I was too young to understand the Vietnam war. I learned about it in school and watched movies about the pain and severity of war from all angles, both during and after. But it was a 30,000 foot view, to quote a pilot friend of mine.
Last year, I helped a friend write a musical play based on his music and memoir of Vietnam. As I read his stories, I empathized with his journey and those of the others he joined. It was my job to extract a story from the stories, to fit into a musical format.
How do you tell a story about war that doesn’t make the audience want to run screaming from the theatre at intermission for relief or drown in a pool of tears? Two playwrights before me couldn’t find a path. But after many discussions, re-reading the memoir and listening to the music on a continual loop, it all came together in my mind. Tell a story about the people… in this case the different men who were thrown together to collectively sleep, eat, fight, laugh, cry, live or die.
The people he served with had unique stories. Some were from poor or rich families, big cities or small towns, high or low intelligence. Answering the call, some signed up and others were drafted. The war affected them all in different ways, during and after. And there were those who didn’t come home, leaving behind wives, children, parents or siblings to find a path forward without them.
The heart of the story is about those individuals the brotherhood immediately created under very extreme conditions. Writing their words was like virtually stepping into their boots, feeling and understanding their thoughts and actions.
Experiencing it performed on stage by young men, who barely knew what the war was, gave a new deep and cathartic understanding of the spirit of lives lived and others unfinished.
As for me, Memorial Day and Veterans Day are forever changed. I no longer see historical conflicts in the pages of a textbook or a documentary. I don’t see the ravages and aftermath shown in some movies about the war. I see the hearts of the individuals who served.
For many who were there, these stories go untold because of the pain of remembrance. But if any are willing to tell, I hope the generations who follow will listen. Not about the skirmishes, the points on the map, political maneuvers or battles, but about the heart and soul of the people who lived it, on behalf of themselves and those who didn’t survive.
On this Memorial Day, I remember the men and women who gave of themselves, despite the reason or rhyme. Their journey deserves reverence and honor, not only for their service, but in dedication to the memory of who they were, heart, soul, mind and body.
(c) Suzanne Rudd Hamilton 2022