The Fish

Cpl. W.L Files of Charleston, WV, distributes his candy supply amongst these Vietnamese children who were being evacuated from their village near An Hoa on Dec. 19, 1967 during the Vietnam War. (AP Photo)

The Fish

“G.I, G.I., come to me.”

“I have something to show.”

Ten dow for good Seiko watch.”

Don’t let your buddies know.”

The fish goes to his pocket

and the deal is now through.

Mount up on the deuces,

there are other things to do.

G.I. with new wristwatch

can only sit and smile

of the deal he made today

as he looks at its dial.

Shit, there’s something funny!

It’s painted on by hand.

All its jewels are missing

so he throws it in the sand.

Laughter spins upon him.

His buddies tell him so

the trick is but an old one.

And on to war we go.

(C) John Steinmeyer

More of John’s Poem from his collection titled The rain

  1. Other Side
  2. Sniffer
  3. More to Come

John Steinmeyer served in Vietnam as an Infantry Sergeant with the 9th division in the Mekong Delta, then was transferred to the 25th Division and served the last half of his tour in a sniper team.

Thuy Smith’s father (Vietnam Veteran) and Vietnamese mother along with Thuy were friends of John and his family. This will be the first post of a collection of poems that John wrote of his many experiences during his time in Vietnam. The collection is titled – The Rain. Thuy Smith (TSOI) was given permission to share his poems on all of TSOI’s media platforms, etc.


Healing My Wounds of War, Reflections from a Daughter of a Vietnam Veteran

This was written by Thuy Smith about her experience. All Rights Reserved.

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It starts with Thuy’s reflection as a child growing up with an American Vietnam Veteran and Vietnamese mother, to an Amerasian experience / perspective, About her Father, about her parent’s falling in love in Vietnam, returning to Vietnam for the first time in 20 some years, Letter to her mother about leaving her parents behind, the prejudice she experienced, a Healing her Vietnam through finding healing, embracing her identity, and forgiveness.

(Thuy’s Personal Reflections)

holding up incense
Burning incense while reflecting on all lives that were lost during the war in Vietnam at the first official Vietnam Era Veteran’s Day Educational Event organized and hosted by TSIO.ORG.




Nock XiongPerhaps it was because I was young and selfish, thinking that the world revolved around me and that the drama during my teenage years were the only things that existed in my world.   Not only that, but I was a Hmong girl, the oldest of four girls.   My sisters and I always wondered if that’s why he never talked to us about the Vietnam Was. I know that my parents have always been chastised from other family members because they never had any sons, but my father never complained and he never showed any disappointment in us.    I don’t believe that my father ever intentionally meant to neglect telling us about his role in the war, maybe there were just some aspects of the war he just did not want to talk about.  Perhaps it brought back bittersweet memories for him.

I think that it had a lot to do with the fact that we, Hmongs, have never been ones to really “talk” and convey our emotions properly.   Every lesson taught was a riddle to be solved.   At least that was the case in my upbringing.  With the older generations, children were still meant to be seen not heard, and that is how many of those of my generation had grown up.  We sat and listened like well behave children, we were not to question anything, we were not to speak unless spoken to.  We never held hands, never hugged our parents, and never uttered the words, “I love you”.  It’s not that we didn’t love each other, nor longed to be held, to be acknowledged.  It was just that Hmong kids were taught to became adults a lot younger than our counterparts, and being adult meant being strong and holding your emotions inside.    Yet, it was that mentality that also raised us to be passive about our past which leads to our regrets when we lose the opportunities to reap all the memories, all the knowledge of our elders.

Tou VangTou Vang (My Dad Nock Xiong) -ThenI just never stopped to take the time to ask my parents what it was really like during that time.  I know that my father is a great man, but I really didn’t know just how great he really was, until this past summer.  My father is a Hmong veteran, a Hmong T-28 pilot to be exact and my mother, a Thai woman from the town of Nakom Panom.   Their youth spent trying to survive during the height of the Vietnam War in Laos.    We grew up knowing that we were Hmong, and we knew of the circumstances as to why we had to come to the United States.  I even heard tidbits here and there from my mother about my dad flying and crashing and breaking his nose, but that was the extent of it.   It was only this past summer in a muggy banquet hall in Maplewood, Minnesota that I was to truly “meet” my father.

Here we were in a hotel with a small banquet room packed full guests ranging from high ranking officials from the U.S. Air Force to family, friends, and invited guests of the pilots to see them being given their first acknowledgement of their role in the Vietnam War.  Many of the men left behind all of their belongings, photos, training certificates, uniforms, anything that would identify them as pilots of the CIA’s Water Pump program.  They feared for  the safety of their family if they were to be caught with any of the above in their possession.  So when they came here to the U.S. they all had quietly been forgotten and had no proof as to their involvement in the war.   It was only recently that these men began to reconnect with each other, and with the technology we have today, it was possible for them to start sharing lost photos, documents, and information that would eventually lead to the recognition of these men.   It was long overdue to a group of humble men, all of whom I can gladly call my “father” as well.   It was the first time in 37 years that these men were to see each other again.  For some, it had been since their departures from Laos back in the early 70’s.   Watching these once young men, now older, a little sadder, some of whom are not in the best of health… well,  let’s just say it brings tears to my eyes.  As the video tribute was playing you could see the longing of younger days,  the soft chuckles and teasing of the styles of youth, but you could see the tears, some trying to be held back at the thoughts of all their brothers who had died fighting for what they believed would let their children lead better lives.  The widows and children of the fallen pilots coming forth to receive their recognition on behalf of their fathers…for some it brought closure to the hurt of never knowing their husbands/fathers, for the resentment of being forgotten.  For many of us children in attendance that day, the memories shared by fellow pilots and their wives  was like finding a key to a treasure chest and I know for that, just like me, they are grateful.  In being there that day, I believe many of us, even those who no longer had a biological father, found that they still indeed had “fathers” and a connection to a group of extended family they never knew as well.  We all discovered how difficult it was for our fathers to learn how to fly.  They flew on outdated equipment, they flew in terrain that was treacherous to take off and land in, and not to mention in all weather conditions and even at night.  They flew endless missions knowing that they may never return home to their loved ones.  We learned how wives and mothers had to become fathers as well and care for the home and well-being of the children while the fathers were away, or for the fathers that never returned.  We learned that being Hmong meant being brave and smiling on the outside, even if you were dying on the inside.  It meant living for the next day, living for your children and the future of your children no matter what obstacles were thrown in your way.   Even if it meant sacrificing everything you owned materialistically.  I learned a lot about my father that day, but all unspoken by him of course, as it was always his way to be a quiet man, but a man whose actions mean even more to this day.

All my life, he has tried to give us the best of a western life as well as trying to make sure we would remember and respect the ways of the Hmong .    He came to the U.S. with a little English speaking skills and learned to adapt quickly.  He worked quietly day in and day out to provide for our every need and wants, but he never neglected our family.  There were weekend picnics at the beach, fishing trips, and family vacations to even Disney World.  Even though he wanted us to have an “all American” life, he also taught us to remember and respect the Hmong ways of life because no matter “what color you dye your hair, speak English, and act like you are not Hmong” you will always be Hmong and one day you will come back to love who you are.   As others may squirrel away money for a rainy day, I collect memories for the days when my children are grown and I am alone so that I may withdraw these precious moments to keep me company and bring a smile to my old wrinkled face.   I believe that that time has come for me and I am sure for many others like me to acknowledge this…I do love the fact that I am Hmong, and I cherish everything I can learn about my heritage, and I wear it as my badge of honor for the greatest man I never knew.  I may not have ever hugged him, I may never have held his hand, and I have never so much as whispered the words “I love you dad”, but it is never too late to start, and I encourage all of you to take the time and do the same today.

