After the fall of Saigon, a cobbled-together Vietnamese family came to live in my family’s home. An old woman, her daughter-in-law, and three traumatized little cousins–as far as they knew, they were all that remained of the extended family of a Vietnamese man who had fought alongside the Americans.
The old woman sat alone on the floor of her room mumbling in Vietnamese. The daughter-in-law, who had worked as a secretary for the U.S. army headquarters, got a job and went to work every day. The youngest child, a three-year-old girl, was a happy, bouncy cutie-pie. She went to preschool during the day, and before long was chatting away in English. Her six-year-old sister had a harder time, but in time, she also did well. She had friends over to play dolls, and they loved to tear up and down the huge staircase in the hallway. But the boy, eleven-year-old Tran… oh, poor little Tran. War had devoured him.
We lived near the San Francisco airport, and when the fog was heavy, the flight pattern was readjusted so that it went right over our house. Every time a plane roared over, Tran would grab his sisters and force them under the bed, hold them in a death grip and shake uncontrollably. Any noise, or even an unexpected movement, sent him into protective frenzy. Tran spent an awful lot of time under the bed. Or hiding in the closet or under the house. He was suspicious of the food, suspicious of bathtubs, suspicious of every one of us. It was impossible for him to attend school. So many things terrified him, and his reactions were so unpredictable that his social worker feared for the safety of the other children.
In less than a year, the Vietnamese family learned that they had other relatives alive and well in Texas. Two of the men had good jobs and wanted to reunite the family, so our group packed up and left. All except Tran, who was moved into an institution. The doctors said he would undoubtedly spend the rest of his life there.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Tran and his family. Partly because my husband edited two poignant books–one from a man in his nineties who went to war at the age of seventeen and still carries a battered spot in his heart from the experience, and the other from a man who went to Vietnam, again as a kid, and still relives the awfulness of that war in his nightmares. But another reason I have been thinking of Tran is because I’ve been reading so many staggering statistics about the casualties of the war in Iraq–both among the Iraqi people and our soldiers.
Please, dear God, take care of Tran.
Please, dear God, heal the wounds, of every kind, from this war.
Please, God, hasten the days when we beat our swords into plowshares and make war no more.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower