Iowa Writes

JOOWEON PARK
Interview


Uncle Tom in his white T-shirt sits on the black chair in the empty classroom, and his long legs in jeans stretch out on the white floor. His blue-gray eyes look down at me sitting in front of him—they seem a little indifferent as if they didn't see me, but something else far behind me. I ask the white-haired, white-faced custodian why everyone calls him Uncle Tom. He tells me it is because [he] was a soldier in Vietnam.

I was in the infantry. As my face shows I am unfamiliar with the word, he repeats the word, infantry, and makes a walking-person figure with his right hand—his index and middle finger walking on the gray table beside me.

Then I was a machine gunner. I tell him that I read some stories about the Vietnam War, and try to describe what I know about VC tunnels.

I pulled out many bodies from the tunnels. I wonder if he went into them—his well-built body seems too large to get into the long and narrow underground passages. He was ordered to remove dead bodies from them.

Uncle Tom in his white T-shirt sits on the black chair in the empty classroom, and his long legs in jeans stretch out on the white floor. His blue-gray eyes look down at me sitting in front of him—they seem a little indifferent as if they didn't see me, but something else far behind me. I ask the white-haired, white-faced custodian why everyone calls him Uncle Tom. He tells me it is because [he] was a soldier in Vietnam.

I was in the infantry. As my face shows I am unfamiliar with the word, he repeats the word, infantry, and makes a walking-person figure with his right hand—his index and middle finger walking on the gray table beside me.

Then I was a machine gunner. I tell him that I read some stories about the Vietnam War, and try to describe what I know about VC tunnels.

I pulled out many bodies from the tunnels. I wonder if he went into them—his well-built body seems too large to get into the long and narrow underground passages. He was ordered to remove dead bodies from them.

I pulled out a body from a tunnel and threw it to the side. Then another body, and another. After the third one, a woman came out. He puts his hands up in the air, then softly taps the left of his chest with his right fist. When he tells me that he picked her up and took her out of his mission area, his arms are like those of a groom lifting his bride. I see a slight smile on his face, but almost right away it disappears. He says he took out two more bodies from the next tunnel. Then he found a man—he puts his hands up in the air again and gestures that he carried the man to safety.

I moved on to another tunnel, and a man came out with a grenade. I lowered my body when he threw it. Then I didn't give a shit. I killed him. Shot him in the head. He makes a gun with his right hand, shoots it in the air near his head. He says that after killing the VC, he removed two more dead bodies from the same tunnel and saw a woman and three children coming out of it.

I tell him that it is the first time I heard about a soldier who saved Vietnamese civilians from the tunnels, and I ask him about his life after he came back from the war.

I was depressed. He says he wasn't aware of his depression until recently. He was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder four years ago.

It was difficult because I was suicidal. I still see the dead bodies and killings. He points at several spots in the air by my sides with his right hand, moving it right to left. His eyes are gazing somewhere in the middle.

He says he has been helping poor people with food and other house supplies. He and his buddy began doing this a few years after he had returned from the war. The mention of a buddy piques my interest. When I inquire who his buddy is, his right thumb lightly points upward on his lap. I look up at the ceiling then his thumb again. I ask him if he means Him above, and he smiles at me. He says he should get back to his work. I thank him.

No. I am a bad man. His voice is clearer than before. I ask him why.
I killed so many people.

I tell him he was in a war, but wonder whether it is right for me to talk about how war consumes its voluntary and involuntary participants. When I say he was used in the war, he says [he] killed too many. He is looking somewhere in the air above me. I try to say he was merely a soldier in the war, but he rises from his seat. He makes a small groan when he stands on his feet. Quietly, he leaves the classroom. When I exit the room, the hallway is in silence.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JOOWEON PARK

Jooweon Park was born in Seoul, Korea.  She graduated from the University of Iowa in 2012 with a Bachelor's degree in English, with a concentration in creative writing.  She lives in Iowa with her husband.

This page was first displayed
on August 26, 2014

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