having been there. Now, I was familiar, by this time, with survivor's guilt-why did I get to live through it when all these other people didn't-including Sharon Lane, who was an Army nurse who was killed by a rocket on duty, all of the other women-US military women, mind you, not Red Cross, not USO, not Vietnamese, just military women-there are seven names on the wall. Six of them died of illness or helicopter or plane crashes, and one died on a ward with a direct hit. Back to this chapter, they said, one day I would have to deal with my guilt for having been there. And I was just like, "Excuse me " Um, for several years, until I figured it out, that indeed-um, here's the question-do people who provide aid-nurses, doctors, chaplains, Red Cross, USO-do we make war nice so other people will let their kids go to war? Do we make it nice? Do we make it easy to ignore a through a woman, masses, getting zipped up into a body bag because you're dead? So I throw that one out there- to those of you who were peace activists- I want to say thank you. There's still a lot of vets who think that ended the war. I personally don't. Personally, I think that if we weren't fighting for everybody's right to say what they believed in, then we were not in the right country. But anyway, I could get into that one, too.
Frank Grzyb: Thank you, Marilyn, I appreciate it very much. Fred, we had talked before-he came in, it was the first time we met-and Fred has written a few things about Vietnam-Fred, why don't you tell us who you are, and what got you started on writing.
Fred Short: Fred Short, served in Vietnam nineteen sixty-seven-sixty-eight, Tet Offensive, which happened to be the, probably, the most intense combat of the war, for people who went through Tet-served all of sixty-eight, last fifteen days of my tour I caught malaria. Medevac couldn't get out, uh, in the proper-appropriate amount of time-they had to pack me in mud and soap me down-by the time we got to the Chu Lai field hospital, I was running a 106 temperature. Lost feeling in my legs. They tagged me as a-well, they put me on a traumatic amputee ward because I couldn't-couldn't move. Probably the worst part of the war was that-I mean, I had seen as much as I wanted to see, and that was the worst part. I came back from Vietnam still sick, still feeling an overwhelming sense of loss of people that I had known that I had died. Started to write then. Things got better, I was a founder and charter member, along with some other people; Wayne Smith was one of them, Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 270, which was the first chapter of Vietnam Veterans of American in Rhode Island, and probably still the best chapter today.
I was recently diagnosed and have been treated with cancer. I have cancer, and directly related to my exposure to dioxin or Agent Orange. Uh, that started me writing again. The sense of loss came back again-I can never, ever lose that sense of loss-it has always, and will always, be with me. And if you don't mind, I'd like to sit down and just read one thing-and if anything, hopefully it won't be-no more memorials-no more. Uh, but I'd just like to read something, and hopefully give you a sense of, of loss. Something that I have felt since the day I came home.
It was only a small hole, no bigger than the size of your finger, I cradled him in my arms, repeatedly telling him it was going to be all right-just a flesh wound. I lied to him. It wasn't going to be all right. He was dying. There was no pain, the round had severed his spine. No movement except for his eyes. Those eyes I can still see when I lie in bed and think about that day. Those eyes that look deep into my soul, looking for the reasons why he had to die in this fucked-up war in the middle of a rice paddy. This was the day I lost my best friend. This was the day I lost my innocence. This was the day that would define who and what I would be for the rest of my life. I was losing my friend and could do nothing but hold him and cry for him. I died that day, along with my best friend. We sat there in the middle of that paddy; both of us dying-one from a wound of the flesh; the other from a wound of the heart. I miss my friend; I miss him every day.
Frank Grzyb: Thank you. Beautiful. Unfortunately, too many people like yourself have had to write similar stories. I'd like to just interject the fact that publishing is fun and obviously you go on an ego trip et cetera et cetera, but there are a lot of good things that come not just by being published but by putting your feelings into writing and readying it yourself and having your family read it. I know that some of the stories I had a difficult time relaying after twenty five or thirty years, I put in writing. They were not published, but I gave one to my son, I felt my daughter- she's seventeen-every father just feels their daughter isn't right to read something like that, so she hasn't read that story, but my son has, and he was emotionally involved in the story.
