The Vietnam Episodes in Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop, Jr.

Today, we have a special guest here at War Through the GenerationsGeorge Bishop, Jr., author of the debut, Vietnam War novel Letter to My Daughter (this link leads to an Amazon.com affiliate page where the blog will receive a few cents if you purchase the book).  Please give George a warm welcome.

I’m pleased my novel Letter to My Daughter made its way to your website.  Although the frame of the story is a mother’s letter to her runaway daughter, an important part of the story also concerns the Vietnam War, so I think it’s entirely appropriate that my book should be featured here.

In my story, a fifty-year-old housewife in Baton Rouge remembers her boyfriend, Tim, who went off to serve in Vietnam in 1970.  They stayed in touch through letters that the boy sent to her, and later, she recollects these letters to her daughter. Although historical facts like dates and specific battles aren’t mentioned in my novel, I wanted Tim’s career as a soldier to be plausible—when he enlisted, where he might’ve gone for training, where he was deployed, his job, rank, and so forth.  Because I don’t have any military experience myself, and don’t know anyone who fought in the Vietnam War, I had to do quite a bit of research in order to get all this right.

Some of the best resources I found were websites maintained by veterans of various units that fought in Vietnam. Sites like the ones by veterans of the Army Security Agency and the 8th Radio Research Field Station, for example, are a treasure house of personal recollections and photographs, and they gave me an idea of what daily life might have been like for a boy like Tim.  What did he wear?  What did he see?  What did he eat and drink?  I found a menu from a Thanksgiving dinner provided one year to soldiers in Vietnam, for instance, which ended up in my novel.  I also stumbled across the detail of how to heat C-rations on the exhaust manifold of a Jeep.  It’s precisely these kinds of details that give a sense of reality to fiction, and through sites like these, I was able to find those details.

In my novel, Tim relays all these things in his letters back home, so in addition to getting the details right, I wanted to get the tone of his letters right, too.  On sites like the above I found copies of letters that soldiers had written home; most of these letters are posted by the veterans themselves.  I also relied on books of collected letters, like Bill Adler’s Letters from Vietnam and Bernard Edelman’s Dear America:  Letters Home From Vietnam.

In reading these letters, I was continually struck by how very young the soldiers usually were.  Like my fictional character Tim, many of them were small-town boys with high-school educations who had hardly traveled outside their states before they ended up in Vietnam.  So not only were they facing all the challenges, and horrors, of a military life, they were also facing for the first time another culture, and a very foreign one, at that.  All this is evidenced in their letters.  What’s remarkable is how most of them were able to weather their wartime experiences with such equanimity, humor, and decency.

Ultimately, in fiction all the research only goes to support the story.  Though I’d hesitate to say that Letter to My Daughter is “about” Vietnam, I certainly believe that it’s the Vietnam episodes that give the book its moral center.  And I hope that with my depiction of Tim and his experiences in Vietnam, I not only got it right, but I also, in a small way, honored all soldiers like him who lived and died there.

About the Author:

George Bishop, Jr., graduated with degrees in English Literature and Communications from Loyola University in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles to become an actor. After eight years of commercials, stage plays, guest starring roles in TV sitcoms, and the lead in a B-movie called Teen Vamp, he traveled overseas as a volunteer English teacher to Czechoslovakia.

He enjoyed the ex-pat life so much that he stayed on, living and teaching in Turkey and Indonesia before returning to the States to earn his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he won the department’s Award of Excellence for a collection of stories.

After several years of teaching at UNC Wilmington, he moved back overseas, first on a fellowship with the Open Society Institute in Azerbaijan, then with the US State Department’s Office of English Language Programs in India.  Most recently he taught with a University of Montana program at Toyo University in Tokyo.

His stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The Oxford American, The Third Coast, Press, American Writing, The Turkish Daily News, The Caspian Business News, and Vorm (in Dutch).

Letter to My Daughter (Ballantine Books, Spring 2010) is his first published novel.

FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

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3 Comments

  1. Great post! It still breaks my heart that we’re sending such young men off to fight in foreign lands – a friend of Vance’s is in Afghanistan now.

  2. I agree. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we as a human race still have not come to the conclusion that we should live and let live. So what if they do not agree with our way of life….does that really give us the right to force people into it? I think not, but really I’m a pacifist. I suppose there are times when you need military to defend yourself against people who want to conquer you or impose their will upon you, but when is enough, enough?

  3. Great post! I think all of the research he did really paid off. Tim seemed believable to me.

    –Anna


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