An Army Doctor’s First Loss of the Vietnam War: The Woman He Loved

He met her while doing rounds at the hospital where they both worked. Within months, he received orders to report for basic training.

Comments: 174

  1. Dr. Brown is a gifted writer. So many of us experienced lost loves during Viet Nam, and this sweet account of his own broken heart could be our story. I'm glad both his and Karen's stories have happy endings.

  2. Touching, captivating and indeed well written. And thanks for sharing this personal story.

  3. A sad, but beautiful story. Thank you to Dr. Brown for writing this and the Times for publishing it.

  4. Although heartbreaking, what a heartfelt and beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. In this day and age, it is so wonderful to read a story like this instead of the other news that populates the local paper.

  5. An engaging and thoughtful story. Thank you Dr. Brown.

  6. A close relationship that is broken when we are young is like a premature death: only time could have revealed whether the potential that we saw (or that we now think we saw) would have been realized in the future. This is a fascinating article, as much for what it confronts as for what it doesn’t confront about the lives of all concerned. I appreciate the author’s courage and candor in publishing it. I would avidly read the book-length version if it existed, but I also think it would be asking too much of a human being to explore all of this piece’s history in depth.

  7. Any doctor who trained before the Bell Commission can identify with this beautifully written piece. For me, only good memories, regardless of the losses. Thanks for sharing. Great work.

  8. It's always easier to think that the simplicity of first love would have put us on a different path. It inevitably would have accumulated the complexity of any shared lives over decades. At least with the eventual outcome, this remained a simple memory and a poignant reunion. Not sure how the second wife Sue will feel about reading this. Thank you for serving our country in the 1960s. It sounds like you saved many lives.

  9. What a beautiful priceless gift that you both shared. Life gets in the way, but love finds you anyway.

  10. What a beautiful story! This took courage to write! Thanks to your wife Sue for being so open about it! This shows how confident she is about your love for her and how willing she is to let you close a chapter in your life. You have found true love!

  11. Thank you for sharing your moving, profound story with us. I'm still amazed at how others bravely and selflessly push on to not only live . . . but thrive (forge ahead). You have willingly sacrificed so much to help others. It's deeply appreciated--particularly at a time when many of us (including myself) seem so self-absorbed.

  12. Moved me to tears. Similar experience. Nice job.

  13. What a beautifully written essay. I wish I could have talked with young Karen and warned her about hitching her wagon to the hot-shot Air Force fighter pilot; it never ends well. Had she just had the foresight to know that this handsome doctor was the love of her life as she was the love of his life. A doctor who goes on to serve his community as a pediatrician is a man who would have been a caring, compassionate husband. But, as Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." The magic is never the same.

  14. @Martha MacC way to castigate fighter pilots as "hot shots" with no background on who he was or details of their relationship then marriage. It never ends well? What in the world do you base this assumption on? What a dismissive comment based on nothing.

  15. Such a melancholy story of first love, found, and then treasured in a heart. Thank you Dr Brown for opening that heart to share that stored love. And yes, your wife Sue sounds like a treasure herself.

  16. Old age is about reminiscing.....about the twists and turns of a long life, the many choices we’ve made, not made or were made for us. The butterfly effect on a human scale. Once our working lives wane and kids move on we have unwelcome time to reflect on how it all went. Maybe we should just enjoy the sunset.

  17. @Mark Youth is not wasted on the young. If we were wiser when we were younger We would not make mistakes And suffer aches that make us wise. But if we could regain our youth in later age, It's exhuberence would overwhelm us And we'd no longer be Those wiser folks like you and me Who see the world Through older wiser eyes. JLB

  18. @JLBMD Nice work. Though I have to confess I never had experiences such as outlined in Dr Brown's story, so whatever wisdom you allude to is lost on me except from what I can gather from what is shared. The report here is touching to me, perhaps because I never had anything of the kind, perhaps because it's reported so matter of fact. Facts matter, sharing counts.

  19. @JLBMD Oh, I'd be willing to test that theory that the exuberance would overwhelm me...and I'd happily exchange a bit of my elder wisdom for another crack at living it instead of reminiscing about it.

  20. What a beautiful story. I am happily married but sometimes still idly wonder "what might have been" with the two men I loved before my husband. (I think I was too young to be with one for life and while I ADORED the other, I doubt our marriage would have survived.) Sometimes, I wonder if we miss the other person as much as who we were at that time in our life with that other person. Thanks for sharing this with us. Your current wife sounds like a wonderful woman.

  21. @FLT To make a long story short : My parents are retired, to Florida. Last summer, my stepfather was using Facebook to check up on old friends and neighbors up North. He came across the Facebook pictures and screeds of my old High School boyfriend. There he was, in all his MAGA cap wearing glory. Talk about dodging huuuuge bullet. My Daughter and two Granddaughters will never, ever stop teasing me about HIM. Seriously.

