Book Excerpt


Vietnamese Mother

Vietnamese Mother



During my nine-month tour in Vietnam, which began in January of 1966, I was a member of the First Infantry Division, U.S. Army. Halfway through my tour, I was assigned to a Pacification Program, which placed our platoon in a village where our main purpose was to work with and familiarize ourselves with the Vietnamese villagers. Our goal was to exchange ideas as opposed to generating aggressive war activities. Friends were made, and during this time, I was able to photograph many of the villagers in their environments. What I noticed most were the many different styles of hats (mostly American) worn by the village children. Also, I experimented with many foods, new to me but good. Each night, small groups of us soldiers were assigned to village patrols accompanied by a Vietnamese interpreter. One evening, a new interpreter joined our patrol, and this individual happened to be quite nervous and did overreact in his actions. Now I’m six foot one inches tall, and this interpreter was probably under five feet tall. We zigzagged all over the village across paths with heavy tropical growth. He was able to walk through standing straight, but most of us behind him were practically bent in half trying to follow him. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, he charged into a hootch (a name we used for the villagers homes) and startled the families within. We heard him shout, “Shoot, VC, VC.” (VC is another name for Vietcong, which was our military enemy.) Suddenly, an unarmed woman ran out in front of me, and my M16 rifle was aimed at her back. Remembering the erratic behavior of the interpreter and his decision to abruptly run into a villager’s home, I decided not to shoot her, a split-second decision, which to this day I have thought about often. If I had decided to shoot her, my life today would have deteriorated as a result of a wrong choice. Place yourself in my position, and perhaps you too will conclude that if someone broke into your home during war and startled you, you might react the same as this woman. Unfortunately, many other soldiers like myself were placed into a similar scenario and perhaps they decided differently with “A SPLIT-SECOND DECISION.” Sometime during your life, you have probably crossed paths with someone who has experienced a similar situation. Life can be very gruesome. One split second of time can end a life and ruin the lives of many others. Hopefully, my mysterious fleeing lady of the night is with family today, this Mother’s Day 1998.

Memories of Vietnam 1966

Special are the mothers of our planet Earth.

Special are the mothers of our planet Earth.



The poster reads quiet please
Beware of dog a fence sign reads

Every time I turn around
Another sign will be found

Don’t touch the food, don’t speak to loud
Don’t linger here, no food allowed

Ignore this sign

No parking here, go to the rear
Beware of bears, watch out for deer

Oh what a bore my eyes are sore
Sit to the right, see the exit door

Do not trespass or to jail you’ll go
Stop here for gas, below the logo

Signs and lights are high and low
Red light stop and green light go

Often times I wonder why
Signs on planes silhouette the sky

On planes and trains and autos too
The makers name attached onto

The signs on highways confuse us so
To go left make a right at the arrow

Signs, signs, there all around
Elevator up or to the ground

Let us gather and shout aloud
Always read books but no signs allowed

Our lives are controlled by signs. Just like the cue cards in a television drama, we go through life following the signs. Sometimes life becomes one big show. Do this or don’t do that. So much so that if all these directives were to disappear, we might just stand around in astonishment, saying, “What do I do next?” If you should ever see a sign that reads Ignore This Sign, it’ll be a sign made by me in protest of some of the most ridiculous signs of the time. Do you think that if everywhere we went there was a Watch Your Step sign, all tripping or falling would cease. I think not. Or how about the sign Slippery When Wet—DUH! When I was five years old, and before I could read, I knew that wet conditions meant slippery conditions. Don’t remind me. While I’m reading that sign now, I might be hit by a car due to my attention given the sign. While I’m lying on the ground, waiting for the ambulance, I’ll look up and see the sign, reading, Watch Out for Oncoming Traffic.

I am able to grasp the complete beauty of nature after leaving our world of signs behind.



Love does always remember dear memories
And the thoughts of love do dwindle, so we begin our diaries
Not a dwindling as with a candle stem
Flickering slowly till light does end
But rather a flickering within memories sealed
And released when love again does yield

Love is not a feeling of loneliness
For togetherness sustains soul’s constant happiness

Love is not where trust does abandon
Our hearts do beat willfully together in unison

Love is not a one-night ending
It always leads us to day’s next beginning

Love is not words of taking
But given wholeheartedly to us the unforsaken

Love is not a choice of greed
But surely others lives are what love needs

Love is not a one—night rendezvous
Our thoughts, our needs each night renewed

Love does not stray to the heart of another
Two lives, two souls, committed to each other

Love now is not mine to hold
But that one so special will soon unfold



Since time flies, it seems like yesterday that I attended Saint James High School for Boys, in Chester, Pennsylvania. The school has since closed, but the alumni association has remained quite active. Many of the high school’s trophies and other memorabilia were on display at O’Flagherty’s Restaurant in the Aston, Pennsylvania area; currently the memorabilia are located in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. Now what I remember as one of the many highlights of my four years here at school was the lunch that began as the everyday quiet lunch and turned into a fantastic food fight beginning as I recall with Jell-O and suddenly involving our total menu. A cube of Jell-O as in a hole in one landed right in the middle of my flattop haircut. This was the first classic food fight in the school, and I must at this time reference the movie Animal House, which incidentally, followed our devastative display of aerial foods of all sorts. Little food had been eaten this day, and I went home with an empty stomach. Now the assistant principal, Brother Edward Gorie (we called him EGORIE), a Marianist brother, had cafeteria duty this day of all food fights, and I thought he’d die following his frantic call for a cease-fire. Now his handling of the English language was quite unique, for instance, when he referred to us as animals, he said “ANÉMALS, stop it anemals,” and he continued sounding like the cartoon character of Bullwinkle. Needless to say, our stomachs were growling as we sat through detention following school on this historic occasion. I also received a double whammy this day as I confronted my irate Daily Times customers for delivering the paper late. Since I’m on the subject of detentions, I must tell you about the classic Saint James technique for handing out detention slips. The Marianist brothers gave us a chance to absolve our wrongs and avoid the slips. We would hold our hand out before us with three or four large books in the palm of our hand and the detention slip on top. If after fifteen minutes, the slip did not fall to the floor, our detention was cancelled. Very few cancellations occurred. Overall, I believe my education in the school to be of excellent quality although socially, I was behind in meeting and dating girls, so naturally I was able to concentrate on the classroom agenda without the classic HORMONAL ERUPTIONS of a public school. Well, after washing the Jell-O out of my hair and a couple years later, I graduated somewhere between the top 5 percent of the graduating class and the bottom 5 percent, but I’ll always remain a Saint James bulldog.



