Mary Stevenson – Idea for a book

Blog Post #2 – Robb’s letter to me of 4/22/73 on the idea of writing a book about the skyjacking.


Mary-Stevenson-Headshot-300x300Some may wonder why neither Robb nor myself have ever written a book about the skyjacking prior to now. One of my reasons is that I was determined that I would never do anything that would possibly hurt Robb, after all he has been through. When I saw his interview from a couple of years ago, I saw that he was finally ready to talk about the event, and possibly even ready to write about it himself.

He did bring up the subject to me in a letter from Lompoc Prison back on 4/22/73. He had an army buddy named Randy Lopez that he stayed in touch with from their Vietnam days. Here’s Robb’s letter:

“Mary, I want to ask you a favor. I’ve talked with Randy and I guess he’s going to Reno to see you about my idea. I’m very stupid sometimes and tend to jump into things rather quickly. I usually wade in over my head. I haven’t really had much of a chance to talk this idea over with you but whatever I do I want your approval.

“During life people have expenses. They need money to make life that much smoother. I want to go ahead with my idea, but I’m afraid I don’t know anything about writing or any phase of it. You and I are us. I want it to stay that way. I want you to talk to Randy, and tell me what to do. In other words, look out for me. I trust your judgment. If you say it’s a bad deal, then I’ll call the whole thing off.

“I really think we could use some $, but you’re the expert on the subject. Seems like I rely more and more on you each day. I might be sticking my neck out, but it makes me feel comfortable trusting you. I love you very much. I want you above everything else. Nothing else matters. Robb”

What I knew for sure at that point in time, less than one year after his crime, is that we dare not try and capitalize on it by writing a book, trying to sell movie rights, etc. No! That would certainly not go over well with the Parole Board. The whole focus was to see Robb get out of prison sooner vs. later, and it was not the right time to act on his idea. I never did meet or hear from his friend Randy Lopez. It was way too soon for me to write my book, too. There were many spiritual lessons to be learned before that, to see the Big Picture of what our souls had signed up for, in what was to be the most intense “initiation” of both our lives. It is only in the last few months that the divine guidance came to me that the time was right. I had put the whole idea so far on the back burner, I was quite surprised myself to see how all the steps unfolded to share this amazing story with you all, at this point in time.

Swords to Plowshares

One path to reintegration after deployment is through a garden. While working in my garden last fall I realized I hadn’t thought about Vietnam all day. The fresh air, sun and exercise were only part of the benefits. Providing a place where life could flourish had changed me. Looking forward to the harvest and planning for next year felt so good. So much different than surviving.

Presenting Pain

I really didn’t want everyone to endure what I had endured, just so they could understand me. I didn’t even want them to understand me anymore. Well, maybe I did a little but I did not need them to. It’s a leap of faith and love to take someone’s word for what is troubling them. It is a huge healer when someone says, I don’t understand but I’ll take your word for it.

I can remember when I almost demanded that the people close to me knew what I was feeling without me telling them. I acted like I should be the focus of their lives because I really needed them for my survival. Yep, there is that feeling of, it’s a matter of survival. In combat that was true on a moment to moment basis not merely a daily basis. I even tuned in on the animals. I of course paid close attention to the villagers. Hell I would have talked to the grass at the edge of a clearing if I thought it could tell me about any booby-traps in the brush. So yeah, I watched everyone and everything for clues of friend or enemy. One thing I never liked about myself is, after a few months in combat (of guerrilla warfare) I didn’t allow for neutral civilians. Not even friendly civilians. They were expendable also. I didn’t want to risk my life or the lives of any of my men to ensure the safety of civilians. The idea itself was absurd. In World War II the bombing of civilian targets was a given and civilian deaths accepted. Not so easy to dismiss when you have to count the bodies. War of attrition was the official line. Body count was the reality. My country sent me to Vietnam to kill enemy soldiers and VC who were by definition, and in fact, civilian freedom fighters engaged in a civil war. I’m getting tired of writing about this.

I’ve been over this so many times in my head if it wasn’t so intense it would be boring. It’s all been said. I keep hoping I’ll get some insight, some relief from the grief. Some belief that war won’t be so common in the future. I’m hoping that if we are, as a nation, more aware of the cost of war this country won’t be so quick to engage, to send troops. My biggest fear and source of anger is that deep down in the heart of this nation is a black heart of immorality that knows the horrors of war and still sends its young men and women to kill in its name. Sends them to take, by force of arms, the resources we need, the territory we want, in order to feel secure.

Sometimes I wonder if this nation is so fearful of its existence it strikes out just as a warning, just to stay in killing shape. Just to say Make no mistake, we will fucking kill you if you don’t do what we like. Have we stooped so low? Stooped to extortion? Did I go to war because a shouting match got out of hand? Has America sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to keep the Arab nations from controlling their own oil resources?

I suppose this is a diversion from the investigation of my own experience of PTSD. Not a complete diversion though. My point in all this is, it was my choice to serve. The hardship and terror of battle is difficult to bear in an obviously just war but to have lost friends for no reason, to have killed another human being in a war or of questionable morality, unsound strategy, with no clear goal, with no hope of victory, is nearly unthinkable. I was lied to. Plain and simple. I was sent to Vietnam because America feared communism. Enough, enough. What the hell am I talking about? Politics? The way leaders move a nation to keep themselves in power using the concept of a common enemy. Do I have to get past the reality or diversion of being duped into going to war? It was a suckers war. That’s what I’m really pissed  at. That’s what gets me. I was promised a hero’s welcome. I was promised the loving gratitude to my country. The trouble is, the people making the promises didn’t represent America. They just needed cannon fodder. I am noticing that’s all external. I’m remembering what the counselor told us at the Veterans Administration. All those feelings are important and valid but the way back from a life dominated by PTSD is not out there. The way back home is in me. I am the solution. It came as a great relief and source of hope to hear that. I don’t need to rely on the VA, or anyone else, to Do anything for me. The VA will provide me with the tools and training I need to rebuild my life.

© Tom Puetz August, 2012