Bindings: Reflections on faith, life, and good books
6/1/11 at 11:44 AM 0 Comments

What I Learned in Vietnam

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Many years ago, an idea for a story came to me. Why it did, I'm not sure. But it took hold and hasn't let go yet.

Watch the Video! Yesterday's Tomorrow, by Catherine West

I heard a story about combat journalists. Many were young women, as young as twenty-four, who left home, some left jobs, left their families, to fly halfway across the world into a war zone. They risked everything, even risked their lives, to cover The Vietnam War. And I wondered why. I wondered what that would be like, what those women were like, what made them tick, and what a story like that—a story about a young female journalist suddenly plunged into the middle of a brutal war—would look like.

And I knew I had to write it.

A few years later, I completed a manuscript called Yesterday's Tomorrow. The story takes place over a span of a few years, 1967-1975, predominantly in Vietnam, during the war, and the female protagonist is a young woman who strikes out on her own as a combat journalist.

For a long while, I didn't fully understand why I wrote this story, why the pull was so strong, or why it meant so very much to me. Thanks to OakTara and their willingness to take on what is sometimes still seen as a controversial setting and subject, now that Yesterday's Tomorrow has been published, I'm beginning to find out.

I was too young to remember the Vietnam War being fought. Living in Bermuda, I'm sure my parents didn't get as much news as they would today. Although I don't recall it, there is something undeniable about that time in history that draws me. As I read the stories of those brave men and women who were in the thick of it and survived, I went there with them in my mind. I have never been to Vietnam. But as I wrote this story, I lived there. Strange as it seems, as my book neared its conclusion, part of me didn't want to leave.

Writing Yesterday's Tomorrow took months of research. I didn't set out to write a war story, so it was never my intention to bog down the story with military information, but I knew it had to be authentic. So I launched my attack on every book I could find, scoured every website and studied every photograph that covered the era I would write about.

Writing Yesterday's Tomorrow changed me. Up to that point, I had no idea what war was all about. War was a foreign faraway concept. Something I learned about in school. Something I read about in the newspaper, watched reports about on television. Something I would certainly never have to face or deal with firsthand. While that is still true and I pray it stays so, I have a greater understanding of what it means to go into battle. And I know that is a good thing.

I remember getting to a point in my story and having to stop and take a break and pull away. I even questioned whether I should continue writing it. Somehow I felt as though I was stepping on holy ground. And I was. But, with a lot of encouragement, I pressed on.

They say Vietnam gets into your soul.

It does.

Those who were there and returned will never be the same. War does that to a person.

Although the war ended thirty-six years ago, it lives on in the hearts and minds of those who came home. It lives on through the memories we have of those who didn't. It lives on in the legacy that the courageous men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam left behind.

I learned that, even after thirty-six years, there are things you just don't talk about. Even after thirty-six years, the pain doesn't end. Maybe it lessens a bit, but it never really goes away.

I am not sure a writer can ever capture that kind of truth in the way it needs to be told.

I don't know that one can ever accurately portray the fear of being in a helicopter heading for a hot zone or wading through a dark, dank and putrid swamp with no idea who or what might be hiding in the depths of that jungle. How can you describe with any authenticity what it must be like to watch a friend die in your arms?

But we try. And I believe we should try.

Because all these things—the horrors of war, the deep bond created between those who served there in so many different capacities and the ultimate sacrifice so many made—should never be forgotten.

Although my book is a work of fiction, I have heard from more than a few people that it has helped them see Veterans in a new light. It has given them a new perspective on war and its many facets. In some small way, it has helped them understand. And to that, I say, thank you, God.

I came away from this project with this question: Do we write merely to entertain? Or do we write to enlighten, educate and encourage our readers to examine their hearts on matters they may have previously ignored?

As another Memorial Day has just passed, it is my prayer that we not forget—that we take time to remember and honor those who fought bravely for our freedom, and those who died for it. That we pay homage to the soldiers on the frontlines who are still fighting, and pray they return home safe, and soon.

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

That's what I learned in Vietnam.

Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine West holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she's not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. Catherine and her husband live on the beautiful island of Bermuda, with their two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a founding member of International Christian Fiction Writers. Catherine's debut novel Yesterday's Tomorrow, released March 15th, through OakTara Publishers.


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