Nine years ago, retired USD criminal justice professor Steve Feimer, was asked to turn Vietnam War photos into slides.
Feimer said he was fascinated by these photos and instantly became interested in learning more about the first hand experience of war.
Since that first slide show, Feimer has been composing his book “Vietnam Vets: Still Coming Home – Their Stories in Their Words.” The book features 31 veterans and their stories from war.
“One thing led to another and I was going to do six vets and have it take me six months,” Feimer said. “It turned out nine years later and 31 vets, and we finally put a cover on the book.”
The book follows the theme of the veterans’ lives before, during and after the Vietnam War. Each person’s story begins with a quote about war and has pictures both from Vietnam and current pictures of the veterans taken by Feimer. All the stories were kept in the words of the veterans.
“There are some gruesome details,” Feimer said. “We decided it was best to tell the war in their words. We didn’t want to sugar coat a war that there was nothing sugary about.”
Opening up for the first time
For many of the veterans featured in Feimer’s book, this was the first time they shared their war stories. Feimer said interviews were sometimes emotionally difficult on both him and the veterans because of the disturbing details.
“We had to stop the interviews several times so they could compose themselves emotionally and get through it,” he said. “That was the most difficult thing. I suppose the other regret is that there was so many vets I’d like to capture their story, but we simply just didn’t have enough space in the book to do that.”
Feimer said for some of the veterans anything could trigger emotional memories.
“It’s really kind of interesting to see that 50 years after the war is over, they are still suffering from the consequences from what they saw or did in the war,” he said. “One of them described it as having a slide projector in your head and not knowing when it’s going on or what slide is going to come up and really being concerned with being able to shut it off.”
Feimer decided to donate all the proceeds from “Vietnam Vets: Still Coming Home – Their Stories in Their Words,” to organizations that help veterans as a way to show his appreciation to the sacrifices they made.
“I have been to enough of these veteran hospitals and seen so many veterans that are in really tough shape physically and some of them emotionally,” Feimer said. “I thought this is the least I can do to give back to those that gave so much. That’s why I decided to donate the proceeds.”
Vietnam veteran and retired USD professor Eldon Nygaard is one of the 31 people featured in the book. Feimer and Nygaard worked together at USD, and he later asked Nygaard to be featured in the book.
“I think Steve has done a very fine job of writing that book,” Nygaard said. “These stories are in the words of the veteran himself. His personality just allows veterans to talk to him about things maybe they have never talked to anyone else about.”
First year psychology major Lauren Lavin’s grandfathers both served in the Vietnam War. She said she commemorates Feimer for all the time and money he has put into a worthy cause.
“Although both my grandfathers made it home safely, a lot of veterans didn’t and I think it’s just a great way to give back to those who sacrificed their lives for our country,” Lavin said. “I think it showcases the character our faculty here at USD encompasses.”
Over a thousand copies have been sold since the book became available in September, but Feimer said his goal is much higher than that.
“The goal is to sell one book for every name on the Vietnam wall, which is 58,307,” Feimer said. “So it’s a lofty goal, but that’s our goal. You have to have something to shoot for.”
“Vietnam Vets: Still Coming Home – Their Stories in Their Words” can be purchased online.