Sunday, March 7, 2010

Waiting Wives: The Story of Schilling Manor, Home Front to the Vietnam War


When I signed up for the War Through the Generations challenge focusing on the Vietnam War I knew that I already owned several books that would qualify for the challenge. One book, Waiting Wives by Donna Moreau, I picked up a few years ago and came across when I was looking for a new book to read while I was running on the treadmill. Donna Moreau grew up during the Vietnam War and spent part of her childhood on Schilling Manor, an army base in Salina, KS, that had been closed for a brief time, and then re-opened as a home to military wives waiting for their husbands' return from the Vietnam War. Schilling Manor is the only such base to have existed and the women and children who lived there had a unique perspective on history.

In this book Moreau features the lives of three waiting wives: Lorrayne, who was responsible for organizing the wives of Schilling Manor and was one of the first wives to take up residence there; Bonnie, the wife of Bruce, a soldier missing in action, and mother to three children; and Beverly, Donna's own mother. Other women and their stories are a part of the book, but Lorrayne, Beverly and Bonnie's stories are the main focus. Moreau's account of the womens' friendships and worry about their husbands well-being is not so different from what I envision for today's military wives. The politics of the Vietnam War is not focused on so much - more importance is placed on the relationships among the women. Bonnie's role as the wife of a soldier who is MIA places her in the position of taking an active part in finding information about her husband and other MIA soldiers. Moreau is able to recall her own time spent at Schilling Manor - despite the worry her mother and other women experienced, life for a teenage girl was still about finding a boyfriend, stealing cigarettes from her mother (this was the 1970s) and being fairly self-absorbed. At one point, her father had to call her from Vietnam to discuss her behavior with her - a big deal for that time period.

This book was very interesting to me - I liked learning more about the women who were a part of the Schilling Manor Waiting Wives club. Written like a memoir, it was easy to read and gave a good deal of background about the Vietnam War. Because I read this over a span of time, only allowing myself to read this book while running on the treadmill, I did find the changing time periods hard to follow. Because the chapters are not read chronologically I had to make myself pay attention at when certain events were happening.

Schilling Manor was closed after the Vietnam War, its last role as a base for women and children. Those women and children who called this place home for a brief time are a small portion of the population, experiencing something no other military family before or after was privy to. Prior to reading this book I did not know of the existence of Schilling Manor or its role in the Vietnam War, either.

8 comments:

Anna said...

Sounds like a fascinating book. Another one that deals with the wives of soldiers during Vietnam is Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller, which I thought was really good.

We've posted about your review here on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Sherrie McClure said...

I've just learned of this book and am very excited to read it. I lived at Shilling Manor with my british Mother and four siblings in the late 60's. I can't wait to see how my experience compares to that of the author and the other characters. I was very young (4th & 5th grade) so my memories are a bit foggy (lots of bases over a short period) so can't wait!

Mary said...

This is one of my favorite books. I have read it 3 times. My husband was in the Army during Vietnam, although he never went there, and the book really brought back the times. I also like Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller. You should re-post this on Amazon as a review. It is good. Waiting Wives is very well written. The author has a website. You might also like a book by Kathleen M. Rodgers, "The Final Salute: Together We Live On, about Air Force fighter pilots and their families. Or "Wing Wife" by Marcia Sargent. All of these authors have websites.

Unknown said...

I was one of those children to live there in 1969 into 1970. . I have a lot of fond memories and also some scary ones too.

Unknown said...

I was one of those children to live there in 1969 into 1970. . I have a lot of fond memories and also some scary ones too.

Bob said...

I just stumbled over this site and have ordered the book.
My father went to Vietnam in 1967. My mother lost a twin in childbirth while he was gone and, as the oldest, it fell to me to tell my mom and my six brothers and sisters and coordinate with the Red Cross to get my dad home.
My dad came home and was assigned to Shilling for a couple of years until the Army sent him back to Vietnam in 1970.
I graduated from Salina H.S. in 1969 and was president of the Shilling Teen Club we had there for a while and also coached kid's baseball, football and basketball.
It could be a very sad place when a husband and father died - all the kids knew each other, so we helped each other as best we could. You grew up faster, if you wanted to or not.
I ended up in the Army and went to Vietnam in 1971, a month after my dad returned from there - we were both on leave at the same time, but didn't catch up with each other until 3 days before I had to report to Oakland.

Bob said...

I guess I expected more in the book than it undertook, especially the enlisted side of Schilling and the everyday activities for the kids. It would have been nice to see an old map of Schilling and old pictures, too.
When I first arrived in 1967, there were race problems among the teenagers, not unlike our civilian counterparts and there were many moms who had no idea of what was going on. Luckily, this didn’t last too long, as fathers returned and picked up their families. There was also prejudice in Salina’s only high school (at the time) against the so-called “base kids.” The discipline meted out was always unequal and joining sports teams was always set to a different standard.
Army personnel running Schilling listened to the teenagers – I particularly remember SFC Rank. As a result, most teenagers learned to play pool – we even had tournaments – there were dances every other week or so, bingo was a surprise hit, too because it was another time for all of us to be together. Saturday morning bowling in town was another success that the kids liked (they also had pool tables where we could often win games against any “town kids”).
Some of us volunteered to coach baseball, football, and basketball, too. After the first year (1967), we were paid to coach, wax and buff rooms, and to maintain the landscape of the post during the summer. For many teenagers, it was their first job (at $1.60 per hour). It helped their families, as well.
I remember people lining the street to see President Nixon arrival at Schilling’s long runway for the Dwight Eisenhower funeral.
I’ll always remember “The Bridge” (a little one over a little stream that separated a portion of the housing area from the sidewalk that ran the length of the housing area, paralleling the main road, that took you down to the Community Center) where teenagers would often meet at night, a local sheriff who everyone called “Barney Fife” whose patrol area was Schilling and that I had about a month to learn to drive there before my father left for Vietnam, too. Tornadoes were not uncommon to the area – one I remember seemed to track parallel to the main road into Schilling.
It doesn’t seem that long ago….

Doris mclaughlin said...

You have an excellent memory of the best things to do while there.. We were there in around 67-68.we were the Mclaughlins.nine kids in all. I was Dee the oldest. I k we yoshimitzu spencer, and Mike Workman and his sister Debbie. I also knew more kids but time has erased their names but not their faces. I coached cheer leading when I was there with the younger kids. I have looked for old friends but only found a relative to Yoshimizu he has passed away leaving a son. Rick Disney was an older guy there I dated can't find him . Well this was fun. Blessings to you and yours