Veterans Day special featuring spiritual journeys of veterans.
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(00:00:05) On Veterans Day weekend stories of sacrifice loss and Reconciliation one from World War two and one from Vietnam. I'm Krista Tippett and this is a commonplace conversations around the spiritual geography of life. We begin with the story of four chaplains and 656 other men who died aboard the troop ship Dorchester off the coast of Greenland in February 1943 the third largest American loss of life at Sea in World War Two. he eventually got his orders to go overseas and wanted me to meet him in New York City and I spent three days there with him and Said goodbye, and it was a very difficult. Goodbye. And I looked at him through the windows of the train. I was crying and he was crying and I knew I'd never see him again. David fox has interviewed the surviving Veterans of the Dorchester (00:01:09) the story of The Immortal four chaplains begins with of course the four men themselves and they were unique in that day all of different faiths and came together on this boat are us troop ship called the Dorchester and they were clock polling who was a Dutch reformed Minister from upstate New York. And then there was a rabbi Alexander good was Rabbi out of Washington DC my uncle who was George Fox he was a Methodist Minister up in Vermont. He actually had three parishes at one time is called a circuit Rider even then and last was the Catholic priest father Washington from New Jersey and they met on the Chester at the end of January 1943 and the I interviewed the first sergeant of the ship was on deck at the time on the for the met. So that was interesting because I actually got to experience what it was like to know what they were like when they got together and and he explained that they were immediate friends that's just sort of hit it off together and they started laughing and joking and they had a bond almost immediately between the Forum. On board the chaplains began to organize entertainment for the men and the men would tell me in the interviews. I did that they were always together and that was (00:02:55) remarkable was that their job? (00:02:58) Yes. It was their job to to provide stimulation for the men things for them to focus on other than knowing that there was a submarine out there and they soon found out that they were in fact being trailed by some reason. So the chaplains kept their spirits up they organized a talent night and proudly the chaplains were the biggest hit themselves. They were quite talented singers. I think all four of them are and Rabbi good Alexander good was also the son-in-law of Rabbi another Rabbi Rabbi yoson. Who was Father of Al (00:03:42) Jolson really? Yeah, (00:03:44) so he had considerable connections to show business. So they became very very popular on the ship (00:04:00) Rabbi good he could sing with the best. He would hold his services and his the others hold there's and we all went to all of them. We were on a ship. We had nothing that we could do. (00:04:12) And so when they had Services we went Lots of times they were together they went going around and trying to keep morale up and they all worked well together they seem to fit right in but I just felt closer to Father Washington DC just seemed right at home even in the atmosphere of a troop ship (00:04:31) that was a couple of others playing cards and father Washington (00:04:34) came wandering through shortly after I got in there. I was watching the game he came over and he stood behind a fallen and it sort of turned on to me said father. Would you bless my hand. He looked at it and he said I should waste my blessing our (00:04:49) lousy pair of Trey's I thought that that was just like him (00:05:02) The cap that I just said that there was five at least five submarines trailing us. They picked them up on radar, you know, and they said if they hit you that's when he told us that they cheer you want the word two minutes you'll be (00:05:14) dead. So I start making my rounds went upstairs. I thought it'd be better to tell a man take off her boots Put on her shoes boots too heavy shoes are easy to remove. I walked that ship continuously talking to men. (00:05:34) So it was about one o'clock in the morning, I guess and there was one what escort ship was a Coast Guard Cutter ahead of us and two on each side and the to Freighters and we were in the middle and it only do about 912 not stop speed and the Dorchester was losing speed, you know with a Heavy Seas and we (00:05:56) drop back (00:05:58) out of the Convoy and there we were set right in the open and what that what we're only open. That's when he hit us and I was sitting in a state room (00:06:07) right off the the starboard side. I was on and then we're sitting there playing cards and I want to snap the cards down and instead of And got you. I raised a card like that. Everything went black. I said what the hell was that? I said, we're hit I just come off God though. They took my jacket off and the next thing you know, boom and before you know, it the ship was rotten and who had time to even think about a life jacket at that time (00:06:36) the chaplains organize the men they would hand out these lifejackets put them on and then they would lead them to a place where they could jump off and not be hurt the chaplains without any hesitation to Simply took off their own jackets and place them on the next man who was waiting (00:06:53) there lights went out and steam pipes broken screaming and a very very strong odor of burnt powder gunpowder. I had to talk to myself to fight off the Panic which I heard it was going on. I crawled out on deck and I looked around