Nock Xiong

My organization and Congressman providing a certificate of Appreciation from both of us to Nock for her father who wasn't able to attend our Annual Vietnam Veterans Day event this year.
My organization and Congressman providing a certificate of Appreciation from both of us to Nock for her father who wasn’t able to attend our Annual Vietnam Veterans Day event this year. I was also honored to be a part of the first Hmong T-28 Pilot reunion. It was very moving and inspiring.


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My Unknown Soldier

Guest post: A unique connection between Jessica (Granddaughter of a Vietnam Veteran) and Tracey (Daughter of a Vietnam Veteran) who owns this particular blog- My father’s Notebook. Learn more about this new connection from Jessica’s perspective. 

My Unknown Soldier
by Jessica Zumhingst

It is quite a strange feeling to have such a strong connection to someone you never got to meet.  To never really know anything about them, but to always have a curiosity and longing to know more about their life.  For the past 25 years of my life, this has been my relationship with my maternal grandfather.

As a young girl, I didn’t think too much about why I never got the opportunity to meet my mom’s dad.  I am an only child, as is my mother, so it is not like the topic came up all the time at huge family gatherings.  Nobody ever really talked about my grandfather’s death all that much.  All I knew is that he died serving our country.

Clevenger_William_Henry_ April 26, 1969.My grandfather was William Henry Clevenger, a Sergeant Major in the United States Army.  I remember the day that I finally took the time to closely inspect the various medals that my mom had displayed in the living room.  This was the day that I first longed to know more about my grandfather and his life.

My mom didn’t talk about her father all that much.  He passed when she was just a freshman in college.  She would mention him in stories about her childhood, but I never really inquired about his time in the Army. I knew it was a painful subject for my mom and I didn’t want to upset her.  I decided to look to the Internet in my pursuit to know more.

In 2002, I found the Virtual Wall website.  I saw a picture of my grandpa, the same picture that was framed with his medals in my living room. I wrote a short quote from a patriotic song.  I was only 14 at the time and I didn’t know what else to write.  I set up my email address as the point-of-contact for his memorial.  About a year later, I was brought back to the website to find a post from Colonel Carl M. Mott Jr. about my grandfather.  Along with kind words about serving with Sergeant Major William H. Clevenger, he included a photo of the two of them.  This was my first small glimpse of my grandfather’s role in the Army.  According to Colonel Mott Jr., my grandfather was a “natural communicator” and the “finest Sergeant Major [he had] ever known.”

My own father enlisted in the Navy when he was just 18 years old and by this time in my life I was old enough to listen to his stories about Vietnam.  He told me what life was like in Vietnam and explained to me what his role and my grandfather’s role was over there.  My dad also told me about the letter his mother sent him telling him that my mom’s father had been killed. I knew that I could never begin to understand the pain that my mother had gone through as a young woman.

During the following years, I did gain the courage to ask my mom more questions about my grandpa and to explore the various websites that I found on the Internet regarding the war.  I never got the chance to visit the actual Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., but I did visit various traveling walls and took rubbings of my grandfather’s name.  My childish curiosity had transformed into pride. I may have not known much about my grandpa, but I did know one thing: I was proud to be his granddaughter.  I was determined to honor him and tried to do so in various ways.  I became more vocal about my connection to war and my grandfather.  I wrote a number of poems and research papers about WWII and the Vietnam War for my schoolwork in high school. Videos and books about war were now of interest to me.  I later went to college and became a teacher.  Every time a new school year would begin, I would consciously take the time to talk to my students about the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem and all about the sacrifices our soldiers make so that we can be free.

This past Veteran’s Day, the same day as my 26th birthday, I typed in my grandfather’s name online in hopes of finding a new story or photo posted of him.  Boy did I find a surprise!  I found a blog written by Tracey Wolfe about her father, Glen “Pete” Johnson.  Mr. Johnson arrived in Vietnam at the young age of 19. I read Tracey’s blog about looking for a certain name on the Wall- a man that her father had looked up to and considered a father figure during his time overseas.  That name was William H. Clevenger.

