The winner of Mrs. Lieutenant
from the Bloggy Giveaways Carnival
is Jo, who asked:
Was your info on the four different wives taken from the lives of family and friends, or of strangers? Are you portraying yourself in one of the four women?
Phyllis Zimbler Miller responds to some reader questions:
Great questions! And instead of trying to answer all of them individually, I’m going to write overall replies that I hope will answer almost everything.
Background of Novel/Characters
I wrote this novel based on personal experiences I had in the spring of 1970 when I was, indeed, a new army officer’s wife at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, right after the Kent State National Guard shootings.
Of course I mashed up incidents and people’s characteristics. And I dramatized and expanded incidents and personalities.
But what’s true is that, besides me – a Jew from Elgin, Illinois, on the entertainment committee for the graduation luncheon for the wives of the AOB officers were a Southern Baptist, a black, and two Puerto Ricans, one of whom didn’t speak English. Needless to say, we all had to do some adjusting to each other.
And while Sharon Gold is the closest character to me, I was not an anti-war protester. I had my head stuck very far in the sand in order to ignore the nightly news of fighting in Vietnam because my husband had said on our third date: “I’m going to Vietnam.”
In fact, my husband served two years on active duty, although he had signed up for a third year under a voluntary indefinite program. Then the military decided to reduce the number of ROTC officers on active duty.
Coverage of Iraq War/Fictional Depiction of Combat
One of the differences between the media’s coverage of Vietnam and today of the Iraq War and the fighting in Afghanistan, I believe, is that there was a draft during the Vietnam War. This meant that many more people were affected by what was happening half-way around the world. Today, with an all-volunteer army, the war isn’t as much of a major topic, so I think the media tend to give less coverage to war news.
And as to whether any book or movie can ever completely represent what it is like in combat, I don’t think so. But sometimes there are telling moments in a fictional story that are very compelling.
There’s a moment in the movie THE DEER HUNTER before two of the protagonists escape their captors that has forever stayed with me: An unknown American soldier stands waist-high in water in a wire cage with blood dripping down his face. He’s alive, but he’s not there; he’s retreated from the reality of his surroundings. To me the hopelessness on his face feels completely real.
Various Questions Answered
What I think is most applicable from those days to these days is that it is important to show support for the troops. While showing appreciation doesn’t promise to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, it must be helpful to have a supportive public rather than a hostile public.
Best perk of being an army wife was when we lived in Munich we could travel all over Europe (on a very limited budget). And traveling around Europe is the one thing I do miss from my army days.
Hardest thing was worrying about my husband being sent to Vietnam.
For people who have no idea what the military is like, I think the most important thing to understand is that it is a very large extended family. And soldiers have to trust their comrades to have their backs. Thus military spouses must accept this reality and be willing to play their part as to what is expected of them.
I frequently blog about Lifetime’s ARMY WIVES at mrslieutenant.blogspot.com. I’ve read the non-fiction book by Tanya Biank on which the series is based, so I know how the stories have been changed from the book. And because it has been 36 years since I was a Mrs. Lieutenant, I can’t vouch for how accurate the series is.
I also can’t say how things have changed for junior officers’ wives since that time. But I’m pretty sure the wife of a low-ranking enlisted man still can’t be good friends with the wife of a post’s commanding general as in ARMY WIVES. [Technically, spouses of service members of any rank can be friends. Fraternization rules apply only to the service member. However, the restriction on fraternization for the service member can make such spouse friendships difficult. –Ed.]
The biggest challenge in writing this novel was giving up being a journalist (I have a B.A. in Journalism from Michigan State University) and learning how to write as a novelist.
While I can’t speak personally about how to stay connected as I wasn’t separated from my husband, I can say what I think is the hardest part of being a military wife: Not having control over your own destiny. Some bureaucrat somewhere can change your life forever. (In my case an army clerk in St. Louis probably saved my husband’s life when she postponed his active duty date until he got a response on his request for a branch transfer from infantry to military intelligence.)
Helping Our Troops
Right now Operation Soldier Care is a collaborative summer project between eMail Our Military and Mary Kay sales director Nancy Sutherland to get sun care and skin care packages to the troops dealing with the desert heat in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Go to http://emailourmilitary.blogspot.com to learn about the different ways you can help this project.
In addition, on my website www.mrslieutenant.com there’s a section about organizations supporting military families and personnel. One in particular – Soldiers’ Angels (www.soldiersangels.org) – is involved in sending letters and packages to deployed troops. And be sure to send your old cell phones to Cell Phones for Soldiers (www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com).
[There is also a post on An Army Wife’s Life about supporting our troops.
Thanks, everyone, for such good questions. I hope you’ll all read MRS. LIEUTENANT, and you can reach me through my website at www.mrslieutenant.com with more questions. And thanks to Candace at An Army Wife’s Life for hosting this giveaway. I really appreciate it.
Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section!!!