  22. @FLT She is a wonderful woman. Most women would not be so understanding.

  23. @Phyliss Dalmatian I recently looked up an old boyfriend - online. He lives in the Villages, Fl. I also dodged a bullet.....

  24. Dr. Brown - thank you so very much for your service to our country and also for sharing your beautiful love story with Ms. Karen Stockwell. (By the way, I went to school in Connecticut and Old Lyme was one of my favorite summer destinations because I love New England beaches. I also enjoyed my trips to the Florence Griswold Museum because I’m fascinated by the American Impressionistic painters.) Human life is a repository of diverse experiences. Your life experiences reminded me of the opening paragraph of “A Tale of Two Cities” (Charles Dickens): “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times .........” Kind Regards to you and yours

  25. A lovely essay. A lot of us can relate.

  26. Such a kaleidoscope of diverse emotions and experiences this life we have on Earth . What a lovely story and beautiful how you met up again and had a chance to connect after so many years ! Thank you for writing this 🙂

  27. I don't know which describes the story of Dr. Brown's first love best, Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" or the verse from John Greenleaf Whittier's "Maud Miller:" For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been!" Regardless, it is great that both he and his first love went on to live productive and happy lives.

  28. @RK Better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.

  29. Beautiful and moving story.

  30. Beautifully told story. It seems like every well-lived life is full of difficult choices and regrets. My heart goes out to you.

  31. I don't think anyone ever forgets the first person they fell in love with. Its both a wonderful and a painful thing. This was a beautiful story, thank you very much for sharing.

  32. Great joys, like great griefs, are silent. But I think it's safe to say that anyone who read your story appreciates the fact that you decided to share it with us. (And thank you for your service).

  33. What a beautiful story -- you made your young lives and your mature selves very real to me. Thanks for sharing this.

  34. I really wanted this article to end differently and have been feeling a sense of loss all evening since reading it. I was curious to know if the timing of each person's divorce was around the same time. That would have made it that much more...tragic is not the word but something close to that word. I appreciate how you're attempting to make peace with your first love. That ability for closure by encountering her decades later is a luxury. And this is the stuff of life: messy, inexplicable, but intimately ours to make sense of.

  35. @Jane The ending reminded me of the boy I loved in high school. Although I was not separated from my first love by war — the draft ended before that could happen — we did go our separate ways. I never told him how I felt, it was a one sided thing and I was so very shy. Still, we were good friends. I missed him terribly, achingly for many years. Years turned into decades, and the passion eventually faded. What had been longing turned into a deep desire to know he was well and happy. But there was no way to know. Until the internet. I found him in maybe 2005. We corresponded via email a bit, and eventually met — he didn’t live far from where we grew up and I have family nearby. It was deeply satisfying to see him, and more than that, to find him happy, prosperous, and living in a loving relationship. None of that was a given for either of us, considering our backgrounds. We both got lucky finding love and some stability. Now, I’ll stop in his place of business sometimes when I’m in town and say hi to him and his lovely partner, and we catch up — unless he’s swamped by work. In the end, love isn’t about possession. And you don’t always have to ride off into the sunset with your lost love to have a really happy, satisfying ending. :)

  36. @Jane There was only one divorce here.

  37. @Davide Karen was divorced, Dr. Brown is in a second marriage, assuming divorce was the cause of the end of his first marriage, but it wasn’t stated.

  38. Superb article, loved reading about their lives. I confess I had a small how they might end up reconciling but life is rarely that simple. Still they loved each other and lived well, would that we can all be so lucky

  39. Thank you for this beautiful story and for your service to our country.

  40. I have 24 years of service as USAF physician and now retired from the military. I am 17 years younger than the author. During all my years of service I always wondered what would have been if I had served as a physician in Vietnam. I found the story of lost love and survival in the field as a battalion surgeon very moving. I served in a different place and time but will always feel connected and grateful to those who came before. Well done.

  41. @Robert Abbott As one who experienced the Vietnam debacle firsthand, I deeply appreciate your acknowledgment, one that back in the "bad old days" was nigh onto impossible to find! I hope your own experience was war-lite...

  42. Can we stop our endless wars? We have been at war of one kind or another since Woodrow Wilson encouraged us to enter World War I. It has been over 100 years of conflict....sometimes low grade and sometimes high grade but never peaceful. When are we going to stop and focus on what is important in our nation? The founding fathers warned us about foreign wars. Is nobody listening? Dr. Brown has written a wonderful story that reflects all of our experiences. Thank you.

  43. @AS we - human beings - have been at war since time immemorial.

  44. Great essay. Great comments. May I just add that Dr. Brown is a great writer. The essay flows beautifully. Thank you, Dr. Brown.