I crossed the shores of the mighty Pacific with a heart filled with fear and anticipation. The words both spoken and those unspoken—but revealed in the saddened eyes—of those soldiers who I’d seen upon their return from the place called Nam in the fall of 1965 told me a story that later I was to witness and become a part of. The fear in their eyes as contagious as the plague only intensified the fear within my being. The colors of my heart I believed to be red, but redness I’m sure channeled through my veins and arteries at a faster flow from the fear transmitted through the eyes of the returning troops. Why did most of these men I spoke to not volunteer answers about the war, which I too had just been invited to with the unspoken words of an “offer I cannot refuse.” I realize now, since my return from Vietnam, that hurt and sorrow combined with fear sometimes cause men to become speechless. I wondered at the sight if these were in fact the lucky ones, or were those brought home in plastic bags the lucky ones.

What I had anticipated about the war became a reality, and I learned to accept fear as a way of everyday life, knowing that someone was desperately trying to kill me each day of my life. During the nine months of my tour, a group of us were entering a perimeter area, and tracer rounds suddenly flew by us at three thousand feet per second. My chest stopped one round, and five others fate had changed in the same display presented by the lighted bullets. I saw a beautiful light above me—a tunnel so to speak—and as I entered this tunnel, I felt a peace so great that when I die again the fear I had in life will not precede my second death. From within this beautiful tunnel, I saw below me my body and a black soldier holding me in his lap. Suddenly, I was back within my body in the arms of my fellow soldier. The worldly pain I now felt—and it was intense—overwhelmed me as my heart continued to pump the red blood at a slower pace. As I lay in a mash unit bed, the red blood continued to flow within my chest as the general placed a Purple Heart upon my chest. With my multicolored hearts I now still fear some of life’s experiences, but I do not fear death.

Purple Heart For wounds received in action

Purple Heart For wounds received in action



In Vietnam, our soldiers became very close to one another as a result of daily life-and-death situations faced. We knew all about each other’s families and life stories. Our emotions due to the extremes of wartime conditions were often times displayed amongst our buddies. Sometimes the GIs emotions were taxed well beyond the mind’s ability to handle, causing many of the men to walk around looking at others as if they were staring right through them. A shattered personality had removed emotions from their minds in order to survive the ugliness they had seen. Unfortunately, many men today have not yet recovered emotionally from the gruesome displays of dying that they had seen in action and/or their dreams. Unrest within my own person is apparent due to the sights of my friends dead from combat. On a Monday, my buddy would be talking with me as his eyes met mine; and on the following day as my eyes met his eyes and he said nothing, I knew he had become a victim of combat. Softly and tearfully, I said, “Good-bye, friend, for you, the war’s over” as I closed his eyelids for the last time. Extreme emotions of sorrow, hurt, anger, and fear at these never forgotten sights have impacted my outlook on life even as I write these words. I have learned to thank the Lord for the breath within my body that I have been able to explain the horrors of war to others with a hope that they hear me and with positive actions stop all wars. Our changing worlds upon this earth that we occupy have known wars for many centuries past, and I would expect the transition to an ongoing peaceful worldly coexistence to be gradual, but it doesn’t have to be. A code of peace needs to be accepted by all the inhabitants of earth and acted upon by our many global leaders.

Ed Sulek
Memories of Vietnam

Should I be condemned by some for my non beliefs of war and killing in war, I’ll not change, for the eyes of the dead during combat I’ll always remember. What can a man kneeling beside a dead friend from war think other then—“WHY WAR?”

A few years earlier, many of the Vietnam veterans’ mothers had tucked their young sons to bed with the words,




Life’s ambitions often times replace humorous activity with the seriousness of “let’s get down to business.” We see the world as that which is to be conquered. I believe I lost my sense of humor to an overambitious dream of success, success, and more success. I know now that my success of material means has grown significantly. I also know that I forgot how to laugh with the world, and my inner person began to deteriorate. We sometimes find that a world can be cruel, and the people find cause to laugh at us. Let me reflect upon an observation of great significance which is the following: When I laugh at my mistakes or embarrassments along with others, I find that I am not being laughed at but rather that I am being laughed with. I can understand that the whole world is experiencing moments of laughter for all sorts of reasons, and knowing this, I am able to laugh with depth. Ben Franklin once wrote that a sincere laugh can be seen in the movement of one’s belly. Don’t you believe that with a better sense of humor, some of the tense and stressful moments of life would become less painful? After all, we’re all human. Our inner souls are the true judges of success, and a sense of humor is a real success story. Sometimes we are not born with a good sense of humor, but the excitement of practicing to laugh with others can be most enjoyable. Don’t overdo it, for you might just end up laughing with others in the psycho ward. In literature, a fellow named Erasmus wrote on the “Praise of Folly.” His writings have pertained to moderation in our lives. So I have found that should I laugh too much with a good sense of humor, people are again laughing at me and not with me. Perhaps this would be a great moment to stop writing and enjoy a pie-throwing fest with others.