Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Author Biographies (alphabetical order - click on letter)
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In 1968, I was born in Svay Rieng City, Cambodia, near the Vietnamese border. I am a survivor of the Pol Pot regime. I lost my father, my oldest brother, and several aunts and uncles between 1975 and 1979. In Cambodia, I was a teacher at a public high school in Phnom Penh. I married James Janko in 2000. Two years later, we moved to the United States of America. I am now living with my husband in Oakland, California. I have been interested in a medical profession since I was a girl. I will begin nursing school in 2006, and I hope to one day be a nurse-practitioner.
My novel, Buffalo Boy and Geronimo, began at a meditation-and-writing retreat in which children were present. Maxine Hong Kingston, who led the writing part of the retreat, offered a suggestion: “If you write about war, write about it in a way that a child would understand.”
I began that day to write about the children and animals of Southeast Asia, and I wrote in detail about the land, the rivers, that which sustains life. I was a platoon medic in the Viet Nam–American War, a war that—in my memory—had been a story about soldiers. But my novel went in a direction that surprised me: The land became a character, and the children and animals became main players. Nguyen Luu Hai (Buffalo Boy) and Antonio Lucio Conchola (Geronimo) are relentless in their search for beauty. They do not compromise. They persevere.
In the early 1960s, when the United States was sending advisors to Vietnam, I was faced with the choice of being drafted or leaving the country. I do not believe in killing people to support the power plays of governments who jump into wars for questionable reasons. So I joined the Air Force Medical Corps and worked in hospital psychiatric wards. During my reserve duty through 1968, I worked in Air Force hospitals in New Jersey and California, helping to treat the increasing number of airmen who came back physically and emotionally wounded from the Vietnam War.
In the 1970s, I taught in community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area, focusing on outreach to underprivileged individuals and groups. I taught in a reentry program for Vietnam vets returning to college. I also counseled delinquent boys and worked as a juvenile probation officer. I worked as a parent participation coordinator for countywide childcare and development programs and served on the California Governor’s Advisory Committee Task Force for Child Development Services.
In recent years, I have returned to teaching—in programs for adults at City College of New York in Harlem and at Children’s Aid Society in a community school in Washington Heights. More recently I taught reading, writing, and math skills to youthful offenders at a county correctional facility in western Massachusetts.
Currently I am associate director of youth programs for a community center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I also run a poetry and fiction reading series at a local bookstore in the Berkshires and a radio program that features the spoken word and music across cultural boundaries.
I was born in Oakland, California, on January 28, 1947, and raised in San Leandro. I was drafted into the Army in 1966 and arrived in Vietnam on my birthday in 1967. In-country, I served as an infantry soldier in the 9th Infantry Division with Company B 4/47th Infantry and with the 2/60th Infantry. Our area of operation was south of Saigon in the Mekong Delta.
After military service, I worked as a baker. The last bakery position I held was in Alameda County Jail, Santa Rita, where I supervised and worked with inmates. Then I was a supervisor in the food service department of Highland Hospital in Oakland. My county employment ended in 1995, when I was laid off during a period of downsizing. At first, being out of work brought anxiety; however, I came to realize that it was a gift, which allowed me to pursue education.
I began writing poetry, which has become part of my healing process, while attending Chabot College in Hayward, California. I received a degree in English literature from Holy Names College (now Holy Names University) in Oakland and a master of theological studies degree from the Franciscan School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. My master’s thesis, which focuses on pastoral ministry to Vietnam veterans, is entitled “God! Where Were You in Vietnam and Where Are You Now: Theological Perspectives and Pastoral Approaches for Veterans Whose War Experience Damaged Their Christian Faith.” I hope to publish this thesis. I volunteer as a boxing coach at the University of California, Berkeley. I have one son, David, who at the time of this writing is twenty-nine.