The following article written by The Progress Contributing Writer Sophia Colitti was printed in The Progress, Feb. 10, 2021. To view the original article please click here.
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Sarajane Giere’s book, “My Pilot,” is about her husband, Bernard.
WEST CALDWELL TWP. – Although Sarajane Giere lost her husband to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2013, writing about him was not filled with pain.
Amid her reflection on loss as she worked on “My Pilot: A Story of War, Love and ALS,” published in November, the West Caldwell resident blissfully regressed to her memories of the great love of her life.
“It was like falling in love again throughout the whole six years I wrote the book. It was wonderful all this time; it was a work of love,” she said.
“As I wrote, I got (the music-streaming service) Spotify and put on all the songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Most of the songs were love songs in those days, and they all remind me of him. I think of them all the time and think of him.”
Giere will discuss the book online at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12. Her talk is sponsored by West Caldwell Public Library. To register, send email to email@example.com.
“My Pilot” embodies the ethereal feeling of being in love combined with hard-hitting truths about war, sickness and distance.
Giere incorporated the love letters that she exchanged with her late husband, Bernard, known as “Bernie,” who served as a pilot during the Vietnam War. He was in the Air National Guard for 15 years as air commander of the 106th Rescue Wing.
Their love story began at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The book covers their collegiate days, their initial move to Texas as a married couple in 1962 and their life together until he died of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure.
The turbulence of their lives during the ‘60s is highlighted, based on Bernard’s letters sent during wartime.
“I think that most of our strength-building times were when he was in harm’s way. They are the backbone of the book. I saved all of his letters from Vietnam. It was very reassuring and comforting to know our love brought us together through letters,” Giere said.
“My Pilot” has resonated with folks beyond the Giere’s acquaintance as an embodiment of the military wife’s experience. It exposes the strength of these women and the trauma they endure. Giere explicitly stated the rawness that is not covered in cinematic and textbook depictions of the Vietnam War.
She credits “My Pilot” for her rekindled connection to the military wives with whom she shared unfathomable grievances. She recounted one time where she witnessed another woman receive a knock on the front door.
“I was like a fly on the wall because the men notifying her of her husband’s death were at the front door and I was behind. I watched what happened. My mind had said, ‘Never forget this moment, look in the window and see this wonderful woman. See what she was going through’ as I was comforting kids who didn’t know their father was gone.”
The Gieres lived in six states as they pursued their careers. While Bernard was flying planes, Sarajane taught elementary reading, art and English for 23 years.
Years later, when Bernard was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at age 73, Sarajane’s one wish was to make him happy.
She shared her memories of their final year together, which included taking Bernard to fly a biplane despite his physical setbacks.
During that year, Sarajane asked Bernard questions about his life as he was mentally slipping. He willingly shared details that she would later channel into her writing.
After his death, she joined The Write Group in Montclair, where she found her motivation to work on the book.
“I was with people who love writing and we encouraged each other to get better. I would get good reactions after reading the letters from Vietnam, which helped me continue. I always liked memoirs, seeing how people overcome adversity in their lives.”
Giere said she wears a necklace of an airplane on a chain with a diamond chip because her husband was a gem.
“Even in the letters we wrote to one another before we were married, I saw the humor, pathos and bravery of the man. I thought to myself, ‘I want my grandchildren to know this wonderful man; I want him to live on.’
“I wanted my seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter to know how amazing he truly was. It’s a matter of passing things down, and the best way to do it is in writing.”
Giere recommends that everyone follow suit.
“I would say, because I love re-reading old letters, keep a diary and write in a journal. Write your feelings, write about what’s happening, the way you feel about the world, your inner self and expose yourself to other writers.”
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“An affecting recollection of a memorable marriage.”
A STORY OF WAR, LOVE, AND ALS
BY SARAJANE GIERE
RELEASE DATE: NOV. 9, 2020
A woman recalls her life—never dull and sometimes terrifying—as an Air Force wife in this memoir.
When Giere married Bernie, the uncertainty of their lives presented itself as a source of adventure rather than anxiety: “We were so much in love that we never questioned what the future would bring.” But Bernie, an Air Force pilot, was eventually sent to Vietnam with the 557th Squadron, a separation that weighed heavily on the author, only 25 years old at the time. She was responsible for tending to their young daughter and preparing for the arrival of another child. Giere did her best to manage her fears—she played bridge, joined a Bible study group, prayed—but nevertheless remained scared her husband, like so many other pilots, would not return. The author movingly depicts her predicament, which became intensely real to her when she learned another Air Force wife lost her husband in Vietnam: “After that the vulnerability of a pilot’s life became a reality that helped define my role in this new war experience. My friends from the past, who carried on their civilian lives as if there were no Vietnam, seemed disconnected, foreign.” Giere poignantly chronicles her eventful marriage, including the years following Bernie’s deployment to Vietnam and his struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Still, her husband’s stretch of time overseas forms the dramatic backbone of the memoir. The author charmingly strikes an informal register, an anecdotal casualness that forges an even greater intimacy with readers in this admirably candid remembrance. And while of course she did not serve in Vietnam herself, she relates Bernie’s experiences, through conversations and letters, so vividly that readers receive a captivating peek into a soldier’s life there. This is an endearing reminiscence, a kind of love letter from the author to her husband, both sweet and wise. An affecting recollection of a memorable marriage.
