“Vietnam lives in my soul. I went to Vietnam in 1968 and trained as an intelligence agent; I was fluent in Vietnamese. I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, near Pleiku in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Back home, I became a peace advocate; Leaving the military, I became an organizer for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), an advocate for veterans services, established some of the earliest PTSD programs, then served as Deputy Director of the NYS Division of Veterans Affairs. I returned to Vietnam with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), led humanitarian, business and environmental delegations, worked on reconciliation with Vietnam, wrote about the war and Vietnamese culture, and produced photography exhibits.
“In 2001 I brought my daughter Zoeann to Vietnam and Laos on a consulting project to help the City University of New York (CUNY) set up academic exchanges and English language training. We produced a photography exhibit, Vietnam: A Country Not a War, for New York State’s Vietnam Memorial and then added essays to publish this book, Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey. It was the first book to share a young woman’s experience and perspective. You can read or download this book here for free.”
– Ed Murphy
The photography from this book is available to view in the online gallery here:
The Saratogian –
A Vietnam Family Affair
By Jim Kinney
SARATOGA SPRINGS–Zoeann Murphy was touring a palace in Vietnam with her father, Vietnam Veteran Ed Murphy. ‘It was this gorgeous palace. We were doing the tourist thing. It was a casual day with people coming and going on this tour. ‘Then a helicopter came over.’ He just disappeared,’ Zoeann Murphy said. ‘Even though there was no logical reason to be excited, he just had to take a moment and be by himself and breathe. Ed Murphy, who now lives in Malta but was a longtime Saratoga Springs resident, took his daughter on a photography tour of Vietnam in 2001.’I wanted somebody in my family to understand Vietnam,’ Murphy, who also traveled there in 1991, 1993 and 1997 on humanitarian missions, explained. ‘I wanted someone to know the smells and tastes. ‘He also wanted to spend a month getting to know his daughter. He took his son on a month-long trip through the United States and Canada. On their return, the Murphy’s put together a gallery exhibit of photographs Vietnam: A Country Not a War. Now they’ve published a book of photos and writings ‘Vietnam Our Father Daughter Journey’. They are doing a book party tonight in New York City and from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 20 at the Parting Glass. They plan to meet in the dart room. ‘That’s for friends and family up here,’ Ed Murphy said. He served in military intelligence running agents in the Vietnamese highlands 1968 and 1969.Zoeann, now 25, took the cover photo of an elderly man reading his morning newspaper at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. ‘It’s a very historic place,’ Ed Murphy said. ‘People have taken their exams there for thousands of years. ‘Zoeann said: ‘The man looks like he could be a father figure. ‘She said she wants people to think about how war effects fathers and children as much as learn about Vietnam. Ed Murphy, who volunteered for the Army, said he also wants to make a point about Iraq. ‘We have a president and a vice president who avoided military service,’ he said. ‘They chose not to learn the lessons of Vietnam. ‘Ed Murphy, 61, now works in organized labor around the state. Zoeann teaches photography to workers through unions in New York states and next year will take her work to India. ‘I give workers cameras and help them document their lives,’ she said. ‘I would love to do a project like that in Vietnam. ‘Ed Murphy said the book will soon be available in area stores and is on Amazon.com. Reach Jim Kinney at email@example.com or 518-583-8729 ext.216.
