Maxine Hong Kingston Raises a War Widow’s Voice

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In 1993, author Maxine Hong Kingston asked veterans and their families to turn their wartime experiences into poems, novels and essays. Some were collected in Kingston’s book, Veterans of War; Veterans of Peace. In this 2007  Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, we hear the first-person account of Pauline Laurent, who was pregnant when she was told her husband was killed in Vietnam. In the clip, Moyers and Kingston read from Laurent’s personal essay, but we also hear from Laurent herself.

Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Maxine Hong Kingston.

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  • Anonymous

    I served as a medic in Vietnam. Ms. Hong Kingston inspired me to write my first impressions upon entering the country.

    There are no shadows in Vietnam. The sun is almost directly overhead and the shadows hide under your feet. At home in Minnesota, even at noon the shadows are long and comforting. The sun is much brighter in Vietnam, more intense, and when I stepped out of the airplane in Cam Rhanh Bay I felt exposed.

    I had been traveling in my dress blues which were by then badly wrinkled from a flight which had taken nearly 24 hours, and I pulled at my trousers to shake the wrinkles free. I was only a one-striper, but I had to look good. Squint-eyed and straight-backed, I swaggered across the tarmac and entered a Quonset hut lit by a bare, incandescent bulb swinging slowly on a long chain. An acidic smell of body odor and jungle rot cut into the back of my nose and burned my eyes. A dozen wet men with mud-blotched faces and tangled hair, clenched their rifles holding one finger lightly over the trigger guard, each silently watching my movements. Alert, alive. Alert, alive. There were no safe places then.

    One man sat on the dirt floor against a pole, M-16 across his abdomen, face a dead, black-eyed stare. On a boom box next to him played a song by John Lennon, “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” When a year later I returned to the land of shadows, I brought the stink back with me.