I couldn’t believe what I had stumbled upon! Her beautifully written blog detailed how her father had kept a piece of paper with my grandfather’s name on it in his wallet and how she and her family had searched to find his name on the memorial.  She also shared her father’s writing about the morning my grandfather was killed and how her father was the one who had found his body outside the bunker.  I immediately called my mother and read her the blog post.  It was hard to read some of those words out loud while fighting back the tears.  At first, my mom was quiet on the phone.  I knew the words had touched her.  She was just as surprised as I was.  I read her my response to Tracey’s post and told her that I would let her know if anything else was posted.

Katie&Jessica2It was then that I received an email from Thuy asking if it was okay if she gave my contact information to Tracey and her sister.  She told me that they would like to correspond with me.  I was a bit hesitant, only because I did not feel like I had much information to offer, but I told Thuy that it was fine with me.  Tracey contacted me via email a short while later.  She told me more about her family and the amazing man that her father was.  I gave Tracey my mom’s contact information and she contacted my mom as well. Tracey’s mother, Sally, has also shared such touching stories with us about her young husband leaving for Vietnam just weeks after they were married.  Reading their stories has made me both laugh and cry and I feel so blessed to have connected with such wonderful people.

Words cannot express how much this newfound connection has meant to my mother and I. Both sides agree that our angels in heaven definitely had a hand in it!  For the first time, my mom and I are able to have in-depth conversations about her childhood and my grandfather’s life.  I have learned so many things about the both of them.  In a way, our connection to Tracey and her family has started the healing process for both of us. I am so glad that my mom and I can finally talk about something she has kept bottled up for so many years.  As for me, I never realized that I had anything to heal from.  I guess in a way I did.  I would like to take a moment to share some of the information I have learned about my grandfather and his service to our country.

William Henry Clevenger was born in 1919 in Columbus, Indiana. He was an incredibly bright child with a bit of a rebellious side. He had 4 siblings, 3 sisters and a brother, but when he was young his mother moved with his siblings and left him to stay with his aunt and uncle. My mom thinks this was because he was a little “hard to handle.” He graduated from high school when he was only 14.  Like I said…I have been told that he was VERY smart (he was the kind of person that could do freakishly long math problems in his head…a gene his granddaughter did not inherit!) He actually joined the Army when he was only 16 years old, even though he said he was 18. When the army found out that he was not 18, his aunt was able to sign and give him permission to stay.  For about 30 years, the Army was his home.  He served in WWII, the Korean Conflict, and Vietnam.  My mom thinks he stayed in the Army so long because it was the one constant in his life and he felt secure there.

My mom, Katie Clevenger, was born in 1950 at Fort Devin in Massachusetts.  She moved all over the United States as a child, which was tough for her because she never felt like she had the time to really get accustomed to any one school.  In 1964-65, my grandpa went overseas to Germany.  According to my mother, my grandfather enjoyed going to Germany more than anywhere else.  My mom and my grandma were going to move there, but there was no available housing for them and my mom would have had to go to a boarding school.  When my grandpa returned to the states, the family moved around a lot.  Throughout my mom’s childhood, they lived in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Kansas, and Hawaii.  My grandpa spent some time working at the Pentagon when they lived in Alexandria, Virginia.  Meanwhile, my grandma held different government jobs at the army bases and one at an air force base.  They were able to settle in Seymour, Indiana because my grandpa taught ROTC about an hour north at Indiana University. After that, he was sent to Vietnam. He was stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp.