©The Saratogian 2007
Jan Barry –
Children of War
By Jan Barry
For Americans to break our addiction to war, it will take families working together to live year-round the peace and joy to the world that we sing in Christmas and New Year’s greetings. One of the tragedies of the war in Iraq is that our soldiers, many of whom are sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans, marched off to a war that bore all the warning signs of the disaster in Vietnam. Like their parents, they eagerly went off to fight in a foreign land they knew nothing about, for a cause that collapsed in the light of the actual facts. What does it take to break such a cycle of excitement and disaster? I’ve been pondering this for a long time. Born during World War II, where seemingly everybody’s father was in a military uniform, I was absolutely delighted to land in a war just before Christmas, in a part of the world I knew nothing about. At 19, I couldn’t imagine that in a short while the nifty little war in this picturesque land of rice paddies and thatched huts would blow up and chew up my generation and Indochina. I had no clue that “my” war would grow more monstrous and more pointless. And that I’d become a cynical, prematurely old codger, who lived in intense memories of military misadventures more than in the place where I worked and went to college after getting out of the Army. War stamps a harsh imprint on young soldiers, whether you were a survivor of brutal battle or just another cog in the killing machine. I found it hard to talk to children, happily playing with war toys. It wasn’t any easier talking with adults about those unbelievable experiences that turned a teenager gung-ho for glory into a wised up 20-year-old experienced in war, but not in life. The allure of war is all that dangerous excitement. The wisdom of peace is often harder to convey. It takes unusual creativity and commitment. “Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey” (Philmark Press), a new collection of photos and commentary by Ed and Zoeann Murphy, is the very model of creative commitment. “When I asked my father how the war affected him, he always said, ‘Vietnam lives in my soul,’” Zoeann Murphy notes in the introduction. This attractive paperback book – the cover photo portrays an older Vietnamese man studiously reading a newspaper – invites us into the life of a war veteran’s family centered on working for “peace and reconciliation between warring nations, cultures, and communities.” In alternating chapters, father and daughter tell us their perspectives on a topic that bitterly divided many families during the Vietnam War. “Many men left their war behind in Vietnam. I brought it home, to family, community, into my marriage and it became part of my children’s lives,” writes Ed Murphy, an energetic organizer of Vietnam Veterans against the War, Vietnam Veterans of America, post-traumatic stress programs, and reconciliation trips back to Vietnam. “I returned to Vietnam when Zoe was 11 and Jack was 5 years old. Lin had to explain why their daddy returned to the war zone. I came home with stories, photos and then Vietnamese for visits. Vietnam became an integral part of their lives, more country than war.” From Zoe’s perspective, it was a mystery why Vietnam had such a grip on her Dad. “Part of me is shaped forever by the years my father spent in Vietnam, and how those years shaped him, and then, all our family. It’s not easy for me to make sense of this.” In 2001, Zoe accompanied her father on one of his trips to Vietnam. She was struck by the beauty of the land and people and took a series of riveting photos that provide an arresting counterpoint to Ed’s war memories. She saw the fruits of her father’s work for peace. “Our plane arrived in Hanoi mid-afternoon. Almost immediately as we drove away from the airport the war began to recede. Landscapes, faces, smells, tastes, and sounds began to shape my sense of this place.” This family saga suggests a way to break war’s cycle. Visiting countries we fought wars with is a wonderful way of fostering healing. But why wait for the next war and the anxiety of watching youngsters march off to fight in some foreign land for some dubious cause. How about an historic family adventure: Join a citizen-exchange trip to experience first-hand countries and people our leaders want to invade. Think that’s idealistic? In 1983, an 11-year-old girl from Maine named Samantha Smith traveled to the Soviet Union with her parents to ask Soviet leaders if we could have peace between our nations, rather than a nuclear war. She was widely featured in the news in both nations. Tens of thousands of Americans and Soviet citizens took up the same idea. Not long afterwards, in 1988, American and Soviet leaders ended the 40-year hostilities of the Cold War. For those of us who participated in that successful citizen diplomacy campaign, it was a highlight of our lives. It had a great impact, I think, on my sons—who chose not to follow in my military path. And, I believe, it saved the world from a catastrophic war. Now we’re again embroiled in a senseless war, with saber-rattling aimed at yet more countries. Americans have a hard choice. Shall our children be perpetual soldiers—or live the spirit of Christmas all year, and be peacemakers?
By Jan Barry is a poet, teacher and journalist; He was one of four founders of Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW). This review was posted in his newsletter January 20, 2007.
