Why Retelling Soldiers' Stories Is the Best Way to Honor Them

09/26/2017 12:43 pm ET
Frank Rossoto Stocktrek/Getty Images

How did your interactions with soldiers of the Vietnam War affect you? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

In my two previous books, In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers, I was absent as a first-person presence in the narrative. I did not appear in the books. But when writing this next book, The Odyssey Of Echo Company, I discovered that the story, aside from being about the survival of combat, was about the act of of listening, of receiving, of transmission. I became aware of this after a first meeting with Stan Parker, who as a member of a Recon Platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, is featured in the book. We’d spent a several days talking in his kitchen about his platoon’s combat during the Tet Offensive. When it was time to leave, as Stan dropped me at the airport, I said, sincerely, but impulsively, “I’m glad you made it back.’

We shook hands, and Stan turned toward his car. A few minutes later, he returned, shaken. “I want to thank you for saying that,” he said. “I’ve heard something like that a few times in my life...” he trailed off.

The effect of this simple statement on him had been unintended but profound. I would realize that I had done nothing to create this effect except listen. Stan, like millions of people who served in Vietnam, had a story to tell about what had happened to him. I realized that many veterans feel that their story doesn't really exist, can’t exist, unless it has been uttered and received. In some way, Stan couldn’t be whole if a part of his life story hadn’t been uttered and acknowledged.

It seemed as if Vietnam veterans had been transmitting on secret frequencies for the past fifty years, and that America had tuned them out. Instead, the country had tuned to a narrative of a war many believe to be born of chicanery and deception, and which conceived of the war and soldier as one being. This narrative depicted the veteran as ignorant or complicit in the war’s outcome. I’d written a long “battle book” about strategy and tactics in Afghanistan while writing Horse Soldiers. In writing Odyssey Of Echo Company, I decided to separate the soldier from the war.

As I researched, the veterans didn’t seek affirmation of their actions; they wanted to be heard. They wanted only acknowledgement they had survived and that so many others, American and Vietnamese, had not. In this way, the book is about the power of writing to re-bind a community, a consciousness, and, perhaps, a nation. In this way, at the book’s end, I found myself witness to Stan Parker’s return to the battlefield with a former platoon-mate, Tom Soals.

In this case, the reunion also included a former enemy of Stan’s and Tom’s. They told each other the story of how they had come to this battle during the Tet Offensive in 1968. As they spoke, the past snapped into focus, and it seemed that, finally, these shards of memories might become history.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

This post is hosted on the Huffington Post's Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and post freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.