Last night I was honored to share an evening of poetry with Don Blackburn, a Vietnam veteran and a writer. The event was hosted by the wonderful Becky Luening and Brian Willson, peace activists working for Veterans for Peace.
Don served in Vietnam in 1967-8 and took part in the Tet Offensive of ’68 that changed everything for the Americans in the war. Back in the U.S., he got a degree in English/writing instruction at Humboldt State University then taught in Scapoose High School. Haunted by his Vietnam experience, he traveled there and has since made it his home, working for several organizations that help victims of dioxin poisoning from Agent Orange. He lives most of the year in coastal city of Nha Trang, Vietnam. The rest of the time he lives on the this side of the Pacific on the Oregon coast, restoring 22 acres of forest land near Bandon. Don says, “I strongly urge American veterans who were in Vietnam during the war to return here to see how it has changed.”
Don’s books explore the feelings of regret over his part in the Vietnam War and his love of the people of Vietnam. You can find his works Into the Heart and All You Have Given at Create Space. Powerfully written and deeply felt, these books brought tears to my eyes.
The reading event was held at Brian Willson and Becky Luening’s house in Portland. Brian, also a writer, is an activist who for years has been revered as a leader in the peace movement. His book Blood on the Tracks, traces his metamorphosis from gung ho Air Force officer to radical peacenik.
Throughout the evening, I felt a wonderful sense of camaraderie with like-minded individuals, sharing our stories of war and reconciliation. A wonderful evening.