there wasn't a soul on the ship. Not a so it's always best to get as many people to abandon the ship with you. Hold on or tie on with anything. So they'll be a group of Lights. The Coast Guard sees a group lights that's where to go in first. But this way look like a city out. There we lights. Look like a large city. And the ship Now by now is floundering and I look down towards the stern toward the back of the ship. I see a bunch of heads moving. We also happy that I get somebody to go man the ship with I must have lit up like a hundred watt light bulb. I went down there good Lord. There's 10 men not a word is said not a word all the men and the chaplains opened up a prayer and I see that there were not going overboard. There were not going to abandon ship there were going to hold our last service. I began to say my prayers say my prayers will shed tears. I couldn't abandon ship ever. I went back to the port side two feet to jump as I jumped the ship broke. Huge wave pulled me away from the ship. No wave hit me and I got a mouthful of oil is choking me and I Heard a Voice pull them up. There was a Lifeboat they're full of men. (00:09:00) There was all we both had about 20 guys on a raft but I remembered a piled one on top of the other, you know, and by the time they picked us up. I think we had six or seven left, you know, they got cold and Frozen. They just slid off his one guy hanging in the back of the raft. I held him up for I don't know how long it was time. Don't mean nothing, you know, and finally he was dead. I had to let him go. We've seen bodies all around drift and as I say the chill of the water got most of them and they were just drifting around you seen those little lights of bobbing up and (00:09:45) down and there was no life (00:09:46) in the men that was in them either. (00:09:50) We could look back and some flames and fire had broken out and it was enough reflection of that in the water to be able to see the ship. (00:10:01) They were soldiers (00:10:03) hanging onto the rails of the ship. We had little red lights on our life (00:10:08) preservers as I (00:10:10) turned around. I saw a (00:10:12) site that will forever be with me. It was the Dorchester making its last lurched into the water (00:10:20) and it looked like a Christmas (00:10:22) tree. When she rolled she rolls the starboard and all I could see was the keel up there and there was sort of four chaplains standing arm in arm and a top of the boat and then the boat took a nosedive and all right down they work with it. (00:10:46) They never even made a move. They just joined hands and the Fordham was too promising that he will sharpen the Catholic chaplain. Well, yes, one of my students father get off the ship the ship's going back. No. No, he says go ahead you get off get off? Well, the ship was starting to list. But they may know tend to get off at all. I just went down. (00:11:21) Those who saw that not everyone saw it, but those who saw it said they had never seen I find her. One man said I never hope to see anything finer between here and Heaven. Dear, mr. Fox. I'm writing a letter to you in remembrance to the event (00:12:09) for nearly fifty (00:12:11) five years which led us together (00:12:14) and also the (00:12:17) last living Sailors of the German submarine you 223. (00:12:24) During the war everybody soft and even died (00:12:30) for his country (00:12:32) your soldiers (00:12:34) on the Dorchester (00:12:36) who couldn't not be rescued as well as our they'll us who are defeated and (00:12:43) drowned by the depth charges of your destroyers. So four chaplains are genuine Heroes and tur sacrifices has to be preserved for future Generations. We have to learn out of the past for the (00:13:03) future so that our children and (00:13:07) grandchildren and further generations to come can live in peace. Never again should happen such a murderous War. You're sincerely get us killed. I had to go to Germany and interview the survivors of the you bow to put the pieces (00:13:47) together. Again, David Fox nephew of Chaplin George Fox (00:13:53) or about six of them still alive. I was able to interview three of them including the first officer on the submarine, which is the last surviving officer and also the chief Munitions on to off its here. He handled the Torpedoes. He actually had his hand on the torpedo that sank the Dorchester and interviewed him and that was so moving to go to Germany and say hello. You never met me but you killed my uncle 55 years ago whenever it (00:14:26) was and how did he or how did he respond to meeting (00:14:30) you they were cautious at first, but when I said I am, you know, I'm coming not to blame you but to me that there are two sides of the story, (00:14:40) you know, I think that must have been astonishing for these German veterans because They did lose the war and they are held responsible. The German people in general are held responsible for such horrendous crimes. They're not often offered forgiveness. (00:15:01) That's right. And I felt that just as the chaplains reached out to each other. I said I felt that as a representative of the families of the chaplains. I wanted to reach out to them because I felt that the chaplains would have forgiven them. And therefore my going said (00:15:18) that I'm Krista Tippett on this Veterans Day weekend. My guest David fox has shared the informal interviews. He conducted with the surviving Veterans of the troopship Dorchester on which 660 American soldiers died off the coast of Greenland in 1943. He has also made contact with the veterans of the German submarine which torpedoed them and they like the American soldiers who witnessed the event had been profoundly