A few months ago I received the Minnesota Humanity Center “2017 Veteran’s Voices Award.” The following week I was interviewed by our local television station–I guess I forgot to post it on my blog.
I will be visiting Indiana University, South Bend, on April 18, 2017. During the day, I will discuss my Vietnam memoir, Muddy Jungle Rivers with two history classes who are using the book. There will be an evening event, open to the public, on campus, at Franklin D. Schurz Library.
A little extra event I’m excited about–two old shipmates from my first Vietnam deployment will be there–the first time we’ve seen each other in more than fifty years.
A few days ago, Rhonda Culbertson, from the Library interviewed me.
A Conversation with Wendell Affield, Author of Muddy Jungle Rivers
Posted on March 20, 2017 by jmfelli
By Rhonda Culbertson
I had the privilege of speaking with Wendell Affield, who will be coming to campus Tuesday April 18 to discuss his book, Muddy Jungle Rivers: A River Assault Boat Cox’n’s Memory Journey of His War in Vietnam and Return Home. The event will take place in the 3rd floor Bridge area of Wiekamp Hall starting at 5:00 p.m. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.
Mr. Affield is soft-spoken and articulate. His voice has the distinctive cadence and faint accent that reminds me of his generation of the Minnesotans I grew up with. He and his wife live near Bemidji, Minnesota, in a log cabin overlooking a small lake that flows into the nearby Mississippi River. A pair of swans are summer residents, and great entertainment.
He had a difficult childhood on a small farm in Northern Minnesota. Both his mother and stepfather struggled with mental illness. At 17 he enlisted in the Navy, and while still a teenager he was deployed to Vietnam during the Tet offensive, as a member of the Mobile Riverine Force. He piloted an armor troop carrier through the delta of the Mekong river and then on the Cua Viet River, just south of the DMZ. He was seriously wounded in an ambush and was medevaced off the river. Later he was brought back to the United States for rehabilitation and therapy for his injuries. The emotional and psychological wounds took longer to heal. Not until retirement did he begin the process of writing his memoirs. He started attending classes at Bemidji State University to learn the craft of writing. Over a period of ten years he honed a collection of memories and stories into his book.
We spoke at some length about his writing process. Surprisingly, considering the vividness and detail of his writing, he did not keep a diary during his time in Vietnam. He relied on a writing technique taught by Donald M. Murray in his book, Write to Learn, for creating a memory tree. The trunk of the tree is an event. As you delve into the specifics branching out from the main trunk, old memories start to reawaken. These ‘trigger memories’ are where other memories attach. Mr. Affield also made extensive use of military resources available on the web including ‘After Action Reports’ to supply missing pieces and additional detail. Those who shared his experiences confirm his accuracy.
The original essays were discrete stories based on vivid but disjointed memories, told from a retrospective viewpoint. After working with the material and consulting with classmates and mentors, he realized that it needed to be a larger chronological work told from the viewpoint of a young soldier.
I was not surprised to learn that stylistically, one of his main influences is Hemingway. His writing has the immediacy and carefully crafted sentences of that author. He is also an admirer of other WWI poets and writers, who evoked the loss and waste of war so powerfully.
Mr. Affield and I also talked about some of the moral and ethical challenges faced by soldiers in combat situations. Although he entered the navy with a fairly limited picture of the larger world, he felt that his childhood on a small farm and growing up near Red Lake Nation, an Ojibwe reservation north of Bemidji, gave him insight into the agrarian existence of the Vietnamese peasants. He was able to empathize with their plight, and imagine how people in his own community might react to the violent intrusions of war.
He feels fortunate that he did not have to fight in a context where he had to be the first to fire, or where the difference between soldier and civilian was blurred. He has a great deal of empathy for current soldiers who are fighting terrorists in an arena where the distinction is not always clear.
One of the most gratifying aspects of sharing his story has been the contacts he has made with other veterans. Social media has given him the chance to reconnect with many from his past. His website and blog have provided opportunities to interact with veterans and family members who have found insight into their own experiences through his story. Veterans struggling with posttraumatic stress are particularly drawn to his talks and workshops. He makes sure to have information about local veteran resources at all of his appearances.
Mr. Affield feels that writing can be a powerful healing tool for anyone dealing with trauma; not just veterans. Several times he mentioned that the act of writing the trauma down ‘puts boundaries’ around an event, and allows the writer to start making sense of the traumatic injuries and to approach them more dispassionately. He recommends the book, Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story, by Ron Capps as an aid for those who would like to record their own experiences.
