I joined the Vietnam Veterans of America
vva.org/) for the companionship of other veterans. I let it be known that, as a writer, I was interested in hearing and recording their stories.
Most veterans did not want to share. I am sorry to say that many of their stories have already died with them. I am a believer in telling these stories no matter where they lead. (Left:Bobby in his Mess Dress)
Bobby (Right) was willing to talk to me. I decided to focus on three things important to who we are: what we do, what we say, and what other people say about us. I continued to listen and learn about Bobby over a three-year period. But I never asked him any detailed questions. I always relied on what he wanted to tell me. When he was through speaking, I stopped writing and we talked about other things.
I could tell Bobby felt like he failed in his responsibility, even though there was nothing he could do about it. He stopped and said, "That's it. I ain't got no more." I never asked him another question about the incident. (Right: Bobby at the beach)
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. Some of my first Bobby stories came from Bobby when we sat down together at a fall picnic for members of our veterans group. We sat at one of many tables eating from a buffet set up by the group. I did most of the talking about my desire to record some of the details of the Vietnam War from individual soldiers. I consider them the missing pieces that fill in the blanks of the big picture. He was one of the few veterans willing to speak about Vietnam. As you can see from the poem, Bobby loved to eat. In fact, he was an overeater. Food is a central motif in his story.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional for you to write and why? I think it was the part where I received the phone call from Melvin telling me that Bobby was going to be removed from life support. He said to me, "I know how much you loved him." I thought that was so powerful. I was raised in a Greek family where men never spoke of loving each other. So hearing someone tell me that they knew how much I loved Bobby as a friend was deeply emotional for me. I always had trouble reading that section out loud. In fact, I avoided reading it at open mics for a long time because it made me feel like crying.
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