affected by the legacy of four chaplains of different faiths who linked arms and went down together with the Dorchester in 1997. David Fox created The Immortal chaplains foundation in Minneapolis the foundation Awards an international prize for Humanity to recognize acts of faith and Reconciliation, which counterbalance the more familiar images in our world of violence. (00:16:09) The first prize was given posthumously to a man on board one of those Coast Guard Cutters. The Comanche. His name is Charles W David and he was a black man. And he was a big man. He was from New York City. And when that ship the Dorchester went down he went over the side of the Comanche and pulled up white men in 36 degrees temperature water. Sometimes they said two at a time and Charles W David died of exposure of pneumonia because he did (00:16:44) that after saving all those lives after (00:16:47) saving those lives here comes Charles W David at the same moment in time just moments after well a couple of hours after the chaplains gave up their lives and did did the same thing dick Swanson who is his comrade on board came and accepted the award in his place. He was a shipmate dick is white Charles was (00:17:09) black. And again, we're talking (00:17:11) 1943 1943 and when that ship went into the port in st. John's Newfoundland, they couldn't go to the same place together. They couldn't go into the same Club. They couldn't go do things together. They were segregated and yet he did that with his life. So that was the first prize and then the second one was to a young girl, you know, American Girl from California Amy Beal who went to South Africa and was stoned to death. She went there to fight apartheid and ironically was bringing a black friend back to their home in the Soweto neighborhoods, and she was stoned to death by a group of black people and her mother and father came from California to accept that award and it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu presented the award and that meant a great deal to him. (00:18:03) I remember that story clearly. It was so stunning that they also went and Fide at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, right? (00:18:11) Exactly and ask that they're the killers of Amy be forgiven. (00:18:16) You also I believe arranged for some of the German sub veterans to meet did they meet the veterans quite of the Dorchester? (00:18:26) Yes, when Rosalie rabbi's daughter and I we started to share how important it would be to keep the story alive. But also the tell the story of others who have done this, so I contacted Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Africa And I asked him if he would be a part of this because I felt he would really understand what this whole thrust was about and it was such a great thing for him to come here and participate in our first event in Minneapolis. Some of us might preach eloquent sermons about laying down one's life. They lived out their sermons isn't that a wonderful sentence that they lived out their sermons by dying. Jesus said unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies. It remains Barren it remains alone. If it dies, it brings forth abundantly. Have we not here? in The Saga of these four wonderful Main and extraordinary illustration of both of these sayings they should have disappeared from the face of the Earth as they did physically as they went down. into the icy cold Waters of the Atlantic But isn't it extraordinary that now the opposite has happened that instead of Oblivion and forgetfulness. They receive (00:20:39) Glory. and honor the inspiration of what they did then in 1943 lives in others who are moved (00:20:57) to a life of selfless service. For greater love than this has no one. That a person should lie down. their life for their friends (00:21:17) Archbishop Desmond Tutu preaching at the first award ceremony of the immortal chaplains prize for Humanity in 1998. There were two new prizes given last year including one to Paul rusesabagina a Rwandan Hotel manager who sheltered 1000 people of the Tutsi tribe while 800,000 others were slaughtered by his own who two tribesmen recently The Immortal chaplains foundation in Minneapolis received an unsolicited visit and expression of gratitude from a later prime minister of Rwanda who it turns out was one of the people Paul rusesabagina kept alive in his hotel. (00:21:57) This is something that is beyond my anticipation. Yes expectations. I had no idea that we would touch people in this (00:22:05) way. Well, you know, there's there's something in this story about about Ripple effects and about the larger unseen possibilities in a moment and it doesn't it doesn't take the tragedy away but there was so much reconciliation and and compassion and goodness that was possible to come out of that over time and it's true of every other story. You've told me all of your other recipients of the (00:22:32) award. Right and I have to mention one other thing too. I was scheduled to go and talk to a school high school on a day in April. That was the day after the Columbine, Colorado Massacre. I got a letter from the from the principal the next week and he said after you spoke to the students on that day. He said the following assembly students started to get up and publicly apologize to people that they had pushed out and made to feel less than themselves. And he said it was that the combination of that story of them what the chaplains did and the catharsis of Columbine the recognition of not having compassion excluding people pushing people apart. He said that story that you told has an amazing power to it. So that's why we feel it's important to Keep Us Alive. (00:23:47) I