Barbara Child put her heart and soul into a letter to her partner, Alan Morris, while he was at the cottage they shared in Florida and she was away at school in California. He was a Vietnam War veteran, and she was taking a seminary course on war—in particular, the Vietnam War. She turned in her letter as a term paper for the course, calling it “An Open Letter to a Vietnam Veteran.” A little more than two years later, the war finally took its toll on Alan. He put a Colt .45 to his head and pulled the trigger. Barbara read part of her letter as the eulogy at his memorial service.
That letter led to one thing, then another. Eventually, Barbara began analysis with a Jungian psychologist and shared the letter with him. She began talking more and more about Alan. She began writing more and more about Alan. From those writings came this book.
The book gives a partner’s-eye view of post-traumatic stress and moral injury relentlessly taking their toll on the body, mind, and soul of a veteran who served as a medic in the Vietnam War. The book also shows how Jungian dream work with an expert, caring analyst can bring forth memories and the meaning of memories both sought and unsought. Ultimately, this book is both a labor of love and an impassioned outcry on behalf of all victims of war, whatever their part in the suffering.
“Barbara Child’s … memoir … shares the intimate stories of a combat medic and a home front peace activist during and after their wars at home and overseas. We learn how both were indelibly reshaped by the horrors of that war.” – Edward Tick, author of War and the Soul and Warrior’s Return and director of Soldier’s Heart, Inc.
“I find the writing marvelous.” – Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming
“This beautifully written memoir succeeds on any number of levels.” – Thomas M. Grace, author of Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties
“Barbara Child’s book … is beautifully written, with compelling material that is as applicable today as it was then. Only the terrain of the wars changes.” – Margaret O. Ryan, Senior Editor, Psychological Perspectives, a Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought
“Barbara Child has given us the moving and desperate reality of her life as a partner of a Vietnam veteran. … [W]e are brought up short against the dehumanizing consequences of war.” – Laura Waterman, author of Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage
“Memories of a Vietnam Veteran chronicles Barbara Child’s journey to wholeness, examining her life and that of her partner Alan, a combat medic who committed suicide 26 torturous years after returning from Vietnam. As a detective might piece together a crime scene, Child follows the threads of her psyche-soma and external evidence to piece together Alan’s life and hers through memories, dreams, and reflections, along with social justice activism, her Unitarian Universalist ministry, Taoism, depth psychology, and grief rituals. As she quotes the poet Wendell Berry, ‘The impeded stream is the one that sings.’ And indeed it does.”
-Arnie Kotler, coeditor with Maxine Hong Kingston, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Table of Contents
Author’s Note 9
Prologue – Agents Provocateurs 13
A Lifetime Is Too Narrow to Understand It All 21
Chapter 1 – Living in Florida 23
Chapter 2 – An Open Letter to a Vietnam Veteran 51
Chapter 3 – Dying in Florida 79
Chapter 4 – Mementos, Memorials, and a Ritual of Grieving 99
I Will Wait for You 109
Chapter 5 – Alan Will Be Coming Soon 111
Chapter 6 – Digging Deeper 123
Chapter 7 – Bringing Forth 133
Epilogue – The Sword and the Snake 151
Afterword – In Country 157
For Further Reading 171
War – Accounts from War Correspondents and Veterans 171
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Moral Injury 176
Edward Tick’s Journeys of Healing and Reconciliation 179
The Anti-War Movement and the Killings at Kent State 184
Jungian Psychology, Analysis, and Dream Work 192
Poetry and the Search for Meaning 193
Sources Cited in the Text 194
About the Author 197