According to my mom, my grandpa never talked about Vietnam or anything having to do with war. He kept that part of his life to himself. He would write letters, but they were always short and to the point. On the morning of June 6th 1969, an attack took place on the camp at Tay Ninh. The camp was hit with over 200 rounds of rockets and mortars.  The base suffered shrapnel damage and some buildings caught on fire. My grandfather, SGM William H. Clevenger, was gravely wounded and could not be saved. When he was killed, my mom was only a freshman at Ball State University (she later became a second grade teacher for 37 years). My grandfather was 48 years old and would have been eligible to return home to my mother and grandmother just two months later.  His name now appears on Panel 23W Line 084 of The Wall.

My pride for my grandfather has only grown with each new piece of information I have learned.  I have always been proud to be his granddaughter, but I feel like my connection to him has deepened.  Every morning when I say the Pledge of Allegiance with my Kindergarten students, I think of him.  Every time I see a flag flying on a front porch, I think of him.  Every night when I lay my head down on my pillow with my husband and my dog, I think of him.  I am thankful for his sacrifice and the sacrifice that all the brave men and women that serve our country make.  I can only hope that my grandpa is looking down with as much pride for me as I have for him.

I would also like to express my gratitude for Tracey Wolfe and her entire family. Thank you for your heartfelt words and for sharing your experiences and stories with my mother and I.  Also, thank you to the Thuy Smith International Outreach for making this connection possible. God Bless you all!

Related Post (Tracy’s Reflection) My Father’s Notebook, One Name on the Wall

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My Father’s Notebook: One Name on The Wall

My Father’s Notebook:  One Name on The Wall

Eau Claire recently welcomed the Moving Wall, a smaller scale version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—the Wall.  Held in conjunction with a local organization’s Field of Honor, the Wall stood amongst trees next to a field of hundreds of flags each dedicated to the memory of soldiers who had died since 2001.  Small dog tags attached to each flag bore the names of lost loved ones; three different flags bore the inscription “Glen Johnson, Army”—my Dad.

The day was beautiful, with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze fluttering the hundreds of flags dotting the field.  We walked together as a family towards the large slabs of black, just as we had done nine years ago.  Only this time we did so without Dad.  And this time I knew one of those names etched in the stone.

Taking a rubbing of William H. Clevenger from the Moving Wall in September 2012.  Sgt. Major Clevenger was one of Dad’s superiors, and as Dad said, “He was like a father to us.”

Finding Clevenger

We first visited the Moving Wall when it last stopped in Eau Claire in 2003.  I was so surprised that Dad agreed to go with us—my Mom tells me it took much encouraging.  Dad avoided any discussion of Vietnam, avoided anything that could remind him of his time there.  But somehow he was there with us, and I felt honored to be able to show my respect to him, to other veterans, and to all those whose names appeared on the Wall.

Dad was there, but he stood as far back as he could.  He never touched the Wall, nor got any close than ten yards from it, the anxiety and sadness painfully evident.  But he pulled from his wallet a piece of paper with a name written on it and handed it to us.  With Dad far off waiting, we searched for the name but couldn’t find it.  All these years later, I don’t remember now why we were unable to find it, maybe a misspelling, but we were unable to find the name that day.  I was horribly disappointed, as I so wanted to be able to be able to take an etching to give to Dad.  I know now that it wasn’t meant to be that day; this was just a rehearsal.

In 2007, my sister Melissa and her husband, Shawn, took my parents to Washington, D.C.  With much patience, Dad was able to visit the Wall, the full Memorial.  Though Dad still couldn’t get close enough to touch the Wall, this time they were able to find the name he was looking for:  William H. Clevenger.

Dad arrived in Vietnam at the age of 19 having lost his father from cancer mere months before. So it was understandable that Dad looked up to his superior, Sergeant Major William Clevenger.  Dad was first stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp with Clevenger, a seasoned soldier who had served in World War II, was Dad’s superior at Tay Ninh Base Camp where Dad was first assigned.  Dad looked up to this man, saying “He was like a father to us.”