think that that simple act simple that it was great. It's changed my life. I try to do more for people. I don't worry about me so much. I'm doing something for somebody else. A veteran who was aboard the troopship Dorchester from the audio Archives of David Fox David Fox is founder and director of The Immortal chaplains Foundation after a short break Vietnam veteran and author Bruce Weigel. There is a redemption in his writing which enlarges comprehension of war and of the possibilities of the human Spirit. I'm Krista Tippett stay with us. (00:24:42) You're listening to a Common Place coming to you on our midday broadcast today. I'm Gary eichten just a reminder. If you have to leave us or miss the beginning of the program. We will be re broadcasting this program at 9:00 tonight. Also, we're interested in your comments on the program log onto our website, Minnesota Public Radio dot-org case you missed it. The big news out of Florida so far today a federal judge in Miami this morning rejected a request by George W. Bush's campaign to stop the manual recount of votes from Tuesday's presidential election, but the Florida Secretary of State still says all counties in Florida must have their vote certified by four o'clock our time tomorrow, which would be making it impossible which would make it impossible rather to complete the manual. Count in many Florida counties last port George w-- Bush had a lead of about 400 volts. Let's return now to our special (00:25:37) documentary. Welcome back to a common place on this Veterans Day weekend conversations around the spiritual geography of Life Bruce Weigel. My next guest went to Vietnam as a soldier in 1968 today. He is the author of several award-winning books of poetry and a recent Memoir. I began by asking him to take me inside a passage near the beginning of his Memoir in which he writes the war robbed me of my Boyhood and forced me at 18 years old to bear too much witness to the world and to what men were capable of doing to other men and two children and two women and two themselves trapped in the green inscrutable intention of the (00:26:19) jungle. I remember this Lush Emerald thick Green Quality to the country. Nothing had ever seen so different to me before there was a kind of Silence. Once you are inside there in a kind of thickness to the air and sounds of strange birds and animals that you never heard before and then at the same time knowing that there were people out there who were doing the very best they could to kill us. So I ended up there as an 18 year old not knowing anything about the country, you know, like most 18 year olds ready for adventure without having you know, any real sense at all about what I was getting into very much. I think like my country itself. (00:27:04) Yeah. It seems to me there are some some words that you use a great deal and they become very evocative. And one of those words is the horror. (00:27:14) Yeah first it was adventurous but then quickly that turned into something very different after I saw the first injured people that I that I was forced to confront. I think the first person I saw a seriously injured was a Vietnamese farmer who had stepped on a American land mine and he happened to be in a field Hospital in Camp Evans where I was stationed for my base camp and half of his body was gone yet. He was still alive and screaming I'll never forget his face and I'll never forget those screams and then suddenly one minute. I was one person and After experiencing just that first incident. I was another person and I suddenly began to realize that I had no idea what I was in for and where I was and what I was (00:27:57) doing there is also this remarkable source of a gift really and is salvation in your story and that you had this occasion to begin to (00:28:05) Need yes, I guess it's turns out to be my good fortune to have gotten really bad case of dysentery and got sent back to a larger base camp at a place called on K and I was laying in a on a cot recovering in a Red Cross volunteer came through the tent where I was with other six soldiers and he had a box of paper back books and he was just tossing them to people saying here read this and he tossed one to me and I really didn't have that much interest. Although I started reading I couldn't pronounce the names in the book yet. There was a quality to the voice that was telling the story in the book was Crime and Punishment dust. I have kiss great novel Crime and Punishment think not a bad first book for a writer to read. But I was just drawn into the voice. I had a sense for the first time of a writer behind the words and that I'm sure combined with the circumstances that I found myself in made those words more heightened More Alive more vibrant somehow and I was really drawn into that story and ended up reading that novel of probably three or four times in the first few months that I had it. (00:29:13) I wonder if that Newfound dream was one thing that sustained you in that time even before you yourself did begin to write. (00:29:22) Yeah. I think it did the sense that I had this desire to want to somehow record. What I was seeing around me was something that sustained me and just the love of the love of words that I was already beginning to feel, (00:29:36) you know, another word that you use in your writing and it's an unusual word is enormity. What do you think of our what stories do you think of when you say that word? (00:29:47) I think I think of divinity how Ever you want to call that God Powers greater than myself the enormity of the historical forces that were at work. You know, I could never at that time as an 18 or 19 year old have articulated any of this but you