Albany Times Union –
Journey across the years to Vietnam
Father and daughter write book about impact of war on their lives over the decades
By Rick Clemenson
TROY — Zoeann Murphy knew more about Vietnam by the time she was 8 than many people learn in a lifetime.
She knew the culture, the music, the food and had even seen some Vietnamese films. More importantly, she knew her father Ed Murphy served there in the Central Highlands in 1968 and 1969, a life changing experience so powerful he dealt with it the best way he knew how: He talked about it, often with Zoeann and her brother Jack. In everyday conversations. At the dinner table. He decorated the family’s home in Saratoga Springs with Vietnamese artifacts, spoke fluent Vietnamese and later entertained thoughts of moving the family there to help facilitate reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam.
His feelings about the country, the war and how it affected him and his parenting are documented in a series of essays in the book, “Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey,” a collaborative effort between Ed and Zoeann released last year.
Zoeann, a 1999 graduate of Emma Willard School who is now a photographer at a Troy studio, took many of the photographs that appear in the book on a trip to Vietnam with her father in 2001. The book and a photo exhibit of their trip will be featured at Albany First Fridays — an effort by several galleries to promote the city’s art scene — on Feb. 2.
“It was therapeutic and an incredible learning experience,” Zoeann said of writing the book with her father over a two-year span. “I learned about what he saw, and he learned that Vietnam was always with me. That through him, it had become a part of my life too.”
“I’ve wanted to do this for 30 years, but now I can do it with a peaceful perspective,” Ed Murphy said. “It’s intimate in many ways.”
Zoeann plans on returning to Vietnam in September to deliver cameras so citizens there can document their lives. She will go without her father.
The exhibit’s black and white photos show Ed as a young man dressed in military garb with other young men at base camp in the Central Highlands. The color photos show Ed, now 61, with Zoeann on their trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Along the way Zoeann snapped shots of locals working on roads, artists creating sculptures and everyday life in the country.
Father and daughter later traveled to Laos where they attended a conference on poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Murphy’s been trying to help rebuild Vietnam since he first returned there in 1991 and has visited several times since. The early trips were focused on healing — his and the country’s — bringing in investors and lifting a United Nations embargo, which occurred in 1994.
He created Pathfinders Institute with his wife Lin to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome get the therapy they need.
Murphy has been as vocal in his support of the country as he was in opposition of the war. He joined veterans groups against the war almost as soon as he returned from his tour and was actively involved in peace work. He sees parallels between Vietnam and Iraq.
“We seem to have an inability to deal with other cultures. We think military force can create democracies, which it can’t,” said Murphy, a Staten Island transplant who now lives in Malta.
More than anything, he hopes to pass on the lessons he’s learned and inspire other veterans to talk about their experiences through the book. He believes this is especially critical at a time when a new generation of veterans is being created every day.
“The hope is mother and daughters, fathers and sons can talk about these things,” Murphy said. “A lot of people don’t know how to.”
The father-and-daughter team of Ed and Zoeann Murphy use photography to shed light on the legacy of the Vietnam War
By Melissa Mansfield
In 2001, her father, Ed Murphy, asked her to accompany him on a trip to Vietnam to help set up an exchange program. As a sophomore photography student at the State University of New York College at Purchase, she was thrilled. “It’s important to learn as much as you can with every culture,” she explains of her excitement.
“Nobody in my family had been to Vietnam with me,” says Ed Murphy, who served with Army intelligence during the war. “It seemed like a good time to spend a month with my daughter.”
They talked about the war, its implications, and his role in it. Once home, the two turned their experience into a photography exhibit, and now a book, called Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey.
“Very often guys don’t talk to their daughters, they might talk to their sons,” explains Murphy on why he wanted to write this book. “There are things they have a right to know.”
Zoeann, now 25, adds, “Daughters don’t know what their fathers were up to.”