Although Mr. Affield has taken careful pains to not glorify war in any of his writings, a history class with Tom Murphy made him realize that the anti-war movement perspective was missing from early drafts of his book. Embodied by one of his military comrades, nick-named “Professor”, the anti-war position was explored using remembered conversations. Upon returning home, Mr. Affield had an encounter with anti-war protesters. Thirty years later he returned to the scene in an attempt to learn why the protestors had assaulted a hospital bus loaded with wounded troops enroute to Great Lakes Naval Hospital. What he discovered was quite astonishing.
He hopes that accounts like his can help us, as a country, learn from the past. While reading H.R. McMasters’ Dereliction of Duty, Affield was outraged at the hubris and lies made by national leaders in the early 1960s—deception that dragged this country into the Vietnam War. He hopes that Mr. McMasters remembers what he wrote while serving as National Security Advisor for the current administration. Affield also talked about the experiences of his mother and grandmother who were in Europe during Hitler’s ascendancy. His grandmother, a student of history, foresaw the problems that might arise from the 1938 Munich Agreement. Mr. Affield sees parallels with the current situations in the Middle East and North Korea.
Mr. Affield closed our conversation with an anecdote. He wanted to place copies of his book in his former business place. He felt he needed to warn the owner, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, that there was profanity in the book. The owner took a long look at the author and said, “Wendell, war is profane.”
Please plan to join us for a fascinating conversation. Copies of the book are available for check-out in the library, and by contacting Vicki Bloom, email@example.com. For more information or to rsvp, please contact Rhonda Culbertson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the author and his books visit his blog at: http://www.wendellaffield.com or https://www.facebook.com/wendell.affield/.
(Written by Patt Rall, Bemidji Pioneer Previews, published Sunday, April 20, 2014.)
•Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning continues their spring season of talks with “A Healing Journey with Wendell Affield,” who is the author of “Muddy Jungle Rivers.” Affield will talk about his life after publication of his book, and his speaking engagements when he listened to hundreds of veterans and witnessed the devastating long-term effects of posttraumatic stress disorder. The program will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Gonvick Community Center. This NELL program is offered free of charge, however, donations are gratefully accepted as is membership in the organization.
Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning (NELL)
Program will be in Gonvick Community Center:
Coffee at 9am, program at 9:30 and wrap up around 11 or so. depending on questions.
Open to the public
(From NELL Newsletter)
In January 1968 Wendell Affield went to Vietnam as the cox’n of Armor Troop Carrier 112-11 with the Mobile Riverine Force. Part of his tour of duty was in the Mekong Delta with the Army 9th Infantry Division and, for four months, with the 3rd Marine Division on the Cua Viet River. He was wounded in an ambush and medevac’d home in August 1968.
Forty-five years later he reconnected with four of the ambush survivors after one of them discovered his book on Amazon. Affield will talk about his journey since Muddy Jungle Rivers was published in 2012. During book signings and speaking engagements he has listened to hundreds of veterans and witnessed the devastating long-term effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“As we age, we hope to make peace with the past; to make sense of long ago traumas. PTSD is not unique to Vietnam Veterans,” Affield says. “World War Two Veterans have broken down when they shared their story with me. We need to educate the public. PTSD is a normal human reaction to violence. And it’s normal not to burden loved ones with those memories. With this new generation of young men and women returning from combat zones it is our responsibility to listen to them and not judge. It is our responsibility to help them reintegrate into the community they left.”
Books will be available for sale at the NELL gathering
Tamara Edevold, NELL coordinator
Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning (NELL) is a 501(c) (3)non-profit organization, created to enrich the quality of life in our local communities through lifelong learning and the arts. Our goal is to inspire people to learn, to grow, and to give to their communities.
Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning provides programs in humanities and the arts, including a series of lectures in the spring and fall that are free and open to the public. NELL also offers performing arts and intergenerational programs in local schools, the Evergreen Reader program in area assisted-care facilities and special cultural events.
Minnesota’s Historic Northwest
A black army sergeant manning this 50 caliber machine gun was severely maimed when a B-40 rocket burned through the one inch armor. He was a true hero. I was medevac’d that day and have never been able to learn his identity. I’ve heard conflicting stories–that he died, that he lived and received the Silver Star.
Two rockets struck the cox’n flat. The first tore the bar armor aside, the second burned through, spraying me and the radioman with shrapnel. Usually when this happened, the sailors inside were killed.
Forty-five years have passed since that Sunday afternoon. This evening I sit in my meadow and reflect on the years I’ve been gifted. Evening rays pierce gray clouds as dry west wind rattles reed canary seed heads. In the distance two bald eagles spiral on thermals, high above an angus carcass decomposing in the neighbor’s pasture. And again I wonder why I am here when men a few feet away were maimed or killed. It was just another monotonous operation. Travel up another narrow river, search for the elusive Viet Cong.