  45. When I was a boy, my family took a vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey. It was 1968, the height of the Vietnam war, and we stayed at a small motel near the beach. Also there were a young couple, not unlike Jeffrey and Karen. The man was obviously a soldier, clearly just days away from joining the long lines of other young men I saw boarding military buses that would take them away to the war. The young couple would sit by the pool, then retreat for an hour or so to their room, then re-emerge to sit again by the pool, until the day came when they were gone. For more than 50 years, I have wondered if those days in Wildwood were the last that young man and woman ever spent together. Such is the pity of war.

  46. @Thomas Morgan Philip So many, many of us, men, women, soldiers, civilians have wondered for decades: how are they, did they survive, how are they now & I hope they’re happy. We may be fortunate enough to know Vietnam Vets who’ve finally come home & who have moved forward with their lives. There are yer many, so many, that still don’t know, or even worse, who have not yet come home. God bless them all.

  47. 45 years ago I pointed out ts eliots flat to a woman, kissed her, looked down, and found 50p. It didn't turn out to last, but this tale makes me wonder why not and what might have been.

  48. It was said at the time that no one got out alive. In one way or another, that was true for all of us. They were important years, likely the most important, though not in duration. It is hard to contain the emotions of loss, of life, and the low and highs. I thank Dr. Brown for his contribution of memory, pain, and love.

  49. "Simplicity seems almost impossible to achieve in today’s world..." and yet Dr. Brown has captured the layers of complexity involved in honouring his first love in such a straightforward, articulate way that it is impossible not to be haunted by its poignancy. Their love may have seemed simple and uncomplicated at the time, but Karen's still-attached heart, the tumultuous backdrop of their relationship, the chaos of war, and the unfolding of the passing years are all far from simple. Somehow, Dr. Brown manages to imbue all of it with an air of quiet majesty and grace. To paraphrase E.B. White's Charlotte, he is "Some writer!"

  50. From my own experience in Vietnam (same division, one year later) I am confident that this type of story reflects the challenges many of us endured and that forever changed our lives. I'd like to think that Dr. Brown was most fortunate to be able to reunite with his first love and that his wife understood the importance of that. War is a curse upon all that it is visited upon.

  51. After I was graduated from college I went to Vietnam and the young woman I loved went to Vienna. I came back, whole but different. She came back, and during a short meeting while I was still in the Navy, she said she didn't want to see me anymore. I never learned what happened in Vienna and I never told her about Vietnam. We both married and have had successful lives. I dream of her still... USN 1967-71 Vietnam 1968 Medevac

  52. You are lucky to have experienced this emotion. She is stunning in that photograph. Stunning.

  53. @one percenter When, pray tell, will people learn that beauty is only skin deep?

  54. This reminds me of present day high school sweethearts who end up going to different colleges, because getting into the “brand” school is prioritized over all else. Some have real relationships in high school and are mature enough to recognize that they have met the love of their life. But they are expected by parents to break up and do the smart thing. Sadly they end up on dating apps in their 20s, sifting through strangers and judging people on a superficial basis, settling for a weak version of what they walked away from.

  55. Wonderfully written. So many years later. I do hope that Karen (formerly Stockwell) gets to read it.

  56. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. To stop and ponder the others who loved innocently as you both did and never made it back from the horrors of those days fills me with great sadness. All for nought.....

  57. As well written as this is, wouldn't her willingness to be with you while her longtime boyfriend was away at war be a serious warning flag as to her future level of commitment? Sounds as though you were quite happy and unapologetic about potentially crushing the spirit of a fellow service member in harm's way. (Fellow Army physician with several deployments speaking here).

  58. @Dan ...not to mention her weak (nonexistent?) emotional bonding that couldn't allow her to commit to someone that might potentially be maimed, or killed while fighting for our country. Sounds like he "dodged a bullet" with her rejection. His second marriage, with its trust and willingness to give, is the true Love Story.

  59. @Dan You’re judging three young people in the throes of intense careers under the romantic norms of the early sixties wrapped up in a war on the other side of the planet — based on a few hundred words written half a century later. Maybe ease up?

  60. @BrooklynBridge Early 60’s were my formative years also. I’m an RN, specialized in surgical trauma; I know intensity. I’ve given your recommendation some thought, and I stand firm by my comment. Actions speak volumes.

  61. A shared experience, beautifully written. I was sent to South Korea with four months of residency. This prevented a marriage.The powers that be in Washington lied to me about assignment. The war in Vietnam was a tragic waste and the administrations lied to everyone. Fortunately the love was felt and lingers.

  62. Did I understand this correctly? Karen was romantically involved with the author while her boyfriend was serving in the Nam? As XO of the Transient Company at Oakland Army Base, and later as a platoon leader in Vietnam, I was often drawn into the agonizing domestic situations caused by separation, love, death, politics, etc. The war destroyed a lot of lives one way or another.

