"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, August 2, 2010

Memoir of Douglas S. Kempf

As most of you know, my husband, Doug Kempf, was an army medic and KIA in Vietnam on September 5, 1969. Through all of those years, I had never heard from anyone who knew him during that time in Nam, other than the many form letters all family members received from the military and the government with their condolences. I certainly hadn't heard from anyone who knew or served with Doug personally ... that is, until very recently. I would like to share a letter with you, a thoughtful and healing gift, that I received from Lt. James McCraney.

After forty-one years, this is the first letter I received from someone who not only knew and served with Doug in Vietnam, but who was with him when he was killed. I know you can understand how very deeply the letter touched me and I would like to share it with you. I would also like to invite anyone else who might have known Doug during that time to contact me.

From: James McCraney
Subject: Via The Virtual Wall Memorial for Douglas Kempf
To: cjheck@barkingspiderspoetry.com

Dear Ms. Heck,

A friend of mine sent me the above website for The Virtual Wall and I was honored to be able to find Doug. In August of 1969, I was a new 2nd Lt. assigned to D Company, 4/12 Infantry.

One of the first people that I met was "Doc" (Doug) Kempf. He was our medic and I liked him immediately. I could see the heart that he had for the men as well as the villagers that he would treat. On Sept 5, I was in that firefight when Doug gave his life. If I remember right, we thought that everything was over and the enemy had fled the area. There were wounded needing attention and Doug did not hesitate to move forward. Unfortunately, a couple of the enemy had not left.

He always talked about you and I think a niece. I remember him showing me pictures of you, and one of a little girl in a pretty blue dress. If I am wrong, please forgive me, it has been so long ago. I just know how proud he was.

I just wanted you to know what an impression he made on me. I think of him often. God bless you and your family,

James McCraney
Jackson, Miss.

After I read his letter, I called and spoke with Lt. McCraney on the phone for nearly an hour. We talked, we cried. He shared many things about "Doc Kempf", their friendship and, finally, Doug's death. He told me about how he and Doug would go into the villages and Doug would treat the wounds of the children there.

He said Doug never hesitated that fateful day, when several of the men were shot by snipers and called out "Medic!" Doug went out into the firefight with no thought to his own safety to offer aid to his men. Lt. McCraney said Doug was shot many times doing what he was trained for, what was expected of him, before ultimately succumbing to his wounds. That day earned Doug seven medals, which were presented to me after his death.

Thank you, Lt. James McCraney. You have made a profound difference in my life. I feel that our contact has helped both of us on our long road to healing.

With peace and appreciation and much respect,
CJ Parrish (Kempf) Heck

God Bless America

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  1. Roger Sussman (from my Facebook page)
    I read it. That's a great thing, CJ. Good for you to have that connection. That was a long time ago, and yet here we are, it is affecting us still.

    My sweet new second grade teacher's younger brother was killed in Vietnam during the school year. It was awful. He was around 20. She was only a couple of years older. It was her first year out of teacher's college, her first job as a teacher of her own class. She spoke of Vietnam all year (1965-66), reading letters he had written to her from the war. It was the first time i had heard the word Vietnam.

    It was so sad when she read us the notice from the military notifying her family of his death. The family name was Clune. I looked him up once in an online memorial years ago. Meanwhile, do you know about this book?


    I heard vets read from it some years ago, when it was about to come out. It was very interesting and moving. Koa books, based in Kihei, Maui, is an interesting publisher.

  2. Roger,
    Thank you for sharing your teacher's story. All of these stories are sad and very humbling.

    What I see and feel in my heart and what I'm trying to overcome is the incredible hurt and pain the vets and their families have buried -- ... people can't begin to imagine the pain that these guys have buried for all these years -- America wasn't behind them back then, which was a travesty. You can and will heal pain that you can share -- they were made to feel guilty for being in Nam, guilty for having the pain, guilty for coming home and many of them felt guilty for even being alive ... they took on the guilt of their brothers who fell.

    The time has come to help these Vietnam Vets and the widows and families they left behind. I know it will take time. They don't know me, they don't trust me. I'm hearing from others who have shared on Memoirs From Nam -- it is slow, but it's healing to share.

    I want so badly to help them -- if things had been different, it could've been my Doug who needed help to heal. I can do no less in his memory ... I have to give it my all. If this blog bombs and I have to close it, at least I will know with love, I tried.

  3. Jan Hoffman ‎(from CJ's Facebook page)
    (Tears streaming)
    I can only imagine how this must have hit you -- on MANY levels. Just know that I'm with you in the spirit of things. I knew the Kempf's & I remember when this happened. Not only did it impact you & yours but it rocked this town, too. (HUGS)

  4. This is a Facebook comment I made this morning and the comments that followed by others:

    CJ Heck: C'mon Vietnam Vets ... I'm sharing. Join me, please, it helps, honest. Visit and "Follow" Memoirs From Nam: http://memoirsfromnam.blogspot.com/

    Comments - Feedback:

    D Woodward Wells
    Sorry, my husband does not want to live it again, sometimes I think it would help other times I just am not sure.

    CJ Heck:
    Please tell him for me, "Sure it hurts, war was hell, but by bringing the hurt out into the light and then facing it beside others who care, others who were there, others who felt the same hurt and pain, this will bring the healing. I unde...rstand this takes courage to do, but you guys proved you have courage.

    It's taken me 41 years to face my pain. These guys have helped me by their sharing. I am here for you and so is everyone else. America stands with you. Don't bury the pain any longer. We'll all lean on each other, all of us, the families AND the vets."

    Jan Hoffman
    CJ & Dee: That seems to be a re-curring theme from MOST of the guys that were in "Nam". Being the age we are - I've known (& I was married to a wounded one) quite a number of Nam Vets & most "don't want to talk about it " They will "share" some of the "funny" things that happened w/buddies on their 'down' time, but that's about it.

    Good Luck, CJ, in this venture - - I think it would help everyone, those that lived it & those that remember it from the reporting that was done & all those that have come along since & have only heard the "Bad Rap" that Our Viet Nam Vets have rec'd thru the years.

    Jerry Pat Bolton:
    I love what you are doing. I'm sorry, but I don't go there anymore. I find it very difficult to deal with.

  5. I understand your reluctance, Jerry. Please help me to understand how to reach those men who have experienced what you have.

  6. Jerry Pat Bolton (from Facebook Page)
    I think some things are meant to be buried for certain people.

  7. Marty Hughes Darling (from Facebook page)
    Thanks CJ -
    That gave me goose bumps when I read about Doug Kempf. I graduated with Doug. So sad, so many lives. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Roger Sussman (from Facebook)

    "Good for you, CJ. I thank you for what you are doing.

    My own ex-brother-in-law was affected terribly by the trauma he suffered in Cambodia and has been carrying it around all this time. He already had a father who was difficult and a veteran himself. The father didn't understand how what his son was going through. It was so different from what he had done, being at Iwo Jima in WWII. The father and son have been at it with each other ever since the kid came back, having gone over at the tender age of 18, an innocent kid from So. California. Well, the dad probably had been an asshole in relation to his son all along, and then it got worse after the war experiences.

    I do recommend that book for you and for all. also, the rest of their catalog is outstanding and could hold interest for you and your associates as well."


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