Telling Our Stories

The following is a transcript between my uncle and I about his experience in the Vietnam War.

Can you tell me about your experience and how you got involved in the war?

Well, I’m a retired soldier, I was in the military for 20 years. I went in the military of May of 1968 and retired June 1st, 1988.

Why did you enlist?

Well, back then, back in the 1960’s it was kind of a young guy’s duty. Almost everybody joined the military at that time unless they were medically disqualified. Which is different today, but back then almost everybody went in. A lot of my friends were going in. It was more red, white, and blue; duty to country.

When you enlisted, did you know you would be going to Vietnam?

The war went on, and it was a 13 year war, and it started right around 1962-63 somewhere in there, so when I went in 68 I had a feeling I had a chance I would go.

What happened once you enlisted?

Actually, it was two years. After I went in the military I went to aviation. So I had to go to aviation school down in Alabama. And then my first tour of duty overseas was in Korea. And then when I came back from Korea, it was less than a year later that I was sent to Vietnam.

Can you talk about Vietnam?

I entered Vietnam July of 1970, and I left in January of 1972. So I was there a total of 18 months. When I was in Vietnam I was what they call a helicopter door gunner.

What was Vietnam like?

Hot. Very, very hot. No showers, food was awful, all we ate was rations. It was just hot and miserable. The jungles were thick.

What was your role while you were there?

As a helicopter door gunner, we flew seven days a week. And I stood in the door and if we drew fire, we would return fire, and then we just went around looking for trouble. Ya know, seeing if we could locate the enemy on the ground in the jungle by blowing the branches back with our blades.

What would you say was your most significant experience while in Vietnam?

I would say, for the good part, I crashed seven times and never got hurt. That’s the good part. The bad part is, I lost so many good friends that were with me and you just can’t understand how somebody could be sitting six to eight inches away from you and didn’t make it but yet you did. That’s the bad part.

How was it that you weren’t hurt in all those crashes?

Don’t know. Just lucky stars. God watching over me I guess. I still think about those guys in the helicopter with me. Even today, even after 47 years I still have dreams about it.

What was your experience coming back?

Awful. People spit on us, calling us baby killers; just awful. There was no parade like they get today. There was no welcome home or anything like that. We kinda had to hide that we were in the military as best we could so we didn’t get bothered at airports and things like that. We’d been through hell. You gotta remember when you go over and you’re 19, 20 years old, you become an old man real fast. Old woman too, there’s a lot of female nurses over there too, they should be honored just as much as the men were. Putting body parts back together, I mean those girls worked hard.

What was something you learned or something you took away from this experience?

It’s just water under the bridge, a thing of the past. Now I’ve been retired for almost 28 years now, so just keep marching forward.  When I first came home I thought about how spoiled the Americans were. We have so much and we just take everything for granted, and sometimes I think we need to stop and take time, and appreciate what we do have. We get to go to sleep every night and get up every morning, don’t have to be looking over your shoulder. You go to school, you go to work, you can do whatever you want to do; a lot of countries don’t have that. We gotta really be thankful for what we have.

What does it mean to you that so many people are coming together to read and talk about a book about the Vietnam war?

I think a lot of guys who were over there are probably really grateful that a story like theirs is finally being heard. It’s not like today when those boys who come back from Iraq and stuff and they can talk about what they saw and what happened. We didn’t do that. When I got back from Vietnam it was like those two years didn’t exist. We didn’t talk about it – we kept our heads down and our uniforms hidden. A lot of people don’t know what happened in Vietnam because of that, none of the boys coming back talked so no one knew. I think it’s great that our stories are finally being told, and young people are willing to listen.

Bruce M. Bullock U.S. Army Retired


The Stories We Choose to Tell: How Do They Shape Us?

Through collaboration with our area high schools and middle schools throughout the Ottawa area, we were able to showcase a variety of videography, photography, text and audio recordings at the Holland Armory, which represented the way that the act of story-telling influences the way that we understand and perceive ourselves and others.

Thank you to all who joined us!

When we can join together in a way that transcends age and builds community, we often find that we grow with one another in an unexpected way.

Join us next week for more events and book discussions!

Veteran’s Day Memorial at The Commons of Evergreen

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It was great to see you all at The Commons of Evergreen last night as The Holland Area Veterans Council presented their Annual Veterans Day Program.

Thank you to the Holland American Legion Band for playing music.

In addition, it was humbling to see the Michigan Vietnam Wall memorial on display at The Commons of Evergreen, naming 2,648 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War.

Over 22 veterans from the Vietnam War were able to attend, as well as many others who served in the wars throughout our history.

Over 300 people attended the event tonight.

See you Friday at the Holland Armory for area middle school and high school’s exhibition of “The Stories We Choose to Tell: How Do They Shape Us?”

“A Musical Journey to Vietnam with Van-Anh Vo”

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It was great to see all those who attended the event “A Musical Journey to Vietnam with Van-Anh Vo” at St. Francis de Sales last night.

As an Emmy award-winning zitherplayer (among other instruments, as her biography states), the experience of hearing traditional music of North, Central and Southern Vietnam; Western collaborations; and her own composition using Vietnamese instruments alongside the Hope College jazz students and faculty was an event that was an encouraging way to see and feel a different part of Vietnam, which many of us are unfamiliar with.

Join us tonight at The Commons of Evergreen at 7pm for The Holland Area Veterans Council;s Annual Veterans Day Program presentation.


Member Monday – Abbey Stroop

Anytime we embark on a one-book reading program, I ask myself what I think the community will get out of the title we select.  In the case of The Things They Carried, I hoped that multiple generations would have a common ground to begin sharing their own stories. As a member of the steering committee, even before The Big Read events begin, my hopes have already been fulfilled.