know, I was like a sponge ignorance served me. Well, I was too stupid to realize that I couldn't do what I had in mind that I wanted to do, but I must have had some kind of vague sense that I was witness to this great machine of History right before me (00:30:20) when you were in Vietnam. Did you have a sense of divinity? Even an ironic one? (00:30:26) Well, yeah. I was raised a Catholic and I always loved church as a kid. I always felt great peace and salvation and Grace when I went to mass and and great piece when I went to confession and communion and then when I was in the war, I actually witnessed a priest in preparation for our assaulted case on in 1968, which was One of the largest supposed to be one of the largest battles of the war blessing a cachet of armaments that came up a hill and I saw him doing this at first. I thought he was conducting a mass because he had his his lace surplice on over his fatigues and then I realized he was just blessing these weapons and I immediately said this is wrong. This is not you know, the God that I grew up loving the Jesus that I grew up loving wouldn't do this wouldn't bless these things that are going to be sent out to murder human beings any minute. So I let go of my ties to the church and although I never let go of my belief in that which we called Divinity, you know, the officialdom of the church in that context was heartbreaking almost for me, you know, I tried to imagine my own priest doing that and couldn't and it just felt so wrong that I would be a part of that so I let go of that and I think I got lost for a long time without the church because I don't think I realized how important it had been to me until I was without (00:31:56) it. Many of the qualities that seem to be part of the relationship that you eventually had with Vietnam seem to me to be sacred religious qualities of compassion reconciliation. I'd like to know I'd like to hear about how you ended up having had this experience which was devastating in many ways how you've come to see Vietnam now is the home of your heart and and you have so many connections with the place. (00:32:41) Yeah. Great. I cannot have to go back just a little bit. Okay, because I have to say that when I was there, I really loved the Vietnamese people that I had contact with and I thought in spite of all the bad stuff that was happening around me that it was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful place. I like the food. I like the people I like to land. Cape these are things that one would not admit to one's comrades in that context. It would have been absurd they would have thought I was crazy or that something was wrong with me if I would have shared any of this and I always had a sense that I wanted to go back it seemed unrealistic and in a fantasy, but it was always in my mind and then lo and behold 20-odd years later. I was invited by the offices of a retired North Vietnamese General in Hanoi in the early 80s. Not many Americans had gone back to Vietnam. I think we were the maybe the second group I agreed to go on this trip thinking that it would never happen, you know, there was still an embargo and travel was literally impossible and suddenly the trip came through and I found myself in Bangkok picking up a Visa and an hour and a half later and landing in the noisy airport in Hanoi Vietnam. We were received I have to say with such absolute kindness and generosity of spirit that I was suspicious. I just couldn't believe after what we had done to those people in that country that we would be received this way. And I thought something is up here. What do they want? Fortunately that first trip. I got very close to that General into a few other friends Vietnamese friends that I made and I got to see that. In fact, there was nothing dubious about their attitude. Their attitude was that we had been in a war together. We've been soldiers on the opposite side. Now that was over and I began to learn over the years upon my many trips back that in fact the Vietnamese love a great deal about our country Ho Chi Minh had a copy of our constitution on his table when you're really young. Yeah, they love our independence of spirit. They love our sense of humor our openness. They're very much like us in many ways. So I think that those characteristics that I picked up about the Vietnamese people as a All 18 year old Soldiers stayed with me and then just gradually became more and more fulfilling. I went back there in 86 and then again in 89 and I began to study the language more seriously than most of the friends that we began to make in Vietnam where writers (00:35:19) did you also go at some point with other veterans who had become writers? (00:35:24) Yeah in 1990. We had a remarkable conference with half a dozen or so American Writers who had been soldiers in the war including Larry Heidemann who won the national book award for his novel Paco story a few journalists and we met with 50 Vietnamese writers who had also fought in the War on the side of the side of the North Vietnamese Army and some were popular resistance soldiers, you know, we would start comparing notes about where we were and when we were there and it wasn't unusual for some of us to find men on the other side that we would literally fought against that, you know, we could have killed Each other on that day and it didn't happen and you know, just the thought of that was enough to make me pause and then to meet these wonderful writers. Who by the way in Vietnam are very very highly regarded everyone in Vietnam reads and sings and speaks and knows poetry. It's part of their education from Dale oral tradition, isn't it? Yeah connecting with him as writers. Then