The good part about publishing is that you get feedback from people, and it's interesting the type of feedback I got. I got some feedback locally, the Newport area, and I got some feedback, surprisingly, pretty far away, and I'd just like to read you a couple lines of what you receive when you publish stories like this. Uh, one story I got was a single typewritten letter, the individual basically spilled out his guts about his Vietnam experience and how bad the times were for him and everything he went through. We just don't have time to read the story, but it affected me so deeply that when I had a reception for my book, I had taken the letter-by the way, you two people were at that reception-and kept it in the pocket of my jacket just for moral support-it affected me that much. He had PTSD, hepatitis C, by the way. Another letter I got was from, I think, a woman from Cranston, if I'm not mistaken-no, East Providence-I stand to be corrected. And she was a World War Two nurse whose husband saw combat in the Pacific, whose son was in Vietnam. She says he was not a fatality, but with a disability that he has to live with forever, and her closing remark was, "Your book has been a revelation to me as my Marines seldom talk about their experiences." Beautiful comment. I'll always cherish that letter. Got a letter out of the clear blue one day from a gentleman in Florida-books find their way everywhere, I guess-and this gentleman served in the second Marine division, and I'd like to read you just a couple paragraphs of this hand-written letter. Obviously, he's in his seventies; you can tell by his handwriting-Marilyn will be my witness-he said, "When the Vietnam War was over, I, along with most of America, had a bad outlook on the veterans that came back. After reading your book I realize that Korea and Vietnam were a lot alike. Facing a strange people that you could not talk to or understand. The enemy looked the same as the South Koreans. The land was something that you'd never seen, or expected. The enemy both had gained-nothing. Korea, the forgotten war. We came back, we took our place in the community like we had never left. No welcome back for a job well done. At least we were forgotten, which was better than being scorned by the press like you guys." Nice letter. "Thank you for shedding the light and changing my opinion about the bad rep that you guys got. Stand tall and proud."
This last one is an interesting one, and probably very appropriate on the day that I received this letter, because it was yesterday, in the mail. Couldn't have come at a better time. Basically, it was a letter intercepted-it basically came from another country by email, this woman intercepted it and sent it to my house, and I picked it up in my mailbox yesterday and read it. I remember meeting this gentleman at a book signing-he was there with his son-we talked briefly, he asked for my card, I figured I wouldn't hear from him again, and here's part of his response that I would like to read. It's written in broken English, and I'll tell you where it came from in the end. "I hope to remind you some details about our meeting. You were making a presentation of your book, Touched by the Dragon, in Warwick's Barnes and Noble's book store. You read undersigned, an exemplar of your book for me, and I told you about my own combat experience," and I'll leave that out right now, where it was. "I read your book very fast, gave it to a couple of my friends, who had the same experience too. We found your book great, because it was are a lot of facts of the human behavior similar to each soldier no matter where he fought. I watched also a lot of albums and documentaries dedicated to the Vietnam war, and was really surprised that there was no differences between us except some differences in uniform." The letter is signed by Olav Sebastian, from St. Petersburg, Russia. This letter also affected me really deeply, because it says that-he fought in the Afghan-Afghanistan War, and I can't remember how recently that was-Ken, when was that, was that in the eighties? And I remember him talking about it, and it was just such a hectic day of signing books and talking to other people. That same day I had met a woman who lost her husband in Vietnam and I was trying to give her all the attention I could give her because her husband's name was in the back of the book, but this gentleman was just an interesting case study in the infantry soldier-the analogy between the Vietnam veteran who saw combat and the Afghan soldier, I think, is probably the same, no matter what war.
So this is the kind of nice feedback you get. It feels good to know that you've kind of helped other people. Also, the fact that-I don't know how you feel about this, Marilyn-it's nice to meet people like yourself-not just the ones who have any experience in Vietnam, etc, but who basically want to discuss it-there's a lot of nice people in the world, but sometimes on the job-especially as a personnel manager, you tend to forget, there are a lot of nice people out there. Not everybody's looking for a way to get a promotion!
Beth Taylor: So what are some pieces of advice for those who have stories to write, and maybe have been thinking about it?
