Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The heat wave and the veterans

My husband Art had been asked to speak to the Viet Nam Veterans of America at their monthly meeting in Roseburg, Oregon. We've written a book about his experience in Viet Nam in 1968, when he originally served, and in 2005, when we returned to the country on a journey of reconciliation and healing. The veterans wanted to hear his story.

There's a heat wave this week in the Pacific Northwest. We drove the 380 miles from Seattle to Roseburg. As we passed through Portland, the thermometer read 100 degrees. When we got into Roseburg, it was down to 97.

The VA auditorium is an older building and on this early evening it was cooled by several noisy fans. A semicircle of folding chairs was three quarters filled with 60-somethings, mostly men, mostly wearing hats or vests displaying their branch of service.

After a short business meeting, the fans in the room were turned off to cut the noise and Art was introduced. For this event he'd decided to wear a pair of tan shorts, a yellow shirt and sandals - plus his Viet Nam Veteran-United States Marine Corps hat.

Art is not an experienced public speaker, but he is an experienced veteran. He didn't talk much about his first time in Viet Nam. Instead, he talked about his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how it affected him and his family. And he described his return to Viet Nam and how that trip has changed his life.

It was probably 85 degrees in that auditorium. For the 20 minutes Art talked, no one moved. No one went outside to get a breath of air or smoke a cigarette. No one got up for a cup of coffee or a bottle of cold water. Even the refreshment ladies in the back of the room were quiet. Everyone was listening.

We took a 15-minute break. Four men came up to Art to talk. All of them bought a book and asked him to sign it. He got up to speak again after the break. Not a single person had left. They stayed in that old auditorium, all those veterans, to listen to one of their own.

When the meeting ended, more men talked to Art. Two women talked to me. Two more books were sold and signed.

We were among the last to leave the building. It was 8:30 p.m. and still over 90 degrees outside. We went for ice cream to celebrate the veterans.


Judy and Emma said...

Your post gave me chills. Good for Art, and Thanks to our veterans.

Out on the prairie said...

Lovely share

DJan said...

When one speaks from his heart to the hearts of others, it's incredibly powerful. Obviously that's exactly what happened here. You described it perfectly, Linda. I was there. Thank you for this.

Arkansas Patti said...

He was speaking their language, I think too often not one they hear much of when they come home.
Well done Art.

Olga said...

Obviously he had something to say that needed to be heard. Enjoy your holiday.

Dee said...

Dear Linda, your husband and you must truly have been a gift to those 60-some men in the audience and the two refreshment women. Just as they were a gift to both of you.

Steve, my neighbor in Stillwater for many years, died back in 2009. He has served in Vietnam and when we talked I could hear in his voice all the anger at a country that had asked him to serve and then scorned him when he returned. I don't know that he suffered from PTSD, but I do know that he had contacted a disease in Vietnam that ultimately took his life.

The story of that war and it's aftermath is a tragedy and your husband must stand as an example to so many other vets--like those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan--that they can survive the horrors they've seen and heard. Thank you for the wonderful Oneness you are sharing with all of us. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good way to spend a hot evening. Your husband must feel very good about sharing his experience with these veterans. They needed to hear him and he needed to tell his story.

While our daughter attended college in McMinnville, we always stopped in Roseburg when coming from Fresno so as to eat a sit-down meal. My husband would be tired of the car at that point and want something besides snacky foods that we carried in the car. It's a lovely town.

Linda Reeder said...

I get a real sense of that room the way you described it. Very powerful and moving.

Perpetua said...

The simple fact that they all stayed there listening in that heat says it all, Linda. Art's talk must have been very powerful and moving to grip them all in this way. Well done.

Retired English Teacher said...

Reading this gave me chills. Art must have really touched some hearts and minds that day. I'm sure he made others feel less alone.