My friends have asked me what this book is about, and I’ve had a very difficult time telling them. The problem is that it was not intended to be a book, so I didn’t start out with an outline or a plot or anything like that. It began as a simple and very private recounting of some memories, good and not so good, from a brief detour into Vietnam. It was a little do-it-yourself therapy. As I stumbled on these memories, I would pick them up, turn them around and study them, and then I would describe them to myself. Strangely, each seemed attached to a thread that would lead—sometimes forward, sometimes backward—to some other moment of the past.
It occurred to me that my life in some abstract way was a collection of threads of sensation, threads of thought, threads of being. And that at any particular moment, I was merely the collection of the things that happened to be attached then to these psychic fibers. It appeared that I had discovered one of those threads. So for the next few years, I slowly painted those random pictures as they presented themselves, and I tugged on the thread to see where it might lead.
The mood of the collection seemed to change, though, as I fashioned each piece from long hidden memories, as I tried to give form to the images, to clarify and understand them. It shaped itself into a tale of guilt; about how it can lie dormant, then germinate and grow and sometimes overwhelm. Guilt about things done, things not done; guilt about forgetting. Nothing like that was intended. I didn’t know it was there until I looked at it all together—all the things connected along the thread I had been following—and there was suddenly this dark epiphany.
So this is not a history of the war in Vietnam, although it centers on that and what is written is true to the best of my recollection. And it is not an autobiography, although it is autobiographical. It is the view from a narrow path through my life, one thread of my existence, the path that happened through Vietnam. This book is also very much about the people who became attached to me as I tried to negotiate the turns in that path. It is about how they helped keep me whole when things inside wanted to separate. I need to thank those wonderful people for getting me here.
I’ve had such good fortune in having Angela with me as my wife since 1965. I cannot imagine where I would be had it not been for her—she has been the background upon which my life has been painted. We have been blessed with truly exceptional daughters: Laurie who was born when I was in Vietnam; Wendy who joined us at my last duty station in Hawaii; and Stacey who became our first nonmilitary child. My wife and children are such wonderful and surprising creatures, quite different from each other, and each of them has meant so much to me and added such extraordinary color and texture to my life. They have given me meaning.
I need to thank my friends at the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester, New York. They listened to stories I had never told anyone before; they understood and they did not judge. They encouraged me to expose these memories for my own good and that of others who need to know that they also are not alone.
And I must proclaim my gratitude to the extraordinary family of the United States Marine Corps, in particular the men with whom I had the privilege of serving in India Battery, 3d Battalion, 11th Marines; Golf Battery, 3d Battalion, 12th Marines; Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines; the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines; and the “Magnificent Bastards,” the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines. They gave me more than I bargained for, and they kept me alive when everything else was conspiring otherwise.