In the early morning hours of June 6, 1969, another attack on Tay Ninh Base took place.  Warrant Officer Albert Major of the 187th Aviation Company described it as “a night to remember in Tay Ninh.”  The camp was hit with over 200 rounds of rockets and mortars.  The base suffered shrapnel damage and some buildings started on fire.  It would prove to be a sad day for Dad and his unit.

Decades later, Dad would write about what happened to Sergeant Major Clevenger:

“In the middle of the morning when we didn’t normally get mortar and rockets in base camp, they shot some in and one exploded by our battalion Sgt. Major and killed him.  He was so cut up from shrapnel that they had nothing they could do to save him.”

After Dad’s passing, Mom shared with us that it was Dad who found SGM Clevenger’s body outside the bunker.  William Clevenger was 48 and would have been eligible to return home two months later, in August of 1969.  He left behind a wife, Lois.  His name now appears on Panel 23W Line 084 of The Wall.  You can find out more about him and others who gave their lives at

Many More Than 58,261

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a black wall with 58,261 names is worth a million pictures.  Each of these names brings to my mind pictures of the man or woman represented there, of what their lives were and could have been.  No memorial or statue I have ever seen can compare to the power of the images the Wall brings to my mind.

In his iconic painting “Reflections,” Lee Teter shows an aged veteran touching the Wall while in the reflection lost comrades reach to touch his hand.  And I feel that, too.  Standing before it and resting my hand against the smooth black stone, it feels a thin veil separating the living on this side to all those lost on the other.  I like to imagine Dad standing among the other soldiers behind the Wall.  They had been separated for a few decades, but now they are together sharing a cup of coffee.  And this time, there are no wounds, visible or otherwise.

The Wall represents those 58,261 precious lives lost, but please remember that one name on the Wall represents so very many more lives touched by the war.  For each name on that Wall, countless lives have felt the impact of that life and its loss.  There are the fellow soldiers who served alongside.  There are perhaps medics, nurses, doctors who tried to save this life, even if all that could be done was to say a prayer.    There are the millions who served with them, some who came home with disabilities and illnesses, some with the wounds that cannot be seen, but all who came home changed.

And back home, each name on that Wall represents generations of friends and family that will never be the same.  They were sons, daughters, siblings torn away from their families.  Some were husbands and wives and parents, whose loss leaves a terrible hole.  There are the families left without a husband or wife, son or daughter.   They are the children left without a parent.

When I see the Wall, I am also very thankful.  In Washington, D.C., my brother-in-law Shawn pulled my Dad aside and said, “We’re sure glad your name isn’t up on that wall.”  We are so blessed that Dad came home, so blessed to have had all those years with him.   I am deeply grateful to the fellow soldiers whose friendship, or bravery, or simply commitment to duty, made it possible for Dad to come home.

As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, I can’t look at the Wall and not imagine in some way how life would have been different if Dad’s name had been etched on the Wall.  You see, had my Dad not come home from Vietnam, I would never have been born.  Four of us—Melissa, Eric, Scott, and I—were all born after Dad came home.  Mom and my sister Shelley, who was born while Dad was in Vietnam, would have been left alone.  So you see, I not only owe these men and women my gratitude for my time with my Dad, but for the very chance at life.

The Wall is a moving tribute to the 58,261 precious lives whose names are etched in the stone, but it is also a tribute to the web of people whose lives are forever linked to them.  They are the fellow soldiers, the families, the friends, the spouses, the children.  They are the lives that could have been.   The least that we can do is remember them—all of them.

Related Post- My Unknown Soldier (Reflections from the woman whose grandfather served with Tracey, and who recently discovered this post about her Grandfather)

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[i] Major, Albert A.  1969 Annual Supplement: History of the 187th Aviation Company (last accessed December 2011).

[ii] U.S. Army Data Survey Center.  Personnel Roster, Active Army Personnel as of 30 April 1969, 0011 FA BN 7th 105T.  1969.  San Francisco, CA.  Page 2.