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Shadows From Can Tho
Book Review by
Writing is hard business even when a story flows like
it's being dictated or memories are vivid and fresh. Writers can understand and
appreciate good work when they read it. It draws you in. You want to know more
about the characters and what happens to them, what makes them tick.
bonus while reading Dick Barth's "Shadows from Can Tho," was the evolution of
his thinking about: the Vietnam War, his fellow soldiers and the Vietnamese
people. The Perry native has carried the story inside himself since he was a
combat helicopter pilot in the 191st Assault Helicopter Company in Can
Tho, Vietnam from May of 1970 to May of 1971. Three years ago, his family wanted to know
more about his service career. So began his research. It now fills a large
notebook that includes pictures of the people and places Barth knew. Social
media helped him connect with old friends along with the traditional
letter-writing and phone calls.
from Can Tho" is about the people "because they mattered," Barth said. Its
title was chosen because his memories of fifty years ago "persist in connecting
me with that time and that place," and because ".what goes around, comes
around." 120 letters he wrote home from Vietnam were saved by his first wife.
They helped with the chronology. Every story in the book that he wrote over the
past 2 ½ years is as he remembered.
things are printed in my memory as images," says Barth.
sounds of the '60s and '70s are part of it, too. Song titles preface every
chapter. Gordon Lightfoot's song, "If You Could Read My Mind," contains the
line, "In a castle dark or a fortress strong." Barth titled his larger story,
"A J.R. Barth Memoir, 1963-2013, A Castle Dark," from those lyrics. Lightfoot's
famous words, "I don't know where we went wrong but I just can't get that
feeling back," Barth said is the environment the federal government created.
Think "domino theory" and how the nation went to Vietnam to stop the spread of
Communism. That stoppage resulted in 3 million Vietnamese and 2 million
Cambodians killed. "I had to think how 'castle dark' is in every story of the
book," he said. As for 'a fortress strong,' "how do we get back to that?"
and his "old stick buddy," Tom Yost, traveled to Vietnam in February. Americans
are not hated despite their nation's legacy of that war - unexploded ordnance
and landmines. Since 2006, the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) has funded projects to
remove more than 2,791,372 shells and cleared over 7 million square
meters of land previously contaminated by unexploded ordnance. That
enabled more than 1.8 million people to farm their land, build their homes
and let their children play safely without fear of injury or death from
accidental explosions. MAG's Clear Path International
program has assisted over 12,000 survivors of accidents involving
landmines and bombs in 16 provinces in Vietnam. Barth is an unofficial
ambassador as he raises awareness of the issue through his book and his talks.
He feels obligated to convey the ugly truth about war then and now.
is back in Vietnam where he will teach English at Quang Binh University. "It's
a bit coincidental because the university is in the 1st province
north of the DMZ and [it] had the hell bombed out of it," Barth said. It is one
of the provinces MAG took Barth. "The serendipity is I've been there and am
going right in the middle of it to teach. The connections are unbelievable to
me." It has led to some pretty profound thinking and conclusions. "In the book, I tried to establish what we did
then is plant the seeds [of violence].
You can't avoid harvesting those seeds - and have a bitter crop that's
come home to roost." The shadows do not
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- Lorraine Sturm and
Richard "Dick" Barth are members of the Rotary Club of Perry, New York.
- The opinions
expressed in this Make-up article are those of the author and do not
necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial team