Patricia Ann Paul’s recently published memoir title: “Curse of Interesting Times: A Vietnam Era Memoir,” is based on a reputed Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” which has …
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Patricia Ann Paul’s recently published memoir title: “Curse of Interesting Times: A Vietnam Era Memoir,” is based on a reputed Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” which has no proven source. But, it was certainly appropriate during what she calls “the Vietnam quagmire” — and unfortunately, strikes home today. The book opens March 31, 1968, as she and her fiance, John, watch President Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not run for another term — due to the Vietnam War.
Wedding plans were made for mid-June, soon after graduation from the University of Iowa for both — and John was enrolled in graduate school, while Patricia planned to start teaching nearby. His draft status was 1A and the hope of deferment for graduate school involved holding out through the summer without being drafted. Paul mentions Ken Burns’ statement, connected to his recent documentary about the Vietnam War, which had escalated since 1964, resulting in death for young Americans, that “it is central to understanding who we are now …” That is a thread that runs through the book, with its historic notes heading many chapters. (I found this really engaging.)
That year (1968) was the Age of Aquarius. “Hair” opened on Broadway; 16,889 American soldiers died in Vietnam; Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; anti-Vietnam War riots roiled the Democratic National Convention; Americans elected Richard Nixon, the only president to resign … Apartment rental was impossible due to John’s draft status — life focused on the mailbox. John managed to get one semester completed, but had to report Feb. 18 of the next year — after Richard Nixon had become president. After basic training, with the threat of Vietnam assignment constantly hanging over his head, John was assigned to Mannheim, Germany — somewhat familiar territory to Patricia, who had traveled in Germany. At least for a time, the couple could be together, although the possibility of reassignment hung in the air.
They found a small apartment on the third floor of Frau Schaffer’s house. Despite peeling wallpaper and inadequate heating, they settled into a routine — John became an MP and Patricia found some teaching jobs — necessary because money was short. When there was time off, they were able to explore in Germany, including during a visit from her parents, which included some humorous incidents, lovingly recounted …
Bits of recent history are smoothly stitched in. With her parents, they set off on a trip “down the Romantic Road” to Rothenburg ob der Tauber — an outstanding historically rich spot with a medieval castle, begun in the 10th century. During World War II, six Americans were sent to offer the Germans a three-hour window to surrender — or the city would be heavily bombed. The German commander gave up the town, saving it for posterity, Paul writes. “Thank goodness!” Legends about the 17th century’s disastrous Thirty Years War were re-enacted around the marvelous mechanical clock in the square. More easy-to-absorb historic tidbits … Next came a visit to Mad King Ludwig’s Bavarian realm, including the white fairy-tale castle, made more famous by its Disneyland copy …
Later the couple visited Berlin, still “trapped behind the Iron Curtain” — an experience Patricia felt that John should have before they headed for home and law school … Heavy, heavy fog greeted them and stayed with them through a scary flight to still war-damaged Berlin, now a popular travel destination with shiny shops and hotels.
Eventually, Vietnam became part of our history and in “Epilogue I,” the more mature Pauls returned to Germany in 1991 with their two sons, Ryan and Evan, freshmen in college and high school. Pieces of the fallen Berlin Wall were appearing for sale. The family flew on Christmas Day, armed with new guidebooks. Landing in Frankfurt, they head for Berlin and search for a Hotel Pension Goethe with no exterior signage evident.
More adventures ensue traveling with teens — food is an issue, but there is a nearby McDonald’s. And imaginations kick in as the boys start to consider a possible past for these buildings and even Checkpoint Charlie — “or what remains of it.” They saw Wartburg Castle, “where Martin Luther hid from Pope Leo XI in 1521 after refusing to deny his beliefs at the Diet of Worms” — and of course to Mannhein to show the boys 102 Arndtstrasse, Mannheim-Feudenheim — where the couple had started out. (It had a facelift and Frau Schaeffer’s rose jungle no longer drapes over the sidewalk …)
Paul, now retired, wraps up with a bit about teaching “Literature of Conflict: Glorify versus Horrify,” including a talk by a Vietnam Green Beret veteran with spellbinding stories. Kids consider war in a way they had not before. In 2013, the Pauls visited Vietnam … overwhelmed at the tunnels the Viet Cong inhabited and again so grateful that John didn’t have to go there.
Finally, there is an account of travel to Belgium to search for possible relatives-smoothly bringing in another bit of history … and a thorough list of the many citations included. Almost 70 percent of American draftees indeed served elsewhere — not Vietnam — at that time. Where were they??? Paul provides one kind of answer here.
The author lives in Castle Rock — and Keystone — and is active in adult education, with Ollie-Osher Life-Long Learning Institute.
The book is available at Tattered Cover and through Amazon. Paul is available for meetings with groups in the area, the author says.
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