Every Thursday morning, my son and I have breakfast with my dad. As our work unfolded, I talked with my dad about the book and our plans in the community. Until one morning, when, instead of my chattering about my daily concerns, my dad started talking. He told me about the kids from his neighborhood. Like recalling a list of friends from school, he told me who went to Vietnam and who didn’t come back. And about a certain field exercise with his platoon that, had it been in combat, would have meant that he wouldn’t have come home.

His stories surprised me, academically and emotionally. The Vietnam War had been a school topic to me, but I cried for a long time after dropping my son off at school. How could I never have known any of this about my dad? About the friends that populated his childhood memories, but won’t ever be around to tell their stories. And about the day the leaves parted in front of him revealing a machine gun that forced him to face his mortality on a moment’s notice.

And how is it that I never realized that my dad was once a scared kid facing down a world of violence?

Why The Big Read is Important to Me

By Eva Dean Folkert

I have never been one for war stories.  I don’t read them, won’t watch them, and hardly listen to them either.  The heft of the subject matter is too heavy for me to bear; it weighs down my heart and tears at my soul.  So I just simply avoid it.

I suppose I have my father and brother to thank for that.  Between them, Major Robert P. Dean, my dad, and Colonel Robert C. Dean, my brother, served in four wars – WWII, the Korean War, Desert Storm, and the Iraq War – and neither ever talked openly about their experiences.  And to be quite honest, I never asked them to. My dad’s two Purple Hearts and Bronze Star were enough proof of his foot-soldier heroism without my asking him to relive it.  The care packages we sent to my surgeon-brother with covert whiskey hidden inside were enough to know he needed additional means to cope with the horrific injuries he treated due to modern military arsenals. I knew the heft of the subject matter weighted down their hearts and souls far deeper than mine. So I just simply avoided it.

Now though, the Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, sits by my favorite reading chair, its new binding becoming slowly, intentionally cracked because of the Big Read 2015.  When I jubilantly joined in the Big Read in 2014, I picked up a well-worn copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird at the kickoff event where Dr. Fred Johnson was in full educational force.  I wanted it that way. I wanted to read a copy of the long beloved story of Scout and Atticus, Jem and Boo Ridley that many hands had held, that many eyes had read, that many minds had believe in before.  I suppose you could say its tactile familiarity even soothed me.

But this year, when I again attended the Big Read launch with Dr. Johnson booming his mind-blowing lessons once more, I was glad to find that the only Big Read books I could pick up were as new as the day they came off the printing press.  Every O’Brien book was gloriously pristine and clean.  Actually, it seems only right that this is how it should be.  I should hold and read and believe in a brand-new book with brand-new stories to me, even though some version of them have been living in my own family for years.  I suppose you could say its tactile unfamiliarity might even soothe me too.

And I know this: I need the help of other big readers to navigate a new, written, war-torn terrain to understand better and grow more for the sake and love of my father and brother.  These O’Brien war stories I prefer not to read alone though.  So I’m thankful that the Big Read will be there for me.

Recap of Last Week’s Events

Thank you to all who joined us for the documentary Naneek last Wednesday night in Graves Hall. It was great to see you there!

If you missed us and would like to find out more information, Naneek’s site is a great resource for you to learn more about Tim ‘Naneek’ Keenan’s experience of returning to the “country he equates with war.”

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In addition to Naneek, we hosted two book discussions in Holland on Tuesday and Thursday of last week.

Did you miss out on our events earlier in the week?

Check out our recaps of Dr. Fred Johnson’s talk, The Legacy of Their Burdens and our visit from Luis Carlos Montalvan and dog, Tuesday, for a reading of Tuesday Tucks Me In.

Stay tuned for more The Big Read Holland Area events and book discussions coming this week!

Tuesday Tucks Me In- Children’s Event at Herrick District Library

Thank you to all who joined us last night with Luis Carlos Montalvan, former U.S. Army Captain and New York Times bestselling author, and his service dog Tuesday at Herrick District Library for a reading of his bestselling book, “Tuesday Tucks Me In.”

He spent 17 years as part of the US Army from 1990-2007 and was awarded with two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, and the Combat Action Badge among other awards for his service and valor.

Join us tonight at 7pm for the documentary Naneek in Winants Auditorium in Graves Hall on the Hope College campus.

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The Legacy of Their Burdens- Dr. Fred Johnson

Thank you to all who joined us tonight to hear Dr. Fred Johnson, an Associate Professor of History from Hope College, guide us through Vietnam’s history up to America’s engagement in the war and an overview of the historical context surrounding the novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

Dr. Johnson served as a Communications-Electronics and Infantry Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He addressed the legacies of the burdens of the Vietnam War included conflict abroad, unfinished war at home; bizarre irony; unsung heroes; their difficult duty; debated loyalty; defiance; disillusionment; and of things gone wrong.

In addition to Dr. Johnson, Mayor Bob VandeVusse spoke and dedicated November as the month of literacy and urged all members in the community to read the book and participate in events. November is nationally recognized as Family Literacy Month.

Click here to listen to Dr. Johnson’s talk

Barnes and Noble Book Vouchers

Want to support The Big Read Holland by reading a stack of new books?

Download this link to access vouchers that donate a percentage of your purchase at Barnes and Noble to The Big Read Holland Area. Offer valid only at the Barnes and Noble located on Felch Plaza in Holland.

Thank you for your support and for joining us to help create an entire community reading one book.

Big Read Holland Voucher