Join Aerospace Live and author Sarajane Giere as they sit down for a one on one conversation where Sarajane offers a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a military wife and talks about her life with fighter pilot husband, Bernie, a Vietnam Veteran who flew 214 combat missions in the Vietnam War and served 25 years in the Air National Guard’s world-class 106th Rescue Wing.
If you would like to check out this interview on Apple, here is the podcast link:
Thank you to 1st Lt Robert J. Roberts at Aerospace Education Live for providing us with a link to this interview.
Click here for more wonderful videos and interviews from Aerospace Education Live!
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STRAP IN – WAR FROM A CHOPPER PILOT’S POINT OF VIEW – In 1971, I was a college kid trying to pick a major so I could graduate. Marc Cullison was first lieutenant flying helicopters over the dense and dangerous jungles of Vietnam. “The Other Vietnam” brings to the reader the smells, sounds and dangers of that life-changing experience. It’s the details that matter: the MPCs, the hooch girls, rats in bed, the missions and the dangers of war. This is a well-told story of coming of age in the worst possible place to do it.
ALSO AVAILABLE IN AUDIOBOOK!!
A GREAT RETROSPECTION OF RETURNING TO VIETNAM FORTY YEARS AFTER – I highly recommend Marc Cullison’s “Vietnam Again.” It was a great read. It’s the story of a group of Vietnam Veterans who return to Vietnam for a two-week rediscovery trip. Their expectations were mixed about returning to such a dark foreboding time in their lives. It proved to be much more than a trip to a place they once knew, Cullison’s recollections and conclusions are thoughtful, compelling, and an example of a group of men coming to terms with their time as soldiers in this tiny sliver of a country that had such a profound impression on their lives. As I said before, “Vietnam Again,” was a great read!
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EXCELLENT – It’s a very nice detective story that kept me in suspense until the case was resolved. It presents the characters very vividly and the plot unfolds in such a way that it does not let you stop reading the book. I recommend it to all lovers of this kind of novels.
GREAT MUSIC STORY – The story of Bobby who has made some bad choices in life. I thought this was going to the run of the mill sex, drugs and rock-and-roll story but this story goes deeper. Don’t expect a high octane page turner here, but the pace is constant. This is more of a piece of literary fiction than genre fiction, but anyone can get something from this story. I read the book in two sessions (one on the beach with my eReader) and found it very enjoyable. The only criticism I have is that the author tends to tell rather than show. Some scenes are writing in a matter-of-fact way. Like so and so went to college, etc. The story is strong, so it isn’t that much of a problem. If you ignore those parts, it is a very good story.
LOVED THIS BOOK! – Wow, what a great book! I’m picky when it comes to books like this, but it was excellent! The conversations were real, something I rarely see in the books I’ve read lately. They were believable and realistic. It made me feel something, like intense, another quality that is lacking in most the books I read. You need to put your paragraphs together with indentations. Very descriptive and interesting book, great job Jerry!
If you haven’t read Marc Cullison’s ‘The Other Vietnam War” A Helicopter Pilot’s Life in Vietnam’ yet, what are you waiting for? It’s receiving rave reviews! Here is one from July 15th!
Raw and Honest – Truly a different look at Vietnam – 5 STARS!!
“Being born in the mid sixties, I remember Vietnam, but was too young to really absorb all that was happening. I, of course, have since read much on it. This author gives a different look than most books. I compare it to Leander Stillwell’s A Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War. It’s not meant to be a historical record of battles, events, losses, and victories. Both books are meant to take the reader inside the life of one particular solider; to be with him during his commission. This book causes the reader to see what the author sees, experience what he experiences, and make you feel like you are right alongside him.
It’s not always pretty, and you may not agree with the author’s take or response to some circumstances. But, this book is Marc Cullison’s experience, not ours or anyone else’s. Mr. Cullison is brutally honest and completely open with the reader. That is why I am giving this book 5 stars. He has pulled the curtain back, and allowed us an uncensored view of his life and experience as an officer during the Vietnam War. Thank you for that!”
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The award-winning Frank Nagler Mysteries, books 1-3 are compiled in ‘The Frank Nagler Mysteries’. This anthology contains: ‘The Swamps of Jersey’, ‘A Game Called Dead’, and ‘The Weight of Living.’
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This anthology of the Frank Nagler Mysteries contains the first three books in the series: Swamps of New Jersey, A Game Called Dead, and The Weight of Living, as well as a bonus short story. Set in the fictional post-industrial city of Ironton, New Jersey, each novel has a different theme, giving each a distinctive feel and a new experience for the reader. Swamps of New Jersey’s theme, to me, was about decay; the corruption and decay and breaking down of post-industrial America, where the stable, blue-class way of life most people enjoyed has gone and isn’t coming back. It’s also about what lies beneath, be it beneath the murky waters of a swamp, or behind a friendly face or respectable facade. A Game Called Dead is, on the other hand, a cat and mouse game between a ruthless, ambitious murderer and the symbolic champion of law and order. The who is almost immediately apparent, but the tension is built over what they’ll do next, and how the protagonist will prevail. The Weight of Living concerns the cycle of abuse and how people live with their traumas, alone and together.
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In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I am a member of a writing group that Michael Daigle is part of, but these books were already published well before I had joined. I purchased this anthology (and the fourth novel, The Red Hand) on my own and have received no compensation of any kind for this review.
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Fame…fortune…and a bright future. Christopher was on the fast track to all three. Then one day everything changed with just six little words, ”You don’t have much time left.” For some it might be a death sentence. For Christopher, it’s the beginning of a journey.
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