Waiting Wives

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

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About The Book

In 1964, as the first B-52s took flight in what would become America's longest combat mission, an old Air Force base on the plains of Kansas became Schilling Manor -- the only base ever to be set aside for the wives and children of soldiers assigned to Vietnam. Author Donna Moreau was the daughter of one such waiting wife, and here she writes of growing up at a time when The Flintstones were interrupted with news of firefights, fraggings, and protests, when the evening news announced death tolls along with the weather forecasts. The women and children of Schilling Manor fought on the emotional front of the war. It was not a front composed of battle plans and bullets. Their enemies were fear, loneliness, lack of information, and the slow tick of time.
Waiting Wives: The Story of Schilling Manor, Home Front to the Vietnam War tells the story of the last generation of hat-and-glove military wives called upon by their country to pack without question, to follow without comment, and to wait quietly with a smile. A heartfelt book that focuses on this other, hidden side of war, Waiting Wives is a narrative investigation of an extraordinary group of women. A compelling memoir and domestic drama, Waiting Wives is also the story of a country in the midst of change, of a country at war with a war.

Reading Group Guide

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Along with her family's story, why do you suppose -- out of the thousands of women who called Schilling Manor home -- Donna Moreau chose to tell Lorrayne's and Bonnie's stories? How does each of these three accounts contribute something different to the narrative?
2. In the Preface, the author says that for the women she interviewed, "Schilling Manor was a place of light during the darkest, most terrifying time of their lives." What did Schilling Manor provide for these women that other places, even living near family, could not?
3. What do the sections titled "The Committee" add to the overall picture of what life was like for the waiting wives at Schilling Manor? Why does the author refer to each woman on the committee not by name but by her husband's rank?
4. Along with Lorrayne's desire to turn Schilling Manor into a home for waiting wives and her determination to see it done, what other factors played a part in the founding and success of Schilling Manor?
5. Housing officer John Kindlesparger was advised by his superior officers not to allow MIA/POW wives residence at Schilling Manor because of the negative emotional impact it might have on the community of waiting wives. Did Kindlesparger make the right decision to let Bonnie and other MIA/POW wives live at Schilling Manor?
6. Discuss the role of the "military wife" as portrayed in Waiting Wives. How about Beverly in particular as a military wife and mother? When Lorrayne was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, she asked that her surgery be postponed so her husband would not have to be called from active duty. Why was she willing to risk her health and possibly her life for the sake of her husband's career?
7. During a committee meeting one of the women remarks, "I think, out of everything, this war is harder on the children than anyone else." What examples in the book support this statement, from the neighborhood children's fascination with playing war to Robbie's refusal to speak to Bruce Jr. making a Valentine in class? How was the author, even as a teenager, affected by the absence of her father, the concern for his safety, and the continual waiting?
8. Some of the waiting wives would gather daily to watch the evening news for information about Vietnam. "The women waited for Walter Cronkite to explain the larger context of war on the evening news... . The women trusted Walter to tell them the truth about Vietnam. He spoke to them in tones suggesting care and concern for them and their husbands." Why was the media -- and their trust in Walter Cronkite -- such a powerful influence on them? How did images of America's changing reactions to the war -- including negative remarks and protests -- impact these women, whose husband's were putting their lives at risk?
9. While in a way time stood still for the waiting wives, the world outside Schilling Manor continued. How did politics and the actions of the government play out as told in this book, particularly in the sections about Bonnie? After several years waiting for news about Bruce's whereabouts, what galvanized Bonnie to actively seek information about his status? What impact did politics have on the daily lives of the women at Schilling Manor?
10. Bonnie had clung to her hope that Bruce was alive based in part on a record that went into his file stating witnesses had seen someone fitting his description being led away from a battlefield. What was your reaction to the revelation that the government put the same report in three different soldiers' files?
11. Nearly seven years after Bruce was declared missing in action, Bonnie was asked by the government to watch a tape of combat, but she was unable to confirm if her husband's body was among those on the tape. "Afterwards, maybe within an hour, or a day, or a week, something inside, something almost unnoticeable even to her, began to slip away. The body of the soldier with the wedding ring had shaken her faith. Doubt seeped into her heart like a slow poison." Why did the image of the wedding ring affect Bonnie so deeply? How was she changed by this experience?
12. Did reading Waiting Wives give you a greater understanding of the Vietnam War, its place in American history, and what it was like for the wives left behind? One of the memories Moreau shares is about a peace sign she had hanging in her room as a teenager. What is the significance of her taking down the emblem and, after her father's return from Vietnam, hiding it "deep inside a scrapbook, a memento never to lose, and never, ever to brag about"? How does this reflect her conflicted feelings about the war and her father's job as a soldier?
13. Does Donna Moreau's vantage point as an adult give her a different perspective on the time she spent at Schilling Manor, and on the Vietnam War? How about on her family and her relationship with them? What stands out the most for you about Waiting Wives?
14. The author says that the women of Schilling Manor were "members of the last generation of hat and glove military wives called upon by their country to pack without question, to follow without comment, and to wait quietly with a smile." The world has changed since the 1960s and early 1970s. America has changed. Society and technology has changed. How are the waiting wives and husbands of the current war different from the waiting wives of the Vietnam War? How are they the same?
15. At the end of the book the author suggests that most Americans no longer trusted the government after living through a war that had lost its meaning, after the revelations of the Pentagon Papers, after Watergate, and after the resignation of a president. Moreau states, "The price America paid, its greatest fatality - American patriotism - the ultimate collateral damage for a proud country - as dead as the 58,193 casualties of the Vietnam War." Why is this a true (or a false) assessment of America? Why (or why not) did American's lose their patriotism? Is America a better country than it was before the Vietnam War era?

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Donna Moreau was born in Fort Meade, Maryland, and raised on Army posts throughout the world. She now lives and writes in Leominster, Massachusetts. Waiting Wives is her first book. Donna Moreau can be contacted at waitingwives.com or at donamore@aol.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (May 3, 2005)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743470773

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Raves and Reviews

"Donna Moreau deserves a medal for rescuing a lost chapter of the history of the Vietnam War."
-- Patricia O'Toole, author of When Trumpets Call

"A tragically timely and overdue book. Moreau is more than a chronicler. Her fine writing and sense of tension leaves us with the indelible after-image of the wives of men fighting an unpopular war overseas herding their children into their rooms and holding their collective breaths as an official car moves slowly down the street past bicycles on the front lawn looking for the house at which it will stop with the words: "It is my duty to inform you..."
-- Kate Webb, co-author of War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam

"Donna Moreau's lovely book carries us into a world defined by the exquisite longings of the heart, teaching us that a certain dignity and holiness attend those who wait bravely for the return of love."
-- Don J. Snyder, author of Of Time & Memory

"Waiting Wives casts light on one of the most overlooked aspects of all wars -- the anxiety, loneliness, and resilience of the military wives on the homefront. Donna Moreau, who knows this world from personal experience, illuminates this story with great candor, humanity, and humor. This is a timeless book, and, thanks to Moreau's gifts as a writer, an unforgettable one as well."
-- Andrew Carroll, editor of the New York Times bestseller War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars

"In the Vietnam War men volunteered and were also drafted. Today we have an 'all-volunteer' military. One thing has not changed