Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018 Meditation / Brothers and Sisters in Arms

On Memorial Day in 1975, along with women of various ages, I was working as an industrial sewing machine operator in a small factory that produced ski wear in Bellingham, Washington, where I still live. Among my co-workers were at least a dozen Vietnamese women of various ages who had been among those who had been evacuated just prior to the fall of Saigon.  I became friends with a Vietnamese woman who was the same age I was.  We had both lost our first loves in that war.  Her boyfriend's throat was slit by a Viet Cong.  My boyfriend returned physically from Vietnam in 1970 but never found the peace he sought and believed in for the rest of his life.  His gifts were lost to the world.  I lost him as a result of the Vietnam War.  He died many times before his death in a VA hospital in Palo Alto, California.  He was against the war when he went to Vietnam but saw no way to avoid going.  Each succeeding war troubled him deeply.

My friend went forward with her life in a way that I was unable to do. In the 1980s, my friend traveled to India as a single woman as part of a church group.  She hoped to adopt a girl from India named Karuna. My friend commissioned me to make a portrait from a photo of her and Karuna.  She was not able to adopt Karuna.

My friend was raised in a Catholic orphanage after being abandoned by her mother who had married a man who did not want her because she was not his child.  She was never adopted.  When she was old enough to work, she was hired by the U.S. Army and worked as a gym attendant in Saigon before being evacuated in April 1975.

In the early 2000s, she and her husband went to Vietnam and adopted an infant boy from an orphanage.  She and her husband and her son traveled back to Vietnam in the 2010s to meet with her mother and siblings that she had not seen since childhood.  Her son met his birth mother and siblings.  During the years I have know her, I have learned from her about living in the present.  She led the way.

Here is a photo of us in the mid-1970s:

and a photo of her on my porch in the 1980s:

From a previous post:

In late January 1970, I drove R to Oakland Army Base on the day before he was to fly to Vietnam.  He asked me not to cry when I said goodbye to him.  I honored his wish but cried hard on my way home across the San Francisco Bay Bridge.  That night he called me and asked me to come back and pick him up and take him to a draft resistance office.  I sat in the hallway while he talked with a draft resistance counselor.  When he returned to the hallway, his heart was heavy.  He said, "I will meet the defeat of her challenge."  He didn't believe he could be granted conscientious objector status.  He didn't want to go to Canada and doubted that Canada would accept him anyway because of his lack of education or skills valued by the Canadian government.  He did not want to go to prison (although he ended up in prison later in his life). He made the fateful decision to go to Vietnam. He was against the war when he left and against the war when he returned home on December 8, 1970, but when he returned he was broken by his experience of war.  He struggled for the rest of his life. We separated for the last time in early October 1971.  In one of the last letters to me in around 2006, he wrote. "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

The true end of a war is the rebirth of life;
the right to die peacefully in your own bed.
The true end of war is the end of fear;
the true end of war is the return of laughter.

-- Alfred Molano

Memorial Day is not only about those who have died in war but about the living.

To jog my memory, I visited these previous posts:


Tara said...

You have such a sad tale; it breaks my heart every time you tell it. Always, always a good reminder that even though men and women may return in their bodies, their lives may be lost anyway. It's tragic.

I've never heard Joan cover this song. Extremely haunting and gorgeous. Thanks for the share.


Sabine said...

This is very moving, a testimony for friendship and peace.

As before, your memories of R always touch me deeply. I am thinking of you, my friend.