What if Hell had a fire exit?
We have hinted at this miracle, but were not yet ready to announce it so boldly, until now, while we are applying for permits to film at the Wall in DC. in July. Many of you helped get Raw Man published, and it has proven to be the pebble tossed on a pond. Conventional wisdom rates the success of a book quantitatively–how many copies sold? As well measure love by the number of kisses exchanged with your lover.
We–you who read and write on this site and we who post on your behalf–understand that the ways to measure the value of writing are not so hobbled. By reliving and retelling the brutality of Vietnam, not without pain, Fred put something in motion that he could never have imagined. None of us could. And it is, as Leonard Cohen wrote: “radiant beyond your widest measure.”
“A confounding and sometimes benevolent god has caused me to rewrite the ending to this story, and I have never been so grateful for being so wrong.”
My dear friends,
Many of you have either read or are familiar with Raw Man, my published story of Vietnam that was both highly personal, but also a true representation of young men, drafted and snatched out of their lives to fight an unpopular war. Central to that story was the battle in which my best friend, Herman Johnson, died in my arms. A few days later at a hastily arranged memorial service, surviving comrades of that horrid day presented me a bracelet fashioned from the leather laces of Herman’s boots. I have worn it every day since, without fail.
In the forward to Raw Man, I write, “The names have been changed except for a handful of men that I love. For my surviving brothers: I am happy that you may see your name in this book and it is not on a marble slab in Washington D.C.” Well, to my astonishment, this prophetic hope has come true!
I signed my very first copy of Raw Man to John Marek, an active sergeant in the United States Army. Although I have faced enemy fire without flinching, I never had the courage to hunt for Herman’s name on the Wall in Washington. To show his appreciation for the work that I do on his closed Facebook page, Veterans With PTSD, Sergeant Marek intended to surprise me with a pencil etching of Herman’s name from the monument in our nation’s capital.
But Herman’s name was not there, nor was there any record of him having been killed. With the help of the 11th ACR Veterans of VNAC and the local chapter of the VFW ,Sergeant Marek found Herman Johnson—alive— in Dearborn, Michigan.
Herman did die in my arms! Medics pried his lifeless body from me as I swung back into battle. While I grieved for him and my other fallen comrades the next day, Herman was waking up staring at the blue sky, his dog-tag replaced by a yellow toe tag, wondering, “Where is Fred?”
A confounding and sometimes benevolent god has caused me to rewrite the ending to this story. I have never been so grateful for having been so wrong.
After 47 years, Herman and I will have our first reunion at the Wall this July, with a film crew on hand to document this miracle. We’re busy getting permits for the filming right now. With the help of my friend Thorn Sully, Editor-in-Chief of A Word with You Press, which published Raw Man, we have created a GoFundMe campaign to help defer expenses for the trip, the film crew, and to write and publish the continuation of the remarkable journey of Herman Johnson and Fred Rivera.
In order to publish Raw Man, we asked you to be part of our victory over PTSD. You rallied, and we won. Raw Man was published and continues to provide hope and inspiration for thousands of veterans whose wars have never left them.
Now, on behalf of myself and Herman Johnson and all Vietnam vets who refuse to be swept into the dustbin of history, we are asking you be part of this miracle. We need money before summer to underwrite our trip to Washington, filming expenses, and publication of a follow-up to Raw Man that will build a foot-bridge that two veterans will walk arm-in-arm, across a chasm a half a century deep.
I do hope you can help us. Imagine how we felt when we re-discovered each other, and learned that we each had a copy of the same photo of the two us on a desk within our homes. Let me conclude with words from the forward to Raw Man:
“I thank the men I served with, especially those who never made it back, for teaching me what real love is and what an incredible gift it is to open my eyes each morning, take a deep breath, and go out and try to be the best person I can be.”
So, having resided in Hell for all these years, the fires stoked by memories of the dead and dying on the battlefield, Fred found the secret exit through which he and Herman Johnson will pass, and walk under a clear blue sky together.
A quote from an unlikely source, Jerry Rubin: “Those who can share money can share love.” For those of you who care to help with this project, here is a link.
Love, and joy to all