For those of us who remember the late sixties and early seventies, the Vietnam War hangs over us as a dark cloud, now rapidly fading into past memory—except for those who were part of it. For some—my children—it is only something they've heard about in school. That war is at the center of Sharon Wildwind's Loved Honor More. As survivors back home in this country, would say, it was the war that followed them home. The book highlights military culture with its need-to-know discipline and its penchant for disguising and missing facts; the first war to really introduce the concept of post-traumatic stress syndrome and painful flashbacks; Vietnamese refugees and the shameful anger and animosity toward them; and the disrespect for many veterans who came home after that war.
Sharon Wildwind spent a year in Vietnam as an officer in the U. S. Army Corps of Nurses, as did her protagonist, Elizabeth Pepperhawk, usually called Pepper. Both author and fictional heroine remember too clearly the fall of Saigon. The sad facts of civilian readjustment here are complicated by an orphaned Vietnamese infant, greed, intrigue, and the vagaries of human behavior, including man's too-frequent inhumanity to his fellow man.
Pepper has a homestead outside Asheville, North Carolina which she shares with Avivah, a police officer, and Avivah's journalist fiancé, Saul. The story opens with an unknown woman arriving at the homestead to deliver the orphaned infant. Pepper's fiancé, Darby Baxter, as his dying effort on the day Saigon fell, wrote a letter to Pepper asking her to find a Vietnamese home for the baby girl and to deliver $3,000 to the bearer of the letter, Edith Filmore. With some difficulty, Pepper negotiates a bank loan to pay Edith and hopes that's the end of it. It isn't. Edith is murdered at the women's health clinic where Pepper now works.
And the complications ensue—a surprise regarding Darby's death, Darby's fellow Green Beret, Benny, who loses his job and tries to hire on as a contractor in Vietnam for a shady operation, a stranger who takes over the shop where Benny worked, a powerful Vietnamese man who runs a hatchery that is more like a commune with children home-schooled and women kept quietly out of sight; a general who knows Darby's secret and bends the rules.
Pepper's Vietnam training comes in for frequent use—she fashions a bolo out of a dirty sock and the bolts that hold a toilet to the floor—and nearly cripples the intruder she uses it on. When there are racial riots in a shopping mall, after a black soldier suffering from PTSD is accused of killing a Vietnamese, she rushes to the aid of the community at the hatchery, only to find that they have reverted to the ways of war—a fire free zone, killing all the birds because their noise would cover the arrival of intruders, creating bunkers, and hiding the women and children. Pepper knows what to do, and when she hears rifle shots, she yells "Incoming" and dives for the ground. No, Vietnam is never far from the action of this book.
Sometimes it's hard to follow the ins and outs of this complicated plot, and I'm not sure the resolution holds true for me. But all of that is secondary to the fact that I was riveted to this book, reading it when I should have been writing—I did nothing constructive for an entire weekend because I was determined to finish. The plot and the people held me to a certain degree but it was the overall military culture, the "war that followed us home" that really held my attention. Vietnam was the war of my generation—I thought for a while that my doctor/husband would have to go, and I remember it vividly. But this gave me a whole new perspective on that war and the sacrifices made, even by those who survived.
Sharon Wildwind was an officer in the U.S. Army Nurses Corps. She is the author several novels and a nonfiction book about her year in Vietnam. When not writing, she journals, is a mixed media artist and teaches writing workshops. Visit her website.
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