HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's Veterans Day, this week, of course, and we all have our thoughts and memories and gratitudes. What better week to invite Sharon Wildwind, a dear pal, and a person who has a special place in her heart for such thoughts. For her, every day is Veterans Day. And that's exactly how it should be.
Things That Go Click in the Night
I fell in love with photography when I was four. I loved the click that my father’s camera made when the shutter opened and closed and asked him repeatedly to let me push the button. It was a while before I made the connection between that clicking sound and the pictures we got back from the drug store, but when I did, I was hooked.
When I went to Viet Nam with the U. S. Army Nurse Corps, I took a camera with me. It stopped working four days after I arrived in-country. Which was kind of okay because I’d already decided to bring home a good camera. The Post Exchange even had a catalogue that offered great prices.
I coveted a huge Nikon, but even at the PX’s reduced prices, that was far too expensive for a Lieutenant’s salary, so I bought my second choice. As it turned out, I got exactly the camera I needed. When I finally held someone else’s Nikon, I discovered that it was too big for my hands.
Once a month, as soon as I was paid, it was back to the catalogue for a new toy. Lenses. A tripod. A carrying case. Filters. Photography books. Off-duty hours passed slowly and film was cheap. Processing became even cheaper when I learned to do my own developing in one of the photo reconnaissance labs.
I shot rolls, and rolls, and rolls of film.
Some pictures composed themselves, like this Montagnard man sitting outside of our emergency room, waiting for a ride.
Night shifts were great. On slow nights, I practiced light and shadow studies, like this one of the deserted emergency room. No casualties tonight.
Or, on my way back to my hootch at the end of the shift, I might catch something like this first light shot of the Dustoff helicopters on a very wet field.
Okay, sometimes I ran out of subjects. This is part of my barbed wire series. What can I say, I was bored.
Occasionally, I’d hand my camera to someone else and let them take a photo of me.
I came home with over a thousand photos and about half that number of color slides. The slides were no problem, I’d seen them when I developed and mounted them, but I had never seen most of the photographs, except in very tiny thumb prints. When I developed the negatives, I’d make a contact sheet of the prints, but since chemicals and photo paper were scarce, I’d never made prints. It would be twenty years before I saw them.
In the early 1990s an arts organization gave me a grant for enough money to print all thousand photos. When I picked them up from the photo shop they filled a cardboard box. I came home, dumped the packages in a pile on the floor and sat, literally, surrounded by memories.
I remembered not just faces, but a surprising number of names, and what they did, and where they were from, and what had happened to them. I remembered weather and smells and that the dress I wore in Bangkok on R and R was white with blue piping. I knew I had to write about what I was looking at.
It has been a rollicking ride. One non-fiction book and five mysteries later, it’s time to put those photos away again. One of the cool things that has happened since I started writing my Viet Nam veterans mystery series is that, occasionally, I get an e-mail that starts, “You probably don’t remember me, but ...” It is so much fun to be able to reply, “Not only do I remember you, but I have a few photos of you.”
Today is the release date for, Loved Honor More, the fifth and final Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen Viet Nam veteran mystery. I’m okay with that. The characters told me that they were more than ready to live their lives without me looking over their shoulders or creating bodies for them to find.
Here’s Loved Honor More’s blurb
If the first casualty of war is truth, the last is hope. Soldiers die even on the last day of a war. For Elizabeth Pepperhawk, one of those soldiers was her lover, Darby Baxter, a West Point graduate who loved honor more than life. Reeling from the emotional fallout created by the disastrous U.S.US withdrawal from Saigon, three Viet Nam veterans are certain of one thing: people are lying about the Vietnamese infant Darby saddled them with. Whose child is it? Whose honor is at stake? Has Viet Nam finally invaded Pepper’s North Carolina homestead?
I’d like to give three readers a book from the series. First book, last book, or one in the middle, your choice.
HANK: Well, thank you. And not just for the books. Reds, tell us a VietNam memory. If you weren't born then, that's okay. When did
you first know about it? Hear about it? What were you told? And for those of us who lived through it..there's a lot to say. Three commenters will get a book of their choice from Sharon.
Sharon Wildwind is originally from Louisiana. More decades ago than she cares to admit, she spent a year in Viet Nam as an officer in the U. S. Army Nurse Corps. She can still remember exactly where she was the day that Saigon fell. When she’s not writing, Sharon keeps a journal, is a mixed-media artist, and teaches writing workshops. Her web site is www.wildwindauthor.com.