Five men died–four sailors and one army corporal. Eighty-two were seriously wounded.
For the full 18 August 1968 Operating Report go to: http://www.mrfa.org/rpts/aug68/R181530Z.pdf
Killed In Action that Sunday afternoon:
08/18/68 – Stephen C. Brunton, BM3, Ukiah, CA – ASPB-112-2 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – Billy D. Roy, BM3, Oklahoma City, OK – ASPB-112-1 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – Edward R. Darville III, GMG3, Hialeah, FL – ASPB-112-2 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – Patrick J. Griffin, RM3, Topeka, KS – ASPB-112-1 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – LUGO-MOJICA HECTOR CPL Toa Baja, Puerto Rico E Co 4th Bn 47th Inf Dinh Tuong
Mobile Riverine Force Association website provided the details for this post; http://www.mrfa.org/
We will remember all who have gone before us at the Mobile Riverine Force Association Reunion, August 28-September 1, 2013. For more information go to: http://www.mrfa.org/2013.Reunion.htm
This past year, after I published Muddy Jungle Rivers, I’ve been humbled by the comments I’ve received from the men who served on the boats. Thank you.
This past week I participated in a writing workshop titled “Nonfiction and the Archeology of Memory,” taught by Joni Tevis. Joni’s website, http://www.jonitevis.com/
Joni’s class was a perfect fit for the project I am working on, reconstructing our family’s past from the wealth of primary documents I have. The biggest takeaway was when Joni told me, “Claim the authority over the material and your telling of it. You are the narrator, and you are the expert on this particular slice of history: your life, and your mother’s impact on you.”
I already have hundreds of pages written, reconstructing the history so I have a very firm grounding in the story. Now I must search for the deeper meaning of how my mother’s early life came to impact my siblings and me.
Ron Carlson was the Distinguished Visiting Writer. My main takeaway from his talks was the importance of discipline in writing. Google and Email is the writer’s enemy as they attempt to lure one away from the screen. “Ron Carlson Writes a Story” is a succinct guide on discipline as one writes the first rough draft. At the end of the writing hours each day is the time to do Google research and check the email.
Our class–Joni in the middle with red shoes. Note the monitor on the desk to the left: “Catherine from Wisconsin” could not travel to Bemidji State University so she participated via computer.
Tuesday, April 16, will be a busy day:
At 8:30 AM I will be on “Coyote Country Radio” KKWB 102.5 FM discussing Muddy Jungle Rivers.
At 7:00 PM Fosston Community Library and American Legion have teamed up to host a book reading and discussion. The public is invited.
This past month I visited with two classes at Bemidji State University who used Muddy Jungle Rivers as a text book Spring 2013 semester: Thank you Professor Marsha Driscoll and Professor Tom Murphy. I recently received an inquiry from University of Indiana, South Bend about purchasing Muddy Jungle Rivers for the Autumn 2013 semester for a History class.
This past weekend was very successful at the Bemidji Gun Show. I have booked for two up-coming gun shows in other cities.
We’ve been working on electronic marketing these past few months with great success. This past week we ran a Facebook promotion titled “Remembering Vietnam Forty Years Later.” 12,778 people clicked on it, many following through to purchase the Kindle edition. Others went to my web site for signed copies.
Thank you TJ Design Studio, Bemidji, MN and Hofmann Consulting, Edina, MN, for a job well-done.
I discovered this terribly water-stained letter in a packet I am currently reading. The tone of the letter seems fatalistic. Frederick Pierce, the author, has a son on a coastal patrol craft in the Mediterranean—perhaps one of WWII’s famed PT Boats.
Fred Pierce is my great uncle, an elusive link to our past. The Pierce family plays an important role in our genetic makeup–a role which I shall expand on in future posts.
My grandfather’s troop ship struck a German mine and sank in Antwerp Harbor in December 1944–an opening shot in the Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather flew back to the United States and returned to his duty station at Camp Shanks, New York. Note the forwarding addresses on the letter as it tries to catch up with him.
I spent two hours transcribing this letter, attempting to extrapolate the parts that are indecipherable because of the damage sustained during the decades it lay in the leaky-roofed chickenhouse on our old homestead in northern Minnesota.
Below the primary documents is my understanding of the text—-means I can not read it.
1945 – 01 – 12. From Frederick Pierce, 225 S. Fifteenth St., Philadelphia, PA to Lieut. Henry O Philips, Camp Shanks, Orangeburg, New York. The letter head on this letter reads: Frederick Pierce & Co. 225 S. 15th St., Philadelphia, Investment Securities, Incorporated 1916.
