Change Orders

There’s a reason for the old saying, the only constant is change.

My current book project is based loosely on Jim’s army years and particularly his time in Vietnam. I interviewed other Vietnam vets to get their experiences to weave into the plot. This is a novel; it’s fiction, but it’s based on fact.

I’m still revising this manuscript, an act of mourning really, and as further research I recently watched China Beach. This TV series, set at an evac hospital/R&R center outside of Da Nang, aired in 1988-91 and is not available for streaming on Netflix, but it is now available on DVD. The DVD production company had real trouble getting rights to the music. But what would the ‘60s be like without Motown and rock? Tunes like “Respect” by Aretha Franklin and “Reflections” by the Supremes and the Rascals’ “Lonely Too Long” play in the soundtrack.

Each vet I talked with recalled every Vietnamese nightclub band singing “We Gotta Get Out of this Place.” On the chorus, GIs drowned out the amplified voices of the band.

This music transports us to the Vietnam era of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. I had referenced music in my manuscript as the main character, architect Will Bajollie, listens to it, but in revising I’ve added more.

I chose the title, Change Orders, because it’s an architectural term that doubles as the theme of how a draft notice changed the trajectory of the life Will Bajollie had drawn out for himself. Now that I’ve watched the four seasons of China Beach, I know I’ve hit on the right title. The series revealed how the characters changed with the war and how they struggled to settle back into civilian life.

We actually change every day. We are not the same people as the ones who first woke up in the morning. By bedtime, we have lived, made decisions, reacted to decisions of others, and our lives have been altered. Physically–sunburn, poison ivy rash, stubbed toe, stomach virus, haircut. Emotionally–grief from a friend’s death, joy of a child’s first step, disappointment that the Razorbacks dropped the College World Series, contentment after a tasty meal, relief that a plane landed. Each experience changes us, makes us more empathetic or angry or bitter or kinder. Some changes are big. Some are small. Some are permanent. Some quickly fade as if written with disappearing ink.

Like with all wars, Vietnam left an indelible mark on its veterans.

Once a month I’ve been lunching with classmates from my high school graduating class. A few weeks ago I sat across from a man who was stationed at Da Nang and had been several times to China Beach. Two chairs from him sat a former army nurse who had tended the war’s worst casualties. At the far end of the table was a Vietnam vet in a wheelchair.

From looking at these vets and the earnestness in their eyes as they spoke of that time in their lives, I know that my novel title doesn’t just pertain to my main character and to characters in a TV series. It applies to real people, like Jim, who were changed by that war, and to real people, like me, whom they came back to.


[If this manuscript ever sells to a publisher, you’ll be able to hear my cry of joy from afar.]

[China Beach is probably available at your public library.]