The VBC lost a wonderful Vietnam veteran this week. Kathie Swazuk was shining star of a human being. She enriched the world with her wisdom, compassion, and poetry. She passed away at age 72 after a long battle with heart and lung disease linked to Agent Orange exposure.
Kathie was an Army nurse at the 93rd Evacuation hospital in Long Binh. She arrived at age 19 in 1969. As her plane came in for a landing, it was rocketed. “That’s when it hit me that we were in a war zone,” she said.
Her year in Vietnam transformed her utterly. “It was the best and the worst that I’ve ever done,” she said. The best was the hard work she did repairing—or trying to repair—the damage wrought by war. The worst, of course, was the damage itself. She remained in the Army, retiring as a Major, and dedicated her life and career to serving the veterans she loved as a VA nurse practitioner.
When she returned home in 1970, she wrote 29 poems about her experience and stuffed them in a drawer. She showed them to the world only in 2014 when she published them as a book, Wartorn Heart: Poems and Art Inspired by the Vietnam War.
We had a privilege of having Kathie speak and read her poems at our events.
Listen to her tell her story at one of our breakfasts in Wexford, PA, on March 26, 2015:
We will miss Kathie. And we will never forget her.
by Kathie Swazuk
Sprayed orange in a yellow war.
Breathing in and out the pixie dust that coats the air…
Seeping into body trying to destroy the soul.
I am old now. The body is racked with pain
bones soft and bones broken.
Lungs no longer willing to expand
and let in the reborn air of spring.
Inert too long, I must climb out of this
bunker I have built,
to isolate my wornout
body to try and heal my war torn soul.
There will be no choppers to rescue me.
Escape must be on my own.
I wave the white flag of surrender
so that I can move into the light.
I walk toward the sunrise
and brightness of a new day.
A new beginning…A new landing zone
where the dust is no longer orange.