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.