  63. @ForwardObserver Life destroys a lot of lives one way or another.

  64. Thank you Jeff for sharing your story of love and war. From one veteran to another, thank you for your service.

  65. Dr. Brown, your army journey was striking to me. My father was a young doctor on the east coast when he got that draft warning. Enlisted as a doc. Then the order to report in 2 months to the 4-wk training in San Antonio. Then sent to Vietnam right away in his 1st yr of servicein the army. He arrived In Vietnam in June of 66’, 2 months before you. Pretty darn close parallel I’d say lol. Thanks for sharing this Dr. Brown.

  66. Dr. Brown survived 'Nam. One of my relatives, a cousin, didn't. How he died is particularly nasty. He was 19, a Private, who was a tunnel rat-- he got to go down into a tunnel with a flashlight and a .45, looking for the enemy. Didn't come out alive. 5 months or so later his only child, a daughter, was born. A real pity. I'm not sure why he was ordered to go into the tunnel, but if the enemy was still there, it was almost certain death. So, we can ruminate on my cousin's death, 52 years ago, with the thought of the uselessness of some things, or think about some less unpleasant things-- the girl that got away-- but I just can't get the picture of my 19 y.o. cousin out of my mind. That's what's important here-- the things left unsaid.

  67. @follow the money I thought the way he considered how he could have died made his story especially powerful. We need to be sure not to forget the lives ended or destroyed by this horrible war.

  68. @follow the money Your cousin was a special breed. Be proud that he did what many others could not. They earned extra respect from us in Cu Chi.

  69. I love your beautiful story.

  70. Long I carried a torch for a woman who left me on April Fools Day. I learned that you will lose respect if you make someone else responsible for your happiness. I advised my daughter to not be interested in young men who were only interested in her. I advised that she not ride on the back of any motorcycle driven by a someone who had not at least flown airplanes. I allowed myself to be damaged by this lost love. I did need for it to be resolved so that I could at least talk with her again. It did come to pass. It was a good thing. I am glad that this was published. Thanks Jeffery Brown, we appreciate knowing we were not the only one who could not get someone we loved out of our minds.

  71. @Russell Scott Day The years go by, but the what-if questions linger. Would it be better if we had opportunities to pick up the dropped pieces of the puzzle of our lives... to smooth the rough edges?

  72. Such intensity, such immediacy, sad and poignant. The most tender feelings laid bare, straight from your heart to ours. Thank you.

  73. 45th surgical unit in TayNinh. During Operation Attleboro the dust-offs were coming in every minute. Loaded with wounded GI's. The stretchers were just lined up, no shade, no water, just waiting for the next available surgeon. Memories. Thanks for taking care of us doc.

  74. This, what as David Halberstam called the "best and the brightest" (Johnson, Rusk, McNamara, Westmoreland, the list goes on and on) gave us. The real heroes were men like Dr. Brown, and a friend of mine who went over as a radiologist, came back, and became a psychiatrist. And now we've got Colonel Bone Spurs. What a horror show.

  75. What a great story, thank you.

  76. Dunno - you should have just gone to a storefront doctor in Queens and gotten a diagnosis for a fake bone spur. Problem Solved Sorry that was callous in light of your soul searching. Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved? That's probably not too helpful either OK I'll leave you with this - by the time they plant us our only worthwhile accomplishment should be that we left the world a better place than we found it. So in that regard you've led a very accomplished life. Peace

  77. poignant and beautiful.

  78. Agonizingly bittersweet.

  79. Very moving story. As I have been known to say, "If you do not ask the question, the answer is NO." (The question could be pretty much anything, but in this case it was "Will you marry me?")

  80. also been there....and yes it does feel like a death....yet the survivors among us, typically by dint of our lives experiences, seem to evolve thru several sounds like the post-Karen chapters brought some levels of happiness....I am hopeful they did.....yet a deep love just that....and leaves a hole often difficult to truly fill

  81. That's a well-told story, worth reading. I'm sorry the headline writer chose his or her own interpretation, which biased my reading of the story. The headline seems to me to blame the Vietnam War for the end of a romance that really was in such early stages that there is no way of knowing where it would go.

  82. If someone asks you for an example of "bittersweet," have them read this story.

  83. I have a similar story except I've never actually seen her since 1967.

  84. @MJ Definitely worth a search.

  85. A very poignant story, one someone from the ‘60’s can certainly appreciate. Ahhh....young love in a time of war!

  86. I can see why he fell in love. Karen was beautiful.

  87. The Dr. is an excellent writer.

  88. Doc Brown, thank you for answering your Country's call, for healing the sick, bringing comfort to the wounded and dying and for sharing your beautiful story of love's lost.