Frank Grzyb: Uh, well, I think you have to start somewhere. You're going to find that you're going to start writing, you're going to put things down. I was at a writing conference in front of a group of people not too long ago. There was a woman there whose name is Faith McNulty-I don't know if you people know who she is-she's an author who wrote a book about wife-beating-I think it was the first book that was written about wife-beating in the United States that made it to where it got. She basically wrote a screenplay-I think for a short time it was on Broadway-and Farrah Fawcett played the role of the wife who was beaten-right, The Burning Bed. And one thing she said about, when you write an article, and fortunately, I think I try to live like this, not realizing that this lesson was going to be told over a couple of years later-she said, when you write, don't embellish anything. Just write the story as you remember it. You may go back and correct it later, but don't embellish. And I said, thank God, because I really didn't embellish, and these gentlemen here on my right are my witnesses. Once you start trying to embellish something you really take away from it, you really take away from what these individuals are producing, and you change a few words here and there, you might take out something that's redundant, but you try to use their words. The other thing is don't give up. I can't tell you how many times I personally had writers' block. I quickly got over it by a few glasses of wine; my wife would say I had too many glasses of wine, but there-you just have to sit there and keep doing it, because there is a purpose in the end of cathartic, yes, stories that really need to be told and retained in public libraries. And I think that was the main reason why I wrote, is what a shame to have stories like this not retained, not just for your children, but for children's children, and their children. War is bad in itself-and if these real stories are not told, we're going to continue going through these same experiences without knowing it, so hopefully it's a learning lesson. Marilyn, I don't know if you want to add anything to that.
Marilyn McMahon: Um, don't minimize-in other words, when you're writing from your heart-when you're in whatever safe place you need to be so you can write, do your best to turn off that internal critic that says, "Oh, nobody wants to know this." "Oh, this is just a bunch of drivel." Maybe it is, but you'll notice eventually when you get to where you're going. The other one that has always worked for me is. The other one that has always worked for me is to remind yourself to show, don't tell, which is a similar one to don't embellish, and that is a portrait tries to set up the-to show you the experience without telling you what to experience, how to feel about it. Show you my occupation and my actual feelings-well, actually, I think all my poems are my actual feelings-um, and writer's block is unpleasant. Um, and since I don't drink anymore-well, plus what works for me is to get into creative writing classes, actually, and to have-quite a few of my pieces are in that book that's being passed around, one of which, at least, was kind of pulled out of my hand and put into that book before I could really got to edit it, so I'm not as proud of that piece as I am of some of the others. But anyway, the point is that in some of these writing classes, a topic or a style would be presented, and then we would write, and if I had a little thing to hang it on to-there's a poem in there called "Wounds of War." The hook was Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Well, I've got to tell you, "Wounds of War" doesn't look anything like "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Anymore. But that's where it started for me, and-the refrain, "wounds heal..."
Beth Taylor: Could you say-this is a wonderful verse-it's in your book, but can you say-
Marilyn McMahon: I was invited to my high school on Friday and read this poem four times in one day-opens right up-this is a twelve part poem, and at verse six, and again at verse twelve I put in a chorus. And the first time around it goes, "Wounds heal from the bottom up and from the outside in...." Up to that point I've done all physical wounds-well, mostly physical wounds-as my examples-then I start into more psychological wounds, and end with, "Wounds must be inspected and known...," which as most of you know, all three of you know, I'm sure, that's exactly what it is. Not a very nice thing to do to people with huge wounds, keeping them open.
Frank Grzyb: I'd like to add one thing about writing. I would have been the last person in the world who would have picked myself to have written a book. I don't profess to be extremely intelligent. In fact, the writers who are here on campus today I have a huge admiration for, Tim O'Brien is an absolutely incredible writer, and also Philip Caputo, Laura Palmer and the job she did, Marilyn, et cetera, et cetera. I think you really have to believe in yourself and what you're trying to achieve by writing. You don't have to be the world's greatest writer. I didn't set out to write a Pulitzer Prize, I set out to write a few stories. Hopefully I did them well; if you do read my book, you have to look around my introduction narratives, because they're not the world's well-written introductions, but at the same time the stories are very good, and that's really what I tried to capture. The second thing I did that I thought was very prolific was to marry an English teacher. If you're going to be a writer, marry an English teacher. She saved my life so many times.
And also, the other thing is, if you can get your feelings out, there are people out there, proofreaders and editors, who do this for a living, and they've saved me on several occasions in what I've done, and I'm sure if I keep at this they'll continue to do so-they're very good at it. But again, I hope while you're here that you do take advantage of talking to some of these editors and listening to what they-not editors; I'm sorry, authors-uh, the books that I've had a chance to read before I came here and some that I read several years ago are absolutely incredible. I don't know how they're going to be topped??-it seems like every time the author comes out with a book it's always better than the last book, and I'm in deep admiration of their writing.
