This question was seldom asked of me in after returning home from my twelve-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Why? Because people already knew the answer. Scenes of the war repeatedly played out on the television nightly, showing soldiers burning villages, killing innocent civilians and creating mayhem wherever they went.
We were the bad guys and the public reminded us of this upon our return. Many Vietnam Veterans kept their tour a secret to avoid ridicule and verbal assaults from others.
Earlier, in 1968, in an effort to gain support for the war, the government turned to Hollywood, and soon the movie, “The Green Berets”, debuted on screens across the United States. John Wayne, the great American Patriot and actor, had the lead role – all were confident that his message will be well received: “This is why America must be here…”
During the late 1970s, new movies depicting the war in Vietnam (i.e. “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter”) were released. I was anxious for the films to show others what I had experienced, but Hollywood let me down – neither was a realistic interpretation of my time during the war. Most war movies, in general, are filled with bravado and do not touch upon the innocence, naivety and fear that many of us endured while in Vietnam. I was not a hero with goals of ending the war within the next few months; I was a scared teenage boy trying desperately to fit in and survive. So what was it really like for me in Vietnam?
My mother saved every letter written home from Vietnam and presented the boxful to me in the early 1980’s. My wife and I spent hours reading through them and sharing new discoveries. We had also come across a pocket diary that I maintained during the war; each page having either an entry summarizing the events of the day or an inner thought or concern.
My wife, Jan was in awe and soon realized that she was witnessing a part of me that she’d never known. “With all this, could you write a paper about your experience?” My wife asked, “something to help me understand?” So began the quest to tell a story about my time in Vietnam – the seed will sprout and “Cherries” will be the fruit of my labor.
Neither of us ever thought that this “paper” would become a published novel, taking thirty years to complete. It was originally written in a first person format and then later re-written in third person per the publishers request. The original was written on a typewriter with carbon paper and later retyped and saved to 5.25″ floppy disks when the Atari computer came out. Remember those?
The project stalled in 1989 and sat dormant until summer, 2009. I found it very expensive to convert the Atari 8-bit format to Microsoft Word – leaving me with only one alternative – retype it once again. I still had the Atari system and disks, so I reconnected everything up in the garage and printed out every saved word on a dot matrix printer. My daughter, Nicole, stepped forward, she duplicated each keystroke into a Word document and handed me a memory stick three weeks later.
I was able to complete the book within the next nine months – which doubled in size from the original first person version. Then on June 20, 2010, I held the first published copy of my story in a 6″ x 9″ soft cover book.
It was a special day! The greatest benefit of all is that my wife and daughter understand and no longer need to ask, “What was it really like for you in the Vietnam War?”
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