Archive for Thursday, April 26, 2001

The Mag: Memories of war

April 26, 2001


By Mitchell J. Near

New interest in the Vietnam War has promoted everything from a PBS examination series to a term-ending visit to battlefield sites by then President Clinton. Now a Topeka writer is recounting what it was like for one war bride and her GI spouse in the new novel "When Duty Calls."

The novelist, Faith DeVeaux, did not have to look hard for inspiration; she merely used her parents as the protagonists of the story.

"The story is my parents' story. I just changed the names," DeVeaux says.

John DeVeaux spent years in the military and retired with the rank of colonel. He also served a tour of duty in Vietnam, which kept DeVeaux and his wife, Gaynell, separated for more than a year. They kept

in touch through writing letters. He was able to provide a pretty compelling account of life under fire, while his wife was able to give -- and derive hope from -- the letter writing.

"My mom always wrote him back when she heard from him. His letters were the way that she knew that he was still OK," DeVeaux says.

Life in Vietnam was a family affair, with John DeVeaux serving his tour of duty at the same time his brother also was involved in the fighting.

"They would meet up and check up with one another to make sure everything was OK," she says.

"When Duty Calls" is the fictionalized retelling of the Deveaux's family story. The plot revolves around the estranged Anderson family. Anita and her husband Tom must pull their family back together after the war and rely on their wartime correspondence to do so. Anita also finds solace in the letters when Tom is in a coma at one point in the story. The novel's storyline is based on the series of letters that the two wrote to one another 30 years ago.

been living in California but settled in Kansas to be close to her retired parents. It was while she was still in California that she got the inspiration for "When Duty Calls."

DeVeaux was working for an audio book supplier that focused on interpersonal relationship stories. While she was involved in the development process, she realized that her parents' letters would make a good backdrop for a novel. She won positive feedback from everyone involved, though her mom was a bit reluctant to give her approval.

"I thought about the letters and how they were better than the books I dealt with, but it took my mom about 10 months to think about it first," DeVeaux says.

In her parents' letters, DeVeaux thinks there also is a strong eyewitness account of the Vietnam War. Her father wrote visually descriptive passages about the terrain, what battle conditions were like and morale among the men. He was even able to ascertain how events would progress during the war.

"The letters would match a timeline in any encyclopedia," DeVeaux says. "I remember when he wrote that they thought they would be pulling out, because new personnel were not coming in to replace those being shipped out. About three days later, the president (Nixon) announced that the United States would be withdrawing from Vietnam."

Because of the turmoil surrounding the war, it's been repressed in the nation's collective consciousness, DeVeaux says, pointing out that there is not much in the way of serious dialogue going on in schools about the Vietnam War.

"It's sad, but the war still pushes a lot of hot buttons," she says.

Her goal with the book is to touch readers and convey a message of hope. DeVeaux believes it's the same goal her mother held in writing the letters.

"It's about healing," she says. "My mom wanted to show that there is hope, and that we can make it through anything."

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