  89. On the hardness scale Lost love ranks higher Than diamonds ever will VietNam vet 1966-67

  90. @Malinhead5 Welcome home

  91. @Malinhead5 Diamonds get polished once, then hold their sheen with no effort. Remorse is only so hard if polished over and over the years.

  92. @Malinhead5 Much respect and love to you. I miss my brother who died at 55 from AO related brain tumors.

  93. Love, war and many years later... This story has everything there is.

  94. Great story; thanks for sharing it

  95. Perfect story for Valentine's Day. It reminds us that life goes by so fast, and some moments cannot be repeated. So many things that shape our lives turn on chance encounters, and random circumstance. Wisdom comes from accepting this.

  96. A touching story which I'm glad to have read, but the awful truth - the dreadful FACT - is that for over fifty thousand others, lives were cut short, loves were indeed lost forever, and sweet reminiscences will never, ever happen. And still, we send our youngest people with the brightest futures to unnecessary wars.

  97. @Dale M Actually, many multiples of 50,000 lives were cut short by that war. There was another side too.

  98. @Rep de Pan Thanks for recognizing there non-American humans there, too.

  99. @Rep de Pan Right. Which is more tragic, the person who went on with come what may instead of what should have been or the person who met their fate so young with no should have been at all?

  100. Excellent. Tough and nice.

  101. Humans like you are a fountain of hope. Thank you.

  102. The 2S college deferment turned into a 4S when I threw my name into the draft with the promise that I could not be drafted when I survived the lottery. At that time, I fled with my girlfriend of one year to northern Canada; the bugs chased us to the pacific coast. I returned to college then med school where the Lie was fulfilled with the 2M draft card found in the mailbox of the garage we were living in. The war ended before I finished my training, too tired after 6 years of sleep deprivation to even recognize the war had ended. I sometimes wonder if I would still be with that girlfriend, who I still love more than life itself, if I was born a year earlier and shipped off to Vietnam. We all bear the scars of that time.

  103. Simply a wonderful telling of a story and a life well lived by Dr Brown. Incredible and fulfilling life for him. I hope we all learn a bit from this.

  104. @Quadriped Good 4ped , I and we have all learned a great deal here ; that Dr. Brown is a gifted healer , great of mind , greater still of heart. My hat is off , sir. 101st,'65-'67

  105. My elderly retired physician spouse of many decades is in regular phone conversation with a love that preceded me - contact that started several years ago during the “death path” of her husband of many decades. He hurries home on the scheduled weekly time for their calls - and I give him his space. I welcome her shared history with him and her intelligence as these are difficult health years for him and for me the caregiver.

  106. @Postmotherhood Truly a woman of substance. He got lucky!

  107. Seldom do we get to reconnect with former relationships and close things out on good terms. I often think of friends I served with who didn’t return and wonder what happened to the surviving member of their relationship. Thanks for sharing your story, which turned out well for both of you.

  108. This fine man is also an accomplished writer. Thanks for a lovely insight to the "real life" of those who serve in the military and particularly those medical people who sustain us in peacetime.

  109. Nice story, many of us of that era and experience have walked the same path. I know I certainly have. But after two failed marriages I am happy to walk alone now.

  110. What a wonderful, bitter-sweet story. The trauma of war mixed with the trauma of love. Vietnam was a difficult time for many of us with lost loves and lost friends. The love of my wife of 45 years got me through the PTS, and support from God, family, the "squad" and friends gives me hope that all veterans can survive the trauma that military service can deliver.

  111. @Bruce Richardson No one came through their Vietnam experience unscathed. I'm happy to hear that you are on the mend.

  112. @Bruce Richardson Sending much healing energy and love to you, Bruce. My brother died at 55 from AO brain tumors. His son was also born with heart defects which led to three surgeries before he was in double digits. May you know the depths of peace deep in your heart. Time to release your old self forever. It is gone.

  113. Wow. what a story. I went to medical school years after being in the last group to be drafted and quickly rejected. I’ve always wondered how things might have turned out if I’d passed that physical. I’ve felt guilty that I’d been able to live a healthy relatively productive life and guys standing right next to me, thru just chance, were sent down a different road. I guess we’re all just victims or winners of a roulette wheel that we don’t understand and have little input to. I’m glad there are people like dr brown who can write so well about it.

  114. Our generation lost so much in Vietnam. Your story is so hauntingly beautiful in its lost hopes and dreams. Thank you for sharing this painful yet exquisite glimpse of a life that could have been, from a life well lived.

