When Sarajane Giere’s husband, Bernie, was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 72, she wanted to write down a family history so their grandchildren would know him as she did. A combat veteran, Bernie flew 214 missions during the Vietnam War and served 25 years in the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing – and had countless stories to tell.
Giere wrote them all. Transcribing family stories from her husband’s dictation, she felt pulled to focus further on their story – intertwined as it was with Vietnam – after re-reading letters they had exchanged during that tumultuous time.
The resulting book, “My Pilot,” (out now) tells the story of their love, losses and sacrifices as they confronted the difficulties of war and the joys of life.
“I could hear his voice through every word as if he were speaking directly to me,” Giere said of her writing process. “I realized what a remarkable man I married, and this filled me with gratitude. I began to write about the Bernie I knew … and as I did so, I tasted love twice.”
Writing the book also helped Giere navigate her grief over the loss of her husband, who died in 2013. She delved into their letters and keepsakes, and played songs from their courtship that brought back countless memories. In researching the book, Giere also reached out to former colleagues, pilots and friends, reminiscing and fact-checking.
Sharing the ‘other side’ of the Vietnam War
For Giere, a talented writer whose words have appeared in the New York Times, among other publications, telling the story of their lives also brought home just how much they had been challenged over their years in the military.
“I now look back with amazement, a sense of pride and bit of amusement at how I carried on alone: facing at least three hurricanes, when Bernie had to fly his plane safely out of state, leaving me to hold the fort; bearing the loss of my mother when I was 25, and pregnant, knowing Bernie was scheduled for Vietnam; or having a baby without his father at my side,” recalls Giere.
She credits those challenging years with forging an indomitable strength within her, which prepared her for facing the rest of life’s difficulties ahead.
“I hope readers will find inspiration in reading about how Bernie and I surmounted the triumphs and tragedies of our life together, the separations, the furloughs and the joys,” she said. “I hope they can relate it to their own experiences and take heart. I would like them to walk away with a new realization and appreciation for the sacrifices the military makes for our country and learn one woman’s viewpoint of the ‘other side’ of the Vietnam War.”
After living through one of the most difficult times in the country’s history, Giere has sound advice for today’s service members and spouses about handling difficult deployments and separations.
“Find a support group among your peers, whether it be other service spouses, your church, a prayer group or family and friends. Nurture your faith. Work at something that gives you pleasure, a creative outlet, such as art, writing or being a volunteer,” she said. “Don’t forget to nurture yourself while you nurture your children and soulmate.”
Giere found her written records – her letters with Bernie and her journals and diaries – of particular solace, both then and now, and recommends writing things down as you move through life.
“You can look back one day and see how strong you really were,” she said. “My pilot and I communicated by letters, 55 years ago. If it weren’t for those letters, I may have never told my story.”Read comments