was was very special compounded by the fact that we had once been enemies once literally been trying to kill each other was just you know, the dynamic that that created we couldn't help but be best friends at that moment. We couldn't help but just love each other and Vietnamese men are very different than American men in the way in which they're not shy about letting down their manliness about expressing themselves even physically with other men. It's very common. In fact to see Vietnamese man walking down the street holding hands. That's what male friends do. So there were these very powerful bonds formed immediately. (00:37:02) In those in those meetings and I mean, were you able to forgive each other and and also to forgive (00:37:07) yourselves? Yeah, I think that that you know, their forgiveness was so was so overwhelming that it was an almost enough for everyone to go around but in terms of forgiving myself, I think that it has a lot to do with with the kind of command that you were associated with I was with the first air Cav which had an absolutely great command and there was no nonsense in my outfit there was no no abuse of civilians and matter of fact we had very very little contact with people when we were out in the field. So I think that I can say I don't feel like I did anything that I'm ashamed of as a soldier it was more it wasn't that kind of forgiveness. It was more I think of forgiveness of just having bore witness to that that there's a way in which once you cross certain lines about killing and seeing killing and being so close to it. That it's hard then to be among the company of people who haven't been in that situation. And I think that's where the Forgiveness part came in that that you know that I felt for a long time Unworthy of the love of those around me just because of what I had seen. (00:38:29) poet and Vietnam veteran Bruce Weigel (00:38:40) This is a poem of my own called song of Napalm which is dedicated to my wife after the storm after the rain stopped pounding. We stood in the doorway watching horses walk off lazily across the pastures hill we stared through the black screen our vision altered by the distant. So I thought I saw a Mist kicked up around their Hooves when they faded like cut out horses away from us. The grass was never more blue in that light more Scarlet beyond the pasture trees scraped their voices into the wind branches crisscross the sky like barbed wire, but you said there were only branches. Okay, the storm stopped pounding. I'm trying to say this straight for once. I was sane enough to pause and breathe. Outside my wild plans. And after the hard rain, I turned my back on the old curses. I believed they swung finally away from me. But still the branches are wire and thunder is the pounding mortar still. I close my eyes and see the girl running from her Village Napalm stuck to her dress like jelly her hands reaching for the no one who waits in waves of heat before her. So I can keep on living so I can stay here besides you I tried to imagine she runs down the road and wings beat inside her until she rises above the stinking jungle in her pain eases in your pain and mine but the lies swings back again the LIE Works only as long as it takes to speak and the girl runs only as far as the Napalm allows until her burning tendons and crackling muscles draw her up into that final position burning body. So perfectly assume nothing can change that. She is burned behind my eyes and not your good love and not the rain-swept there and that the jungle green pasture unfolding before us can deny (00:40:47) it. The title poem in Bruce Weigel's 1988 collection song of Napalm six years later in 1994 Bruce waggle edited another poetry collection, which he himself translated. It was the first book after the war in which Vietnamese poems appeared side by side with their English translations. This collection is called captured documents and it contains informal poems found in the Diaries of captured or killed North Vietnamese soldiers. They are predominantly love poems or verses of longing for family and home. I asked Bruce Weigel to read me his personal favorite one moonlit night. (00:41:41) Tonight the wind is cold on bamboo trees. The moon hides behind the mountains top in Sadness. The river ripples. I received your letter and read it nervously through the night and afterward. I knew you grieved for me like a mother and wept nephews and nieces wait far away sorrowful e aunts and uncles wait to you beg me to come home my love to the family of our village because my life is still full of sweet promise. You do not understand the way of the truth life must be spent for the people's good. I picked a violet to tuck into my book tears mixed with the violets ink to weave into my writing all the wishes. I sinned so you will (00:42:28) understand. A reading from captured documents Bruce Weigel's translation of poems found in the Diaries of North Vietnamese soldiers. I'm Krista Tippett and this is a commonplace conversations around the spiritual geography of Life Vietnam veteran and author Bruce Weigel is talking about the many ways in which he has made peace with Vietnam a country which today he calls the home of his heart as a writer and a teacher of college students. He also works to reconcile the mixture of honor and horror which characterizes The Human Experience of War, (00:43:08) you know, I began to talk to my students years ago about the fact that you know, all cultures like to look at these things as anomalies and you know, my question to them was when are we going to stop saying it's unusual? We've always done it to each other. It's always been (00:43:22) present. Well, not only