Book details experience in Vietnam as a young soldier
Last updated 3/22/2021 at 6:19am | View PDF
A project 50 years in the making for Shafter resident Barry Bongberg has finally come to fruition.
Bongberg recently published "Dear Mom and Dad - Letters from Vietnam," a project which began for his daughter.
The book is based on a series of letters that Bongberg wrote to his parents while he was overseas in Vietnam between 1967 and 1969.
"I didn't even want to think about Vietnam once I got back home," said Bongberg, who also said that it wasn't very popular to let people know that you had served in Vietnam, with him and his fellow soldiers being spit on, screamed at, so different than hero welcomes that greeted soldiers from other major conflicts that the United States had been involved in.
"I didn't even acknowledge that I had been over there for a long time, when people I didn't know were taking about the war. I didn't volunteer any information about my experiences over there," he said.
Bongberg had written a total of 268 letters in the 23 months that he had been stationed in Vietnam. To his surprise, when he was cleaning out his parents' house a couple of years ago, he found a box of letters that he had written that his mother had saved, even in chronological order.
Bongberg's daughter, Erica, started reading the letters and Bongberg then read a few of the letters. Erica told her dad that she thought that this would be a project that would be worth the time of him typing up all of the letters, having a record of them for him and Erica.
"It started as a project that would end once I typed up a copy of the letters for me and Erica, something that we could save those memories in. It just grew from there," he said.
Once Bongberg was finished typing up a copy of the letters for his daughter, he delivered the manuscript to her up in Northern California. While at her house, a friend of his daughter's, an author and editor named Sara Olsher, read a few of the letters. Finding out what they were, Olsher thought that this would be something that a lot of people would be interested in reading, suggesting to Erica that her dad think about putting them in a book.
Erica passed away from breast cancer before the dream became a reality, with Bongberg and Olsher working hard on completing the project for him and his daughter.
After about a year the project was finished and the book was published. It is now available on Amazon.com. You can also purchase a copy from Bongberg himself.
All of the proceeds of the sales of the book go directly to Metavivor, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of advanced breast cancer and equity in research and patient support.
"I have read some really touching reviews and emails from people who have read the book and are grateful for me putting their feelings into words, thinking that there were so many kids in Vietnam in the same situation," Bongberg said about the book's reception.
"I was just a young, 18-year-old kid who was scared out of his mind," he said. "I had to grow up really quick and these letters are almost a timeline of my growing up in that 23 months."
Bongberg will be signing copies of the book on March 29 at 9 a.m. at the Portrait of a Warrior Gallery as a part of the National Vietnam Veterans Day. The gallery is located at 1925 Eye St. in Bakersfield. Also included in the event will be the ringing of the bell to remember the veterans, as well as the reading of Roll Call of the 176 soldiers from Kern County killed in action in Vietnam.