By Deborah Wright Yoho
Why would somebody like me want to write a memoir? After all, I don’t have any progeny who might be interested in the details of my life story. Neither am I ready, at age 57, to succumb to the luxury of spending hours in blissful nostalgia for the good ‘ol days.
My good ‘ol days weren’t so great anyway. Yet after forty years, my mind still ponders the significance of just 24 months.
In 1967, I found myself living in the closest proximity to the Vietnam War that was possible for an American of my age and gender. I was sixteen, the daughter of a military career man, a baby boomer whose brothers were slightly too young for the draft. Not that Dad spent any time in Vietnam. Instead we were stationed at a huge Air Force base in the Philippines.
The memories are disturbingly vivid: a roaring flight line clogged 24/7 with screaming jets; the coffins loaded each day onto the C-141 Starlifters; the time I was in the emergency room at the hospital with a North Vietnamese prisoner under heavy guard on the gurney next to me; the nurses who came to our school weekly to line up anyone over 17 they could coax into giving blood; the painful cholera shots we endured every six months.
Most of all, I remember the young, lonely airmen who hung out at the base swimming pool when they were off duty to talk to any American girls willing to listen to them. Eventually, I married one of those airman.
These were the years I learned about sex, death, the power of unquestioned authority, and the disconcerting embarrassment of living in an underdeveloped country. By the time I returned to the States to attend college, I was no longer an American teenager but a citizen of the world.
Perhaps the experience seems worth writing about because I believe this country has never come to terms with the shadow of 50,000 lives squandered in a lost cause. Not only I, but an entire country seems confused, struggling to identify and affirm basic values we once held to be uniquely American. Vietnam was the watershed.
Much has been offered about those days by politicians, retired generals, disillusioned veterans, Hollywood producers and cynical professors on college campuses. What might be learned through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl?