Written by Irene Harrell

Irene Harrell with her grandfather, retired Air Force Col. Ron Standerfer, Vietnam Veteran

Irene Harrell with her grandfather, retired Air Force Col. Ron Standerfer

Irene Harrell is a young writer who has attended our VBC events in-person and online to meet veterans and hear their stories. She’s interested in interviewing Vietnam veterans especially to research a novel she’s working on about the Vietnam War. Please feel free to contact Irene if you would like to be interviewed. You can reach her at ireneewriter@gmail.com. Below, she explains how she launched her quest.

My grandfather Ron Standerfer is a legend, but I didn’t really know it until May of 2021 when I went down to Delray Beach in Florida to visit him. I had seen him for birthdays and graduation parties, but never really asked him about his time in the Air Force.

USAF pilot Ron Standerfer, Vietnam Veteran

USAF pilot Ron Standerfer

On this occasion, I did. And he told me his story.

He flew 237 combat missions over North Vietnam and Laos in a F-100 Super Sabre. Twenty-two of them were part of some top-secret program called “Misty FAC.” He got shot down on April 1, 1969, crashing into the Laotian jungle. There, he and his crewmate, future astronaut Lacy Veach, would have died or been captured, but a helicopter came to his rescue. He retired as a lieutenant colonel long after the war, with 13 Air Medals, a Purple Heart, and two Silver Stars. The last of these, I learned, is a really big deal.

How could I know this man so close to me and yet, at the same time, not really know him? How had he survived? What had he endured?

I am not a veteran and I have never survived war, but I care deeply about my grandfather’s story and preserving his legacy. I also think differently about the veterans I see around me.

Now, when I see someone wearing an Army hat or some other shirt or license plate that identifies them as a veteran, I wonder similar things about their experiences. What did they do? What did they see?

Over the last month or so, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing several Vietnam veterans and hearing their experiences . . . the good and the bad. One said he had never told his story to anyone before. I felt so honored that this man trusted me with his story and felt comfortable enough opening up to me, a stranger.

By the end of our four-hour interview, we formed a friendship, and with tears in his eyes, thanked me for giving him the opportunity to tell his story in a safe and comforting environment.

As an aspiring writer, I believe the novel offers the best vehicle for someone like me to explore and begin to understand unfamiliar worlds and perspectives. Therefore, I have decided to work on a novel about the Vietnam War. The story I imagine involves two young men, one from the slums of Boston named Stephen Herb who gets drafted right after he graduates college, and the other named Michael Wilde from the quiet town of Hampton, Virginia, who decides to join the Marine Corps right out of high school.

The war impacts the two men in profoundly different ways and changes the course of their lives.

And that’s what I’m interested in learning. How does war change a person? How does one recover from the trauma? I hope my novel will deepen our understanding of war and the veterans who fight it.