  115. @Janice Two young men I had (casually) dated went to VN and never returned. A college friend went (Coast Guard) but returned broken. A grade school classmate went, came back, died years ago. Drugs and alcohol. His obituary stopped twenty years before his death in a VA hospital. He never had a life. This story is a beautifully rendered memory. I am glad these two young people found happiness and lived a normal life and lifespan. So many others didn't. Sorry to be a downer, but what was the point, anyway of that war that tore apart my generation?

  116. Carry that corner of your heart forever.You never have to sneak up to a mirror to look at yourself. A salute to you sir,a decent human being the world so sorely lacks today..

  117. I’m pretty sure the German SS were considered elite too....

  118. @USMC0846 maybe i am thick, but may i ask the point of your comment.?

  119. I am a Vietnam Veteran, by way of the draft. I served in Can Tho from 1970-71 as a Communications Specialist. I have been involved in the arts for the last 30 years as both an actor and director. I have always been a writer (closet) and over the last few years and have been a part of various Veteran Writing Groups in NYC. Your story is the kind of story that I have heard from many other veterans. That while the war took so many lives, for many us it also short-circuited the lives of a great many that made it home. Robbing many of "what could have been's" To borrow a line from the past Oscar winning director Bong Joon Ho's speech: "the most personal is most creative" (Martin Scorsese) Your story meets that criteria. Very personal, creative and beautifully written. Thank you sir.

  120. You dodged a bullet with Karen. Her sister talked her out of committing to you because your might get hurt or killed while serving our country; that shows weak character. Karen couldn't be depended upon for the usual trials, tribulations, and tragedies life delivers to all of us. Your second wife, with her trust and willingness to give is your true Love Story. I hope you share this comment with her for Valentine's Day.

  121. @Rhonda You are absolutely right!!

  122. Vietnam helicopter pilot here –dropped off many casualties to those hospital pads, 69-70. Saving lives was a team effort. Knew a few of the medical folks. Long salute to all of them, from every war America has ever fought. However it seems to me this particular story was too personal to print, given real names and photographs, even with consent. One other thought: in matters of the heart, if you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.

  123. @Minuteman Thank you for your many missions, Dustoff! I salute you/welcome home.

  124. "Love," for which descriptive words are inadequate, explanations unnecessary, seeds and harvests much. Memories. Carings. Wordless-Doings for him, her and others. Mutual trust. Mutual respect. Passions and compassions. Mutual help, when needed; unasked for. Love, ever nutritious and satisfying,notwithstanding built-in misunderstandings. Expressed, or not. Resolved, timely, adequately. Or not. Vulnerabilities... Sharings. Touchings. Tellings. Tearied, at times. A lifetime reviewed. Lovingly. Thank you for what you wrote. Thank you for its' meanings. Its' offerings! Its' BEings.

  125. Vietnam 66-67, Red Cross Wonder if our paths crossed? Wonder if he was in Dau Tieng when R was shot while going forward in point position. "Joan, it was so fast; he didn't suffer. Really. " Wonder if saved the life of the guy I visited in the hospital that night to write to his family/loved one, knowing it might be the last they every heard from him.

  126. @joan Dear Joan, Thank you for being there for so many. I'm glad you made it home.

  127. @joan Medical folks shared an existential bond with their dying patients that will remain contemporary in their thoughts. Your patients will always be part of you and you of them.

  128. This piece resonates for me on many levels. I too was a traumatized intern rescued by a pretty blonde nurse named Karen, and my personal life was also informed by anticipated military service. Luckily I was not sent to Vietnam, but wonder how that experience might have changed my life. I am intrigued by the look on this beautiful young woman's face. What does the group think? Is she annoyed? Angry? Just very serious? Very hard to read.

  129. @Jake Pure intelligence, Pragmatic Evaluating Strong emotions held in check by loving two men in war. As another here said, stunning I am in love with her.

  130. @Jake This Karen looks a bit pragmatic, somewhat guarded, but ready to help if needed?

  131. @Malinhead5 Oh, my. I too used "pragmatic" in my comment without seeing yours. Interesting!

  132. Doc, My military commitment interfered with my romantic life to an extent but, unlike you, I didn't meet the love of my life until 5 years later. But, like your case, her name was Karen and she was much like the way your Karen sounds. I knew instantly she would be the person I would marry and we did just months later. We had almost 40 wonderful years together before pancreatic cancer took her away. As much as I miss her, I have to remember how lucky I was to have found her at the right time. I'm so sorry circumstances were not so kind to you. It's a one in a million chance that would never be forgotten.

  133. My dad, like his father during WWII, was drafted in ‘69 and married my mom when she was only 17 after their HS graduation. So many stories of love and loss in war. It was often love that sustained the long duration of deployment. I hear more about it now as my parents are in their 70s. Thank you for sharing your story.

  134. I am a "Sue" in a similar scenario. My husband's girlfriend broke up with him when he returned from Vietnam because he had "changed". She spared herself the heartache of his PTSD, his anger, his distance. He married and divorced twice before we met. He's been in the VA hospital on suicide watch. He had lunch with his "Karen" and he told her about his life. I've heard about the day she picked him up from the airport when he came home from Vietnam, the party she had for him before he left. I know he wonders "what if". Perhaps it wasn't war that broke up Dr. Brown and Karen. Perhaps it was her love for her Air Force boyfriend. Maybe she cancelled her flight out of guilt. Dr. Brown was in love with her, but never told her. Was she in love with him? People seem to think this is a wonderful, if bittersweet, story. Man reconnects with first love he's pined for all these years. My heart goes out to Sue, and all the Sues out there. Maybe she'd like to be the love of his life.

  135. @ZoeD "What if" is fantasy and different from "what is." My Sue is the love of my life because she loves me for who I am today, not who I was 50 years ago. Same name; two different people. Whether he tells you or not, your husband knows that not everyone could bravely do what you are doing for him now. We all came home from that war damaged in some way. Some, like your poor husband, more than others. There is no need to be jealous of his past love. If he wishes for anything, it is the peace he had before he went away.

  136. @ZoeD Exactly!!!!!!

  137. This is indeed a lovely story. As one who is about the same age as Dr. Brown and whose now-deceased husband served in Vietnam, I can relate so well to the time and feelings that he expresses. Although our generation lived in a different time and perhaps made decisions based upon its constrictions and mores, the feelings of love, loss and the need to continue with one's life are universal. And, yes, holding those feelings - though transformed - is important. Sharing them is very much appreciated. Thank you.

  138. What a tender, beautiful, bitter-sweet heartwarming story! It brought tears to my eyes. Brings back so many memories of that time. How the background of the war likely influenced so many of our relationships then.

  139. thank you for letting this story be ethically ambiguous, complicated, conflicted, personal. It's nice to read something that is True to correct all of the confectioner's Disney-fication we expect of ourselves and others.

  140. A beautiful story, full of history, love and sensitivity.

  141. I knew there were a lot of romantic entanglements around WW2. I didn't ever think of the same for the war in Vietnam. I thought relationships in the 60's were fleeting by design and not so consequential. There's a movie here, if only current day actors could ever be so attractive and compelling as the figures shown here.

  142. @larkspur the romance is the same no matter what war. You take a large group of young people, generally at the peak of their hormonal activity, throw in a dose of "I could die", the urgency of youth, the impending separation, the longing, etc., and bam, romance. Those conditions are the perfect recipe for engaging in a life affirming activity such as romance.

  143. In my case, I got SAD, then unknown, and did terrible things before I recovered, still not knowing what had struck me. I lost her, my first and deepest love, who went on to a good marriage. So did I, thank God, but I never, ever forgot her, or outlived the hurt of losing her.

  144. Much of love is, even in good times, happenstance, luck and timing. To have those stars align and then have love ripped away like this is yet another casualty of a pointless war. All the lives lost and forever changed, and all the hurt and torment of wondering what might have been. It is no wonder that decades later many have never forgotten and some have never recovered.

  145. Such a moving and elegiac reminiscence. It brings to mind the ending of a wonderful novella, "A Month in the Country" by J.L. Carr: “And, at such a time, for a few of us there will always be a tugging at the heart—knowing a precious moment had gone and we not there. We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever—the way things looked . . . a remembered voice, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass. ”

  146. Dr. Brown is exactly my age, 77. His phrase perfectly captures the way we Vietnam soldiers were treated during and after the war, in many cases even by our families: "Her sister told her it was unwise to commit to a soldier who might come back from the war irreparably damaged or irreversibly dead." I can still hear my stepmother's voice in a nice southern accent saying "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

  147. Dr. Brown is a gifted writer and philosopher. There is no "skimming" this essay - you need to linger and reflect. Phyllis Howe

  148. What a great story. I served in Vietnam as a Navy Hospital Corpsman with the Marines, and had a very similar whirlwind romance just as I was being sent to Camp Pendleton for final training before Vietnam. The person I was involved with was to come to California so we could get married, and she never did and never explained her decision. Of course it was for the best, in retrospect, and of course I was devastated at the time when she stood me up. Dr. Brown has captured and reminded me of all the feelings I went through at that time. Thank you.

  149. The War ruined everything it touched. I know.

  150. I think you saw and still view Karen through the lens of infatuation. The boyfriend Karen committed to was fighting the war in Vietnam while you and Karen were enjoying your mutual admiration, might have had a different view of this story. There is nothing innocent about carrying on with another man's girlfriend while he is at war! I might have had more respect if Karen had ended one relationship before beginning the next or if you hadn't 'settled' for Sue. I feel sad that for Sue, who hasn't yet met a man who can appreciate and love her for the person she is. She has been cheated out of that opportunity and has wasted her life on a dream that didn't exist. I, too, am of your generation and would never consider being anyone's second best!

  151. @Deb Sue never has been and never will be second best.

  152. Bronze a Star. A man in full. Respect.

  153. Bro, we ALL wonder about the one that got away. And bro, truth be told, odds are that had you and Karen married, it would have ended in divorce. I call what you have "illusion of a road not taken." You imagine that what was exciting puppy-love at the time to be the norm of the life you and Karen might have had. Bro, it's just an illusion.

  154. Yes, it was the war that separated these two very attractive people. But let's remember that if it hadn't been for the war, Karen's fighter-pilot boyfriend would have been with her, not in Vietnam, and she probably would not have become so intimate with Dr. Brown in the first place. The article makes us think about all the young Americans and the young Vietnamese men and women who lost their futures in that horrible and pointless war.

  155. @Fansy Yes, war was, is and will be always terrible and tragic!

  156. Don't know why but I kept putting off reading this story filled with beautiful and enticing writing.Dr. Brown, you touched my heart.

  157. Thousands of Dear John letters, were written or the sudden absence of any letters at all, I was one of the Johns and it hurt and most of the guys were going to Vietnam, right out of High School and the letters were coming from their High School Sweethearts. The hurt was intensified by immature youth!! I thought it was the end of the world!!

  158. What bothers me about this story is Dr. Brown revealing that Karen cheated on her boyfriend with him while the boyfriend was deployed in Vietnam. That she lost interest in him after he was deployed then is not surprising, nor is the fact her marriage didn't work. I agree with Rhonda below. Jeff, the bullet you dodged didn't occur in southeast Asia.

  159. “We spent a lot of time talking, but somehow we learned almost nothing of importance about each other. We just lived in the moment and enjoyed being together” — This column is a touching personal reflection, but I can’t help wondering if the author hasn’t mistaken first infatuation for first love.

  160. Just a great love story, even if the love was unrequited.

  161. A touching story. Thank you for sharing.

  162. How could you do this to Sue? You better hope she doesn’t have a “Bob” of her own waiting in the wings.... especially since you advertised in a national newspaper that she’s pluck for the taking. And she is pluck for the taking of you somehow think this little missive of yours has no relation to her.

  163. @GWE how do you know he did not run this by Sue prior to it being published? I would bet that he did.

  164. I do hate defeated love.

  165. Oh for those Halcyon days!

  166. Went to VietNam and left a fiance behind but found out after a few months I really didn't miss her. Then the one I did miss notified me that she'd gotten married and I had to laugh at myself. Met a girl after I returned home to Texas and we got married 2 years later. That was 48 years, 4 sons and 10 grands ago. Things work out.

  167. Beautiful story, brought me back to the Nam and tears to my eyes. Thanks so much Doc, thanks much

  168. Consider yourself a very fortunate person. I fell in love with a sociopath that found great joy in manipulating me and then destroying my career. By the way, she ended up marrying a doctor, for the money I suppose, I don’t think she has ever experienced love.

  169. @Paulie Your story is a sober counterpoint to the holiday manufactured to enable drunken exploitation through flimsy sentiment spoken in generic ploys. I hope you can appreciate that the nub of the story is luck of the draw. There's always someone better off than you, and many more far worse no matter what the tale.

  170. Viet Nam saved me from a mistake. I think about the one I left behind and thank my lucky stars.

  171. A nice story about a long life, well-lived, and a first love during dark times. Mayhap, perchance, one might find a thought or a lesson about surviving these current dark days. One is reminded of the Biblical admonition that 'this too shall pass,' which while not always comforting, perhaps might give us all a bit of a perspective. I am seven years younger than the gentleman doctor of whom the article speaks - and, so, though I did not serve in Viet Nam, I know of the times whereof he speaks. Godspeed to all and blessings on all of your houses...

  172. My observations while volunteering for several years with a non-profit supporting wounded soldiers and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, lead me to comment on the comments by Dr. Brown's almost sister in law. I saw the whole range of spouse/girlfriend reactions, from abandonment after cleaning out the bank account to love and dedication to recovery. The meaning of the traditional wedding vows, "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" became starkly clear. If, as in the case of the sister, one is not ready to stick to those vows, it is most certainly good to end the relationship asap. The marriage would likely have headed for failure in any case; after all, sickness and death, if not traumatic injury, will come to all of us.

  173. Dr. Brown's moving eloquence is both emotional and informative. Well said!

  174. I hate to disappoint you doctor, but those machine guns in San Antonio were bolted down so that the operators could not move them in any direction, at least not up or down. All they could do was pull the triggers. If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had stood up there, the bullets would have been be way over his head. Although it may not seem that way at times, the Army really does want to keep you alive.