Doug Johnson: Frank, could I make a couple of brief comments?
Frank Grzyb: Sure, sure.
Doug Johnson: Don't worry that anybody is ever going to read what you write. Just write. Maybe somebody will and maybe they won't. And the more you're willing to risk putting down what really happened and how you feel about it, the better you're going to feel about it and the better it's going to be written, and Marilyn, I just want to mention one thing: we went over lightly what the nurses experienced-God bless you-if you ever want to know what the nurses experienced, read a book called "Home Before Morning" by Linda van Devanter. It was written a long time ago. She talks about people literally dying in her arms, calling for their mothers, their girlfriends, pictures of their loved ones dropping out of their pockets; it will just tear your insides out, and this is what these nurses went through day in and day out, and their memorial was long overdue by the time it was built.
Frank Grzyb: Just a quick addition to that: Chapter Eleven of my book, not to push my book again, but I thought it was very important for me to interview mothers who lost their sons in Vietnam and sisters. I did interviews, narratives, from all of these people-it was the most difficult chapter that I normally had to write when I had to interview these mothers to try to get them to solicit these somber stories and what they went through, and I would like to say that out of all of these mothers that I interviewed, the most incredible people that I have talked to in years, to go through this experience and to be able to relay that terrible, terrible time in their lives and what they did to try to overcome that was phenomenal, and if I'm proud of anything in my book, it's that chapter. Naturally, those stories are good, and the milk story at the end, but the mothers' stories are something I thought needed to be published years ago. I thin somebody once said, "Just how many more stories do we need about Vietnam?" I don't know how many more, but we need chapter eleven to tell a mother's story that we've never captured before. That's my belief. With that, I don't know if anyone else has anything; any questions, we're here to answer questions-
Female student in audience: Yeah, I'm not in any of the writing classes or anything, so I hope I'm not out of place, but I feel like I'm missing a really big opportunity if I don't say something. I actually lived in Vietnam for eight years just before coming to college here, and, um, it's just great to hear the different sides of the story, and I know a lot of the times I walked across the streets, like, the Rex Hotel, and I don't know how many of you have been in Saigon, but the Continental or the Caravelle, and, um, one book that I have read that I thought was really great is by Oriana Fallaci, it's a diary, she's a journalist, and it's a diary she wrote, and, um, if any of you actually have a chance to read it-I think it's actually not in print in English, but one of the images she mentioned is when she was on the terrace of the Caravelle Hotel she saw, like, the, um, I don't know what it was, but I guess, like, rockets or something coming down during the Tet Offensive, and the Caravelle Hotel was actually a very big bar at the moment, and all the ex-pats were there, and I was up there once, and it's just a, kind of very different perspective, I guess, but I remember reading that.
Frank Grzyb: People who go back that have been there say that it's just totally, totally different. I forget what percentage of the population wasn't even alive at the time of the war, so when we go back as an American, I understand that we're treated very well. The real problem with going back is that if you have a child in college and another one going next, It's very difficult to justify spending a ton of money to fly over to Southeast Asia. I know a lot of people who'd like-Ken and I had that discussion today-Ken has no interest, but I myself would like to, and whether or not I get to remains to be seen.
Marty Halyburton: On that note, I'm Marty Halyburton, and I feel like I'm a veteran of the Vietnam War: my husband Porter was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years, and we returned to Vietnam in October, this past year. And I think it was an experience that was probably more dramatic to us than the eight years-more than eight years-he was in Vietnam. And we went with fourteen former POWs, and an art photographer, Reenee Barrow, who has a number of photographs, if you'd like to see them. Um, and I encourage you all to go. We went with a group called Vietnam Tourism, who are two ex-Marines who take veterans' groups back. And, uh, its pretty incredible. I came back really changed, and particularly taken with the fact that, even though we lost 58,000 , the three million, and we were from Hanoi down to Saigon, and the war memorials-it's unbelievable. And when you tell-they don't know where you're from; they know you're a Westerner-and when you say, whether it's in Hanoi, or Saigon, and no matter what side of the war they were on, and they say, "Where are you from?" and you say, "America," they say, "America number one." And, that lesson in forgiveness was something that-
Frank Grzyb: How was your husband treated there?
