Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Author Biographies (alphabetical order - click on letter)
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A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | U | W | Y | Z
This story evolved from an entry in a journal I kept while serving with the Navy in the Persian Gulf. It was July 13, 1991, our ship was in port in Bahrain, and I was awaiting confirmation of my application for conscientious objector status. As I sat in the cramped stateroom I shared with five other officers, I wrote that day to preserve for my own memory the experience of being on watch on the bridge: the sights and the sounds, the activity and the boredom, the external vigilance and the internal reflection. Eleven days later, after my orders finally came through, I flew back to San Francisco. Two months after that, on September 20, 1991, I left the Navy with an honorable discharge and a $38,000 debt for my university scholarship.
In ways I could not then foresee, my experiences in the Navy shaped my future vocations and interests. For nearly six years I was a paralegal at Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit veterans service organization in San Francisco, helping homeless and disabled veterans obtain health care and disability benefits. While at Swords, I became an advocate for veterans who developed health problems as a result of service during and after the 1991 Gulf War, and I served on the board of directors of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans’ advocacy group. I primarily investigated the scope and severity of exposures to depleted uranium (DU) ammunition, producing reports and providing testimony about DU for federal investigations of veterans’ illnesses. Independently, I continue to promote expanded studies of veterans exposed to DU in the Gulf War and improved testing and health care for veterans exposed to DU during service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My experience working on issues related to the Gulf War sparked my interest in understanding other post-conflict issues and debates. I obtained a master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where I wrote my thesis on international responses to the environmental consequences of armed conflict. Currently I am pursuing a Ph.D. degree at the University of California at Berkeley, studying the social and environmental effects of conflict and development in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
JIM FAUSS (1940–1996)
At a meditation retreat in the early 1990s, Jim came up to Therese Fitzgerald of the Community of Mindful Living, looked her in the face, and said, “Therese, give me something to do. I don’t need to be here for myself. Let me help others. Let me do something for others.” When Therese and her husband Arnie Kotler, of Koa Books, visited Jim in the hospital in 1996, when he was dying of cancer, Therese asked if he’d like to read the Buddhist “Five Remembrances.” He responded, “Sure, I’ll read.” After reading the First Remembrance, “I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old,” he grinned his wide spread of a grin and said, “That sure sounds good to me.”
The last time Arnie and Therese visited Jim in the hospital, he was completely lucid although in much pain. At that time, the almond blossoms were in full bloom. Therese bent down to Jim’s ear and said, “Jim, the Almond Blossom Sangha is blooming beautifully now.”
He had so much energy, joy, and love to share with others. He created places of refuge for people to come, sit themselves down, and try to make peace with all the stuff kickin’ around inside. He set out on a course of meditation to center himself, to ready himself to meet death with as much ease as he could muster, with the help of all his wonderful family and friends—friends in the hospice movement, his veteran buddies, his friends in the Methodist Church, the Buddhist meditation hall, the Jewish synagogue, and many other places of prayer and contemplation that he made his home.
There is a nugget of inconsolable grief for the loss of Jim. But there is also being mindful of Jim and what he taught, and allowing him to continue in us. We can let the Jim with his down-to-earth authenticity help us look at pain and strife and even smile; the Jim whose love of cultural diversity based on deep connections with people all over the world, the Jim who can inform us so deeply from that beautiful way, and the Jim whose great heart of compassion and soulfulness, we can let all these Jims warm our hearts.
My mother read me Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” when I was little. My
dad came home from the war, having survived internment in a POW
camp after being shot down during the bombing of Dresden. A few
years later he joined the Air Force, and my two sisters and I were
raised as Air Force brats. In 1968 I was drafted and sent to Vietnam.
I came back in 1970 and finished college, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in creative writing. I lived off
the GI Bill until 1978, when I got a job at UC Berkeley. In 1986, I
started reading my Vietnam poems in public.
“Charlie Don’t Surf” was inspired by a line from Apocalypse Now. “Charlie” is a name we gave to the Viet Cong.