yeah and there but there's also a way in which we are fascinated by it and there are ways that people speak about it there see To be a beauty or an obsession that can come with the experience of (00:43:35) War. Absolutely, you know, Robert Stone talks about the beauty of the mushroom cloud, you know, which is absolutely horrifying image. If you think about all of its implications but you know, the I think that it has to do with the absolute bare essential that your stripped down to in that kind of context that there's a kind of beauty to that and you know, I've struggled with that as a writer because I have a poem in which I say say it clearly and you make it beautiful no matter what there's a way in which language can make the most horrible thing imaginable beautiful not because it celebrates that horror, but because through the language, I think the human spirit transcends that horror that I think to write the poem to write the story to write the novel The Memoir whatever about that horrible thing is in a way to defeat it our to take back your life from it. (00:44:40) Is it true that you have become (00:44:41) Buddhist? Yes. I have I had met some monks in Vietnam (00:44:47) while you were there as a (00:44:47) soldier once when I was there's a soldier. Yeah, I had a remarkable experience with some monks and then (00:44:54) I'll tell me about that. That's two intriguing. (00:44:56) I guess the terrible and embarrassing irony is I was with a couple other GIS and we were actually looking for women of ill repute. We can say that on the radio. Yes, you can prostitutes and I was led through this Maze of rooms and Alleyways and somehow I got separated from my friends and I ended up in this room and there are two or three monks sitting on the floor chanting and I didn't know what to do. So I just sat down kind of with them and they looked at me as if I belong there somehow, you know, there was this, you know, 18 year-old GI stumbling around and I always felt as if they had instilled something in me. Really? Yeah and I left that room thinking that somehow that this Going to mean something to my life. And then when I went back in 86 and 89 and 90. I met some other monks who I got to spend more time with they were the friends of writer friends of mine and I began to then come back and study Buddhism more and more and to practice some meditation and it really began to change my life in dramatic ways. Western Medical Sciences, well, you got to put that behind you where as Buddhism says. It's part of who you are now make a life from that. I've always felt the sense of being called to something even as a child in this sense that there would passageways to other ways of living other ways of looking at the world. There were portals that led to other ways of understanding (00:46:30) as a writer portals is another word which you use a great deal, but I don't know I suppose you could say that those portals are there all around us in all of our lives, but you are able to see them and name them and step through them. (00:46:44) Well, thank you for saying that. Yeah, I think you're right. I think I think those portals are all around us does passageways and I guess there's a way in which it's easier not to see them. It's easier to live a life not so examined, you know, that was a door that opened that door called Vietnam and once I became a writer and I could reopen that door, which was an easy thing to do. I had 20 years of nightmares then There's a way in which there was no turning back. No going back from what I knew was behind (00:47:16) that door. You mean in terms of the possibilities of living with that and making sense of (00:47:21) it. That's right. Yeah, just the possibility of living whether (00:47:24) it her just living mmm. So you at some point walk through this portal back to that place and to the fullness of that place and you have ended up adopting a Vietnamese girl when she was 8 years old. Yes. When did that idea to take shape in your mind? And how did that happen? (00:47:47) Well, she's been with us now for five years. We started talking about adoption probably three or four years before that. We began talking about another child and then discovered that we couldn't have another child and I had been going to Vietnam regularly by this point and I had visited some orphanages. So I wrote this I do with my wife and she was up for trying it. It was a long Arduous complicated process. So in against the advice of the adoption agency, I contacted some of my friends in Vietnam and a month later. We basically got a call from the adoption agency saying you have to go now they have someone for you. I rushed home from my teaching job and there was a social worker there who had a dossier about this little girl whose name was new NT hang. It was eight years old and she had a picture and she said she was going to leave the dossier for us to think about and I said that wouldn't be necessary though. We wanted her (00:48:44) just from the picture (00:48:45) from the picture and from I think from something inside of us as well and something inside of me that just felt right the little bit that I read about her. And once I saw that face, there was no saying no, (00:49:06) Melissa on your eye muscle applying so I sang doing chintzy Citadel may not learn your eye Bruce Waggles daughter Hine reading a love poem in her native Vietnamese. Bruce Waggles latest book is a memoir of his journey to the adoption of Hein. This is how his book The Circle of Hein ends. (00:49:31) We were all swept up than into a long frantic afternoon of meetings and ceremonies at several different provincial and district offices more than once along the way a small snag