Thursday, November 4, 2010

Memorial Day May 28, 2007

Vietnam Is Where I Found My Family
By Ann Bryan Mariano

"Sometimes an officer would say, 'What the hell is a woman doing here?' and I'd shrug nonchalantly. 'My editor sent me to cover the fighting.' There were struggles with the military over where I could and couldn't go, and what I could and couldn't do. I tried never to back down and usually my dogged persistence prevailed.

"Soldiers offered me pistols or knives, believing that I should have some kind of weapon. Even though I was from Texas, guns made me uncomfortable. I was given a snub-nosed .38 pistol as a farewell gift from an officer in the 1st Cavalry who was returning home to the States. He was sure I'd need to shoot my way out of a Vietcong ambush one day, but of course I never did. I was afraid if I had to shoot anything it would be my own foot.

"I was opposed to the war when I arrived in Vietnam and left as a true pacifist, more convinced than ever that humanity had to find peaceful ways of resolving conflict. Being in the field proved to me that while there are many cases of individual courage and heroism among soldiers, there is nothing about war itself that is heroic. The suffering and deaths of soldiers and casualties among the Vietnamese civilian population were staggering. I had no doubt that America's involvement was tragic and doomed to fail. There was nothing to prepare me for the death and devastation I saw."

Ann Bryan Mariano was in Vietnam from 1966 to 1971, reporting for The Overseas Weekly, a privately-owned newspaper for military stationed overseas. According to Women's eNews, she is currently suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and wrote her essay with the help of friends and family. "Alzheimer’s disease blows through my memory like wind through a Buddhist sand painting. Vietnam is still the most beautiful country I have ever seen. But images once so fixed in my mind are now dancing ghosts."

I knew Ann in Frankfurt at the time she left for Vietnam. I remember she took along a little red cocktail dress and a pair of red heels as a matter of principle, and it pissed off the male reporters at the Overseas Weekly that she was the first Overseas Weekly reporter into Vietnam. Even so, the reports she filed from Vietnam were read with grudging respect. I don't know why I thought of the Overseas Weekly today, and, finding a slim archive on line, noticed Ann's name in the masthead and googled my way to her story. I can't really imagine what Alzheimer's disease is like, but I hope Ann still catches glimpses of herself in Frankfurt the way I remember her. She was a good friend who put up with my arrogance and refused to believe I wasn't a serious newsman long after that was clear to everyone else. She taught me the phrase: "I can't even stand the way he ties his shoes," nursed me through pneumonia and sold me her Borgward when she left for Vietnam. I had a letter and a scarab she sent from India, and another letter from Vietnam, but I lost them, and I never heard from her again.

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