The book is made up of essays from father and daughter, accompanied by photographs taken by the two, both back during the war, and during their 2001 trip.
In “I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran,” Zoeann Murphy writes about the stories her father has shared with her and with others. “The stories are rarely about violence. They are often about racism, confusion, deceit. In the end I understand him more, and feel some connection to his experience of this war.”
Kids of Vietnam veterans have one of two experiences: The veteran either talks often about the experience as part of his daily life, or he doesn’t talk about it at all. “It’s either one or the other,” says Zoeann Murphy.
While she was growing up in Saratoga Springs, her parents, peace activists who met while getting arrested during a protest, and brother Jack, five years younger, talked about Vietnam often. She remembers being able to spell Vietnam and place it on a map while her classmates could usually do the same for European nations.
In Ed Murphy’s essay “Vietnam and parenting,” which is paired with a photograph of him and his wife, Lin Murphy, holding baby Zoeann at the New York State Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1984, he talks about discussing current events and politics at the dinner table. “Zoe told a friend she ate strategic planning for breakfast,” he wrote.
Open discussions have always been part of the family dynamic. “I don’t want the history to be lost,” he explains. “You know certain things about [the war], either from your parents, or from school or from talks. I think talking about it in a dialogue helps you understand your parents and they understand you.”
When Murphy returned from Vietnam, the war didn’t end for him. “Like most vets, I never intended for my children to be caught up in the war but I just wasn’t done with the war or country,” he wrote in the book. “I combined my desire to serve, personal interest and healing, with a need for work and became a professional veteran.” He worked as a founder of Vietnam Veterans of America, helped start Post Traumatic Stress Disorder programs, worked on establishing the state’s Vietnam Memorial, and even served in the Division of Veterans Affairs under Gov. Mario Cuomo.
In 1991, he went to Vietnam for the first time since returning from the war, with a United Nations group to look at investment projects in the country. “I decided I wanted to participate in the reconstruction,” he says. “I had already participated in the destruction.”
“Much of my life has been in public service since I returned,” he wrote. “Vietnam is never far away.”
Zoeann has accepted the role Vietnam has had on her life, too. She wrote, “Vietnam has always been in my parent’s house like a family member. . . . Part of me is shaped forever by the years my father spent in Vietnam, and how those years shaped him, and then, all our family.”
With veterans from the current war returning home, Murphy felt compelled to write this book on the past. “It provides me an opportunity to talk about the extended consequences of war and how it affects families,” he says. He also hopes the book liberates the younger generation to talk about war with their families.
“If we did talk to our parents, our elders, about what war actually is, with our communities, with our families, we would see it’s not a video game. It’s not glamorous,” Zoeann Murphy explains. “War is a horrible thing. Talking about it is difficult but important.”
In his essay “I walked alone,” Murphy wrote about his day-to-day life in Vietnam, where he dressed in civilian clothes and collected information. “I felt safer alone than in a crowd, with inexperienced officers or enlisted men who thought the Vietnamese were objects or their toys.”
“It might be easier to explain if I had been a grunt,” he wrote of trying to describe his complicated part in the war to his daughter during a long car ride. “I told her about my agents and the details of some incidents; how the CIA wanted to use one of my agents then kill him, how my captain backed me up as we resisted. I told of interrogating a pregnant woman who claimed my agent threatened to expose her as Viet Cong if she did not have sex with him; that I threatened her kids if she did not tell the truth and later discovered that she already had.”
Zoeann remembers hearing Harry Belafonte on National Public Radio when the current war started. “He said, ‘We’re bombing Iraq, but we’ve never heard their song,’” she recalls. “The songs bring the connections.”
Her father wrote about working with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers. “In many ways we were the same, men and women who fought for our countries. The difference is that we got to go home to safe communities. Our neighborhoods were not destroyed, while our land mines were left in theirs continuing to kill farmers and children just playing in the fields. Their war did not end because we went home.”
With that entry is a photo of a young boy sleeping with his head on a desk, taken by Ed Murphy in northwest Vietnam in 1993.
The photographs in the book are sometimes haunting, sometimes beautiful, sometimes nostalgic: Someone walks at the edge of a river leading to the pilgrimage site of Chua Huong, with misty mountains reflecting in the water. A farmer pulls his wagon past fields that house an old tank. A smiling Ed Murphy is in uniform, on a motorcycle.
By pairing the images with the writings, the Murphys show the different views of the country, the war, and their relationship. Though this is the first book the two have done together, both have used photography and words to explain their thoughts to their communities.
Ed Murphy, who now works for the Workforce Development Institute, a union resource organization, has held several exhibits on Vietnam and humanitarian efforts. As the regional coordinator for the Unseen America project, Zoeann Murphy teaches union workers how to document their daily lives with photography, and tell their stories with the images. The Bread and Roses Cultural Project of 1199/SEIU put out a book in May 2006, containing 140 photos.
She believes that book projects “give photographs a life, different from a gallery or boxes,” she says. “I want to find ways to use photography as storytelling, first person storytelling.”
Zoeann is planning to return to Southeast Asia, to bring cameras to workers and refugees in the area to document their stories, and is looking for funding. She jokes that she could make a tour of Asia just photographing the diverse puppet creations, one of which is included in the book.
Ed Murphy is working on a book project with his wife on balancing work and life.
Zoeann and Ed Murphy will be part of First Friday events on Feb. 2 in Albany. They will exhibit photographs from the trip and sign books at 52 James Street, off Broadway, as part of the newly expanded First Friday loop.
Lady Bordon –
Note: Our book arrived in Vietnam and was delivered as Tet gifts to a number friends in government and the NGO community. Our friend, Lady Borton—Vietnam expert, noted pacifist and resident in Hanoi—has lived, worked and written about Vietnam for over 40 years and calls it a “stunning book”. Lady writes,
“Hi, Ed and Zoe,
Just a quick note to let you know that the books arrived. I saw the notice a week ago but I was at the post office after hours and couldn’t pick up the package until yesterday. I had the manuscript from Ann Helm so knew about the content, but it’s entirely different (as you know) to hold the final work in your hands. Stunning photographs, and I’ve seen a lot of photos of Viet Nam. These are splendid, as is the writing.
“I’m glad that you’re putting efforts into getting the book out and around. If it’s alright with you, I’ll give some of the extra copies to Chuck [Searcy, friend, Vietnam Vet, NGO leader, humanitarian and expert on eliminating landmines]; I rarely see foreigners, but he mixes with them often and knows the foreign journalists. I won’t have time to take the copies by until the middle of next week. What a pleasure it will be to do so — great Tet present for your friends!!
Know that I cheer you on,
Bobby Muller, founder Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) –
“Ed Murphy’s passion for peace is inspiring. Ed was one of the earliest combat intelligence agents to speak against the war in Vietnam; then his leadership and skills helped build the Vietnam Veterans movement. In this book we follow his path to war and peace. Zoeann’s insights and perspective encourage all children of veterans. Their photos show Vietnam as a country not a war. This book speaks to all families.”
Christian Science Monitor –
Two stories of how Vietnam came home to the family
For some of the children of Vietnam vets, the war is not yet over.
By Brad Knickerbocker
It would be nice to think that the sharp and sometimes horrific impact of a war fades with time and the demise of those old soldiers who fought in it. But for the generations that follow – especially the children of those soldiers – the war is never completely over.
They must deal with knowing – or not knowing – what their fathers (and, increasingly, their mothers) saw and experienced.
This unfortunate truth is beginning to show itself in the literature of the Vietnam War as the young adult children of veterans confront their parents’ experiences and the way it has affected their own lives, looking for some kind of reconciliation and perhaps redemption.