Marty Halyburton: As a POW?
Frank Grzyb: No, I mean, after the fact, when he went back?
Marty Halyburton: They loved it. We went to the village where he was shot down, we visited three or four prison camps, and they were very anxious to see these men. For them, things had never been better. Um, still, eighty percent of the country is agrarian, they're very, very poor, I think you were talking about the numbers-sixty percent of the population is under twenty-five years of age. It's a very, very young population; we saw very few people who had actually been in the war. When we were trying to go-we tried to go to everybody's shoot-down site, all of these men were held in Hanoi and around it, so we all tried to go to their shoot-down sites, and, uh, there were very few people who had been there. They had all heard stories, and knew about somebody being shot down, but we could hardly ever find anyone who had been there during the war. There were literally not that many of them left. But, they welcome Americans with open arms, they say, "We've been at war all of our lives, for centuries, and this is the first peace that we've had" and they welcome the things that we have and they don't have. And I'm ever so grateful for everything I have in life. Until you travel somewhere like that, boy, you don't realize (cellular phone rings) -sorry, that's my husband.
Frank Grzyb: Just a quick one-a week ago, a gentleman asked me what I thought of the Vietnamese, uh, then and now, and I don't know if I can accurately call them-but I always thought they were a kind of wonderful people, unfortunately very poor, but they were a hard-working people, and they're certainly no different today. They wanted to be farmers, they wanted to be fishermen, but they didn't want to be soldiers. What this lady told us was, I think, very interesting to hear, and they're just great people, they really are.
Michael Booth: It's a little distressing to me-and I don't-I think other people must be thinking this, too, but given all the carnage and the destruction and the terrible waste that occurred, and all the kind of pain we've been talking about, to see something else starting up again here in Yugoslavia over the past month or so. It has that same kind of feeling, although it's a different situation, but it still has the same kind of feeling that it's kind of incremental involvement, and, you know, particularly the bombing, the bombing of Yugoslavia even though you hear every night the statements from the Pentagon that the bombing is surgical, and, you know, it' so precise, and so on and so forth, and all of that, and yet you also hear about a civilian convoy that was bombed the other day, and so this, you know, this way of solving international problems that we seem to have is really, seems kind of outmoded, and certainly, I think, a lot of people feel as distressed about it as I do, having been through Vietnam.
Doug Johnson: Well, I don't think you'll ever find anybody who loves peace more than people who've been in a war.
Patricia Symonds:As a little kid, I lived in an air-raid shelter in Liverpool, where I was born, and I remember bombs, and I remember how scared I was-I wasn't very old, but I remember how scared I was-and I remember asking my mother, at that time, "Why do people kill people? We haven't done anything to these people. Why are we killing people?" And I think-what is your name?-I think that what Mike says distresses me dreadfully to see what's going on over there, because we're talking about the ????, which was out of the first world war, and we're talking about Vietnam, and we're talking about, now, another war that's brewing, and I think that you can go back and say, "The Vietnamese are great people-" so are all of us, we're human beings, you know? And for us to go and kill each other, think about it, it's really sad. I think you do-
Michael Booth: Except that it's also this feeling-you feel kind of helpless watching this thing start up again the way it is, and yet, um, I was never a big believer in the war even when I was taking part in it thirty years ago, and in this one I feel kind of torn, too, because on the one hand I feel, you know, you feel bad for the refugees and the Kosovars and so forth, and something has to be done to help them, but on the other hand, the response to just start bombing Yugoslavia, to me, doesn't seem to be a very appropriate way to solve it, because, you know, it's kind of like trying to get your kids to stop fighting by beating the heck out of both of them, or beating them up-you know, every time you ad more violence to the situation, more stress, more anxiety, you just seem to make things worse.
Frank Grzyb: Well, we're kind of running out of time, but I would like to share is I take a look at some of these faces, and they're twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two years old, and we really can't think that something like this couldn't happen to me, because we thought the same when we were going into high school and college, and you know what happened to us-I mean, look at us today, we're having to talk about all of this. I mean, most of us we would prefer not to have to talk about this, and on that note I want to end it-I'm sorry to interrupt anyone, but we're running over on our time here.
Beth Taylor: Thank you all very much. This has been-- (Applause)