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Via Air Mail
Text by Nisha Paul
Published: Volume 19, Issue 3, March, 2011

Why create fiction when the facts are so moving, says Jacqueline Lundquist, the quintessential author and vivacious wife of former US Ambassador to India, Richard Celeste

Even after a decade of them moving back to the US, the capitalís party scene misses its classic hosts. Back then, the couple spent a great deal of time travelling the length and breadth of India and entertaining -up to 1000 people a week- in their house in Delhi. Now in Colorado Springs life isnít any different. They entertain up to 8000 people annually and travel with the alumni and parents of the students of Colorado College, raising both awareness and money. In her recent book Letters from Vietnam, A Daughterís Search for Her Father, the author pays a tribute to her father as a soldier, husband, hero and father.

Jacqueline Lundquist in conversation with Verve...

Letters from Vietnam is a homage to your father ó tell us about the relationship you shared.
I really donít have any memories of my father. He left for Vietnam when I was three and a half years old. He returned a year later and then died within the year. I had just turned five. My mom talked about him all the time, as did his friends, but the theory was that I was so devastated at his death that I simply pretended he never existed. It took me 28 years to come to terms with my loss.

The book sheds light on the little known side of you. Comment.
True, it was a little known side of me even to me! Iíve played many roles. The one thing I didnít know was having a father. Reading my dadís letters, listening to his voice on tape, getting to know him through his words and then spending time with his memory in Vietnam was a very emotional journey for me. I felt sorry for myself that I didnít have him in my life. One of the things I say in the book is that Ďhis absence was always presentí. My mother and I were discussing how different my life and hers would have been had he not died. Every decision that both of us have made over the years was made because he was not with us.

What went into making of this book?
I opened the box that my mother gave me when I was a teenager and started reading the letters, just as they were arranged in the box. Then I put them in order and read them again. We transcribed the reel tapes onto CDs and listened to them. Hearing his voice so many years after he died was really amazing. I had fully expected to recognise his voice and was really disappointed that I did not. He talked to my mom at the beginning of every tape in English. Then, he spoke to me in German (we had mostly lived in Germany with the army). It was only then, that there was recognition! Cadence and tone and everything changes when you speak a different language. That recognition blew me away. Lots of tears.... Just because someone isnít physically with you doesnít mean they donít love you. I have had an angel on my shoulder for all of my life. I know it is him.

I went through all my dadís papers and found the citations for every medal he won. In his letters he does not tell my mother the truth about the war. She was so worried and he wanted to protect her. But in the commendations, you read the truth about each of the events he was involved with. I also contacted the Johnson library and found photographs of President Johnsonís visit to Vietnam. My father had been asked to accompany the President on his tour. I also contacted some of my dadís old army buddies.

As for Vietnam, I just flew over and retraced his footsteps. I found a great guide and driver and we made our way to Chu Lai armed with photos and maps and letters and found exactly where he was. It is not uncommon for children of US soldiers, particularly those who perished in Vietnam, to come over and try to find closure. A whole new kind of tourism, I guess.

Whatís next?
A third book on the wonderful, hilarious and poignant vignettes that all of us have every day in our lives. Clean, safe drinking water for everyone who needs it. Get my son Sam graduated from high school and off to college. The movie version of this book. And in between, more adventures! As a good friend of mine says, Ďthere is plenty of time for sleeping when you are dead.í Amen!

Jacqueline Lundquist started an entertainment public relations firm at the age of 25 and was a television reporter for CBS. She even worked with Presidents Bush and Clinton. Currently, she is working with WaterHealth International who work in India (in over 400 sites), Africa, Bangladesh and the Philippines, taking existing and polluted surface water, cleaning it and then selling it back to the villagers as potable drinking water for a nominal fee. It is one of the only for-profit models in the water world and therefore the only sustainable and scalable model.

4 AUGUST, 1967

Fort Hood Army Base, Killeen, Texas

Dearest Ruth and Jacqueline,
I am sitting here in the empty kitchen writing letters to everyone and it is very quiet.
I know that yesterday was very sad and emotional for all of us. I felt so empty and helpless to say something to cheer you up and make you relax for the love and respect I have for you and Jacqueline. Know and feel, honey that the year will fly by quickly and we shall all be together again - happy and together again.
It was so hot and I was so upset, I drove back to Killeen shortly after your plane took off. I stopped at the club to eat and joined Col. and Mrs. Taylor the division Chief of Staff for dinner. It is his last day as he is leaving for Vietnam, too.
This morning at 11:15am your telegram arrived. Iím happy you arrived well. Please tell Mutti, Werner and Ilse, Ernst and Lilo and all the children and friends to take care of you both, give them my love and best regards.
I learned from Butch today that the whole squadron is flying to California instead of going by train. I fly from Killeen Base Airport at 2:30 p.m. 9 August and arrive in California at 6:33 p.m. and load on the ship to depart around 2:00 p.m. on the 10th. Approximately 30-31 August we arrive in Vung Jau, the port city southwest of Saigon.
You realize I canít mail letters at sea, but I shall write you several times before I leave here, in California and at sea. Be brave, be patient, be understanding, and this year will pass quickly, darling.
Remember that I love you both so, so, dearly. You both are all that I have so donít worry for me. I shall always take care and remember you are there waiting.

A special hug and kiss for Jacqueline from her Daddy.
I love you, Ruth.
Your Don

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