“Vietnam has always been in my parent’s house like a family member,” Zoeann Murphy writes in Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey, the slim volume of essays and photos written with her father, war vet and peace activist Ed Murphy, following their trip to Vietnam together. “Sometimes it was heavy, sometimes remarkable. Its presence was never easy. When I asked my father how the war affected him, he always said, ‘Vietnam lives in my soul.'”
Tom Bissell was not yet born when his father, Marine Lieutenant John Bissell, spent his combat tour on the battlefields around Danang. He was barely out of infancy when Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) fell to communist forces in 1975 – itself an event that was highly traumatic for many returned war veterans like the elder Mr. Bissell.
The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam, by Tom Bissell is a highly ambitious and ultimately successful work by a very talented young writer.
Part history, part travelogue, part painful family biography, it centers on the two men’s 2005 trip to Vietnam.
For the father, it was a return to a much-changed country now filled with the capitalistic flash and dazzle of the West. For the son, it was a sometimes-surreal first glance at the place where his father fought, saw a lot of killing, and lost a lot of friends.
Yet it’s also a land where the rust and jungle have not completely obliterated the American military presence, whether it’s the runway where fighter jets and helicopters launched from Danang and Chu Lai or the ditch where some 500 Vietnamese civilians were gunned down in what’s come to be known as the My Lai massacre.
There had been a close but sometimes uneasy relationship between the two ever since Tom Bissell’s parents divorced when he was still a young child in northern Michigan. That prickliness flared now and then on the trip. But there was also an opening up between father and son.
” ‘Look at these hills,’ my father said, pointing at the slopes and rises all around us. ‘How we fought and scratched for them.’
“Some brief, terrible recognition in his voice and eyes – some distance closed too quickly, some unexpectedly recovered past – spooked me deeply. My father was softly shaking his head.”
Having studied the war in great detail (which he analyzes quite convincingly in “The Father of All Things”), the younger man finally asks his father:
” ‘Dad, forgive me, but how the hell did you guys manage to lose? You had every imaginable advantage.’
” ‘Funny,’ my father said, looking away. ‘I was just thinking the same thing about that myself. What can I tell you?…. We had a lot of advantages, that’s certainly true. But this wasn’t our country. We were all a long way from home.’ ”
His father’s response, Tom Bissell writes, was “perhaps the most human sentiment I had ever heard my father utter about the war.”
My Lai happened two years after Lt. Bissell’s tour. But the half dozen pages or so devoted to that horror – what happened that day and one combat vet’s agonizing visit to the site – are excruciatingly told and revealing of both men.
“I walked toward the ditch,” the younger Bissell writes, “less sad than emotionally excavated …. my father rubbed his chest through his shirt and said, ‘My heart hurts.’
“I imagined him – I imagined myself – here … during those first moments that saw the day’s terrible momentum gather, the evil freedom of the trigger availing itself upon the minds of friends and comrades, the various ecstasies of murder, and I did not like the range of possibilities that I saw.”
Will such realizations, clear or cloudy, come to some child of an Iraq war veteran 20 or 30 years hence? Very likely.
“Part of me is shaped forever by the years my father spent in Vietnam, and how those years shaped him, and then, all our family,” Zoeann Murphy writes. “It’s not easy for me to make sense of this.”
Books like hers and Bissell’s are a very good start.
Staff writer Brad Knickerbocker is a Vietnam veteran.
Irish America Magazine –
By Tom Deignan
The ties that bind father to daughter, nation to nation are on display in Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey by Ed and Zoeann Murphy. (Full disclosure: This columnist is proud to call the authors his cousins.) The book is a written as well as photographic journey through recent decades, covering the tumultuous events which led Murphy to Vietnam in the 1960s, protest back home in the 1970s, and then back to Vietnam as the past painfully began to recede.
Ed provides much of the historical context, discussing his Irish Catholic Democratic upbringing in almost rural Staten Island, his flirtation with a life inside the church, and then his trip to Vietnam, where he helped wage war before coming home and fighting to end the conflict.