would develop because our timing was off according to one official or another the snag would always be followed by much animated talk and by the sound of voices Rising almost too high in their insistence. I didn't worry over it. I was on autopilot. I was most alive but I don't remember many of the details. I signed a hundred Shook hands and thanked the cool officials and near what I knew was the end of the official drama. I gave my speech in Vietnam. We finally all piled out of the last jury office and drove a short distance into the village to a small open air restaurant where for long tables have been pushed together and we're already being covered with dishes of food and bottles of beer that two or three young women were carrying out from the kitchen. I wanted to sit next to hang to use the occasion of the lunch to speak with her, but I could tell that she was still very shy of me. I knew that hang was not accustomed to eating this way. The meal paid for by Holt was very special hyung stared wide-eyed at the dishes of every food. She had probably ever eaten or seen in some she had probably never seen piling up on the table and after some initial hesitation and at the urging of Vaughn who knew the value of eating as much as you could when the opportunity presented itself hung began to eat. I had never seen a child eat that way before I smiled to myself as I watched her I could not imagine. We're in that small body all of that food was going or how it could be contained there. She ate until the last plate of scraps was taken from the table. I watched her lean back into her chair Bend and stretch your back and then belch so loudly she made herself laughs van scolded her but could not resist laughing as well. The rest happened too quickly, I think for everyone we drove the few kilometers back to the orphanage where I collected a small bundle of Heinz clothes and album of photographs of her friends and her teachers at the orphanage. I said, goodbye Devon and promised I would try to care for hiring as well as she had in that hang would be my daughter as if she had been born into our family. I turned to watch as alone or in pairs all of the children made their way to where hang stood next to Vaughn and said, they're sweet and quiet goodbyes. I looked hard at Hanks face and I could see some panic in her eyes as a driver started the engine and turn the air conditioner on for a drive back to Hanoi an impromptu group photograph of the children and staff of the orphanage standing around me in the courtyard was set up but interrupted by a sudden Heavy Rain van put her arm around hang then and I saw that for the first time they were both crying. I wanted to tell him that I loved her because I did I wanted to tell her that I wished she would come and be part of our family more than anything. Else in the world but that if she wanted to stay and being looked and not come home with me, I would understand and I would love her just as much I almost made those words come out of my mouth. But I had the sense for once to stay quiet Von. Let go of hang then and then looking up into the sky. She pushed her gently toward the van as we pulled away to the courtyard and the arched gate. I watched hang look back more than once many children were waving in the rain their small hands open their small hands through the distance like Lotus blossoms opening on the fish pond. (00:53:13) Bruce Weigel is the author of several books of poetry including song of Napalm and a recent Memoir is circle of Hein his volume of translations of the informal poetry of North Vietnamese soldiers is called captured documents earlier in this hour, you heard a conversation with David Fox the founder and director of The Immortal chaplains foundation in Minneapolis. You can learn more about the four chaplains on the web at immortal chaplains dot-org. A common place is produced by marja sturckow and Brian Newhouse. Our technical director is Alan Strickland with assistance from Craig Thorson, please visit a commonplace on the web at Minnesota Public Radio dot-org on the website. You can listen to this show and to our two previous programs and you can also send us your comments and suggestions. We'd like to hear from you. You can call Minnesota Public Radio at 1-800-288-1560 our next show. Will Air Wednesday December 20th, children and God the executive producer of a common place is Bill Buchanan Burke. I'm Krista Tippett and this program is a creation of marja sturckow Productions and Minnesota Public Radio. (00:54:29) Some of the music you heard on today is a commonplace included selections by air and Jake Earnest Peter ostrow Schoo, Tommy Dorsey. And also we had location recordings of Vietnamese musicians programming an MPR is supported by March 1st, a global internet service firm, helping companies build business models brand systems and processes on the web at March first.com programming is supported in part by the members of Minnesota public radio's leadership Circle. If you'd like more information call 801 802 27 2811 that does it for our midday program today Gary eichten here. Thanks so much for joining us. By the way. We will be re broadcasting today's a commonplace broadcast at nine o'clock tonight here on Minnesota Public Radio. So besides checking out our website to nin nine o'clock tonight for the rebroadcast of a commonplace. Also just a quick reminder membership week is underway on our classical music stations not too early for Those of you who listen to our news stations to sign up though. We'll be on the air a little later this week urging you to call in but why not take care of that membership pledge. 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