January 12, 1945
I had a nice letter from Eloise Garstin this week followed by your card. Thank you for letting me hear from you. I am delighted that your shipwreck, as Eloise called it, turned into no worse than it did for you. One of Ethel’s nephews had a similar experience on his Murmansk run. He even lost his outer clothing, and being a large fellow, was a sight when he reached home in Boston. My son Fred was on a salvage boat in the Mediterranean carrying dynamite forward when a torpedo rammed the stern killing a couple of men. He had a very close shave.
The war is one of great risk and lucky escapes for many. In his course Fred has cruised the entire south coast of France from Monaco to the Spanish border. He is now based in Oran. Was in Rome and Naples last month.
When you can – – – wish you come down and see us. I guess you do – – – man a chance and see a night – – your family when you write send them my kind wishes.
We live on Wynnewood.
With best wishes sincerely, Fredrick Pierce
Sixty years ago my grandmother began attending a psychology class at New York City College, studying abnormal behavior. For over half a century she searched in vain for a cure, trying to understand why her daughters had been cursed with mental illness. She left behind thousands of pages of New York City Mental Health booklets, newspaper clippings, and letter drafts to doctors and politicians who she thought might help find a cure. She also left behind hundreds of pages of hand-written notes, reminders for when she visited with her daughters’ therapists.
Today, sixty years later, I am attending a class, studying abnormal behavior, trying to make sense of the heart-wrenching story my grandmother left behind. It’s interesting to note that the first Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders was not published until 1968. As I scratch the surface of psychological knowledge I juxtapose my grandmother’s notes, the terminology and theory she was taught, to today’s nosological classification of mental disorders.
Here are a few pages of her 1953 psychology class notes:
Each Sunday I plan to post information as I move forward in developing this memoir.
This past year has been very rewarding with the publication of Muddy Jungle Rivers. In December it was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award. On January 26 the four finalists for each genre will be announced.
Bemidji State University used the book in a Fall 2012 History Class and will use it again in a Spring 2013 Honors Program class. Thank you Professor Tom Murphy—it was rewarding to speak to your students.
Two years ago Muddy Jungle Rivers was a 350 page manuscript collecting dust in my office. I was busy doing research and writing my next book. Each day I was distracted by that dusty manuscript and finally realized I must publish it before I could fully concentrate on my next project. After sending query letters to several agents and publishers who worked with war genre literature I realized no one was going to publish an unknown living in northern Minnesota.
I began studying self-publishing avenues and was horrified at the exploitation of uninformed first-time authors by so many Self Publishing companies. As I researched, I came to the realization that I could publish my own book. On January 1, 2012, my wife and I created Hawthorn Petal Press, LLC. Today, Whispering Petals Press is our imprint and a resource center for other self-publishing writers.
2012 has been a learning experience about book-selling and distribution. I received a $1,000 Individual Artist grant from Region 2 Arts Council for marketing. The grant allowed me to purchase three advertisements in the New York Review of Books. The reason I used NYRB was because Steve Almond, a well-known East Coast author, had graciously written the Foreword for Muddy Jungle Rivers. Steve’s work is light-years from war genre literature. I reasoned that his name on a Vietnam War memoir would piqué his audience’s curiosity. Steve and I had developed an interesting connection when I studied under him in a writing workshop. After each advertisement in NYRB I experienced a small on-line sales increase but certainly not worth the cost of the ads.
One morning at breakfast, Kent Nerburn, a local resident and nationally recognized author, and I discussed book marketing and sales. Kent expressed frustration with the traditional publishing industry and said that he is impressed with the positive reception and interest he receives when visiting regional libraries. I respect his knowledge and experience.
2013 my goal is to expand into the regional systems of Kitchigami Regional Library and Lake Agassiz Regional Library.
My marketing plan is:
Sell a minimum of thirty books at each presentation. At that threshold, I can donate five dollars to the library for each book—a minimum of $150.00—and five dollars for each additional book sold. Because it is a Vietnam War memoir, I hope to create a partnership between the participating library and the local American Legion and other veterans’ organizations.
I just scheduled my first presentation at Lake Agassiz Regional Library—Fosston Branch, for April 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm. Rob Mayer, Commander, Fosston American Legion, is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the library in this veteran Community Support idea.
If your organization is interested in booking a presentation, please contact me at email@example.com
Our community has been fantastic in their promotion of Muddy Jungle Rivers since it was published in April 2012. Thank you, Bemidji Public Library, Bemidji Community Art Center, Beltrami County History Center, Region 2 Arts Council, Luekens Village Foods, Book World, Kat’s Book Nook, TJ Design Studio, Shannon’s Art and Soul, KAXE Radio, Lakeland Public Television, David Quam Video Productions, and American Legion.
View Muddy Jungle Rivers interview on Lakeland Public Television at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3bWJGUstUo