Zoeann’s photos capture the beauty and vitality which drew both of them back to this divided nation decades after the war had ended. Along the way, both reflect on war and peace, family and art.
Connie Frisbee Houde –
“This book will grab your heart-strings as you read Ed Murphy’s personal story of how his experiences in Vietnam have shaped his life as well as his daughter Zoeann’s. In words and photographs the story and journey embraces the beauty and mystery of the country that affected a generation. Each photograph of Vietnam is a many faceted gem with its own story to tell. Each adds a visual element to their journey in Vietnam the country and the Vietnam that has entered their souls. It is a story of discovery and inspiration as Ed turns his war experience into a pursuit of peace and reconciliation for his generation as well as his daughter.”
Book Review: Tales of Three Veterans
By Anne Pyburn
Vietnam: Our Father-Daughter Journey by Ed and Zoeann Murphy, Philmark, 2006, $14.95
Of a Marine by Larry Winters, Millrockwriters.com, 2007, $19.95
As our nation fiercely debates the proper causes, objectives, and end point of yet another war, three veterans of the previous generation’s conflict in Vietnam have stepped forward to offer powerful testimonies on how they got there, what they saw, what it did to them—and the struggle to come all the way home.
It’s worth noting that all three of these Hudson Valley authors volunteered. Murphy, who served as an intelligence agent, left a Paulist seminary to join the military and was convinced that the war was wrong before he ever arrived. Winters and Boes both joined up because it seemed like a better option than staying home. Whatever illusions of glory any of them might have had were soon blown sky-high by the reality on the ground.
Murphy began working with Vietnam Veterans against the War soon after his discharge, and his book is the most political and academic of the three. It’s a peace manifesto by an expert, proving that “military intelligence” is not always oxymoronic. His numerous return trips, one with his daughter, Zoeann, left him with a passionate love of the land he’d been sent to fight in and a large dollop of Buddhist philosophy flavoring his spiritual life. Numerous photos (by both father and daughter) help us to experience Murphy’s unlikely love affair with a country.
Larry Winters was a Marine grunt, bunking in a tent referred to by the rest of the platoon as “The Wild Kingdom” for the shenanigans and radical politics of its inhabitants. A young poet in the making with his beliefs in God and country shot to hell, Winters lived to come home and then found homecoming to be a struggle all its own. His healing journey led him to study psychodrama and become a therapist, and that perspective informs his look back at life before, during, and after ’Nam.
Like Murphy, Winters returned to Vietnam—but he went as one of a group of psychologists there to study post-traumatic stress disorder. And like Murphy, he sought and found a sense of atonement. Yet both books make one thing abundantly clear: We should think at least twice before we teach young men to kill, and expecting them to do so for the wrong reasons is tantamount to spiritual rape.
Richard Boes has written a ripped-from-the-heart memoir of the years of struggle, substance abuse, and failed relationships that followed his combat experience. It’s painful, yet richly rewarding. Imagine sitting down in a pub next to a slightly scary-looking fellow who buys you a round and then begins to talk, his words spilling out in a heated rush, things bottled up within him all flooding to the surface. And although some of what he is saying is hard to hear, it’s made compelling by his wry, ironic perspective and stream-of-consciousness style, which is akin to that of Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac. At closing time, you’d be inviting him home for a nightcap to hear the rest—even if it disturbed your sleep for weeks to come.
It has taken these men decades to process their various experiences into art, and powerful art it is. It is a truism that any organization will be badly run unless the men in the boardroom understand the perspective of those in the trenches; one senses that if the current cabal of neocon opportunists had had to go where these three have been, war as a “problem-solving strategy” might cease to exist. A new round of post-combat memoirs has already begun (see Derek McGee’s When I Wished I Was Here: Dispatches From Fallujah, Short Takes 4/07). And these veterans’ offerings will become ever more valuable as more and more young men—and women—return from the unforgiving desert in need of a light on the path homeward.