It took me more than 50 years, but I finally published my Vietnam War story and the toll it took on me after leading a combat infantry platoon as a 21-year-old first lieutenant in the US army.
I self-published with the help of editors who wrote the back cover description. They used a mug shot I had taken some ten years ago while attending a PTSD meditation clinic at Omega Institute for veterans and their families. The clinic introduced me to different forms of meditation that allowed me to eventually deal with the trauma and view the war experience in a more benign and compassionate light.
Highlights from the book’s back cover are below:
The memories of a platoon leader become the key to unlocking his salvation.
Michael J. Contos may have survived the tragedy of friendly fire, but the worst days of the Vietnam War were not over. After years of battling the past and traumatic memories with no reprieve for good behavior, this soldier was ready to make peace. After meeting two Buddhist instructors, Contos was able to view his war experience in a different light. With the help and guidance of his mentors, Contos not only gained a new perspective of war but of life itself.
A devoted dedication to those we have lost, a graceful study of healing and enlightenment, and a determined and disciplined meditation on the Vietnam War, Vietnam War Recall leads readers on a journey, one battle and one breath at a time.
Much of the book contains posts I had written for my blog on this website called Contoveros.wordpress.com. I searched through the history of anti-war quotes and sprinkled them throughout the book. They include one of my favorite quotes from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn who wrote:
“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle,’ illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how …”
I started writing the memoirs while at a five-day retreat with Barry Kerzin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who is a phsysican for the Dalai Lama. (See his TED Talk in Phoenixville, PA.) I felt safe and open enough to revisit the war and see myself years later. I started a hand-written journal that became the basis of this book.
While visiting Omega Institute to deal with PTSD with other veterans a few months later, I started typing the journal onto a lap-top computer while meditating with Claude AnShin Thomas, a Zen Buddhist monk who served as a machine gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam. He was helping veterans like me deal with the trauma from PTSD. It was the fourth journey I had walked with him at Omega Institute on a scholarship for veterans. (See Claude’s book on Amazon: “At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace.”
I dedicated the book to Lieutenant Victor Lee Ellinger, leader of the third platoon. We had served together until a Viet Cong sniper shot and killed him. I still mourn Vic, at one point in my life, visited his gravesite in Staunton, VA, and saluted him while laying a wreath at his head stone.
Yes, the war is over but the memories will still linger on. At least I can finally put this journey’s writing to bed and hope some readers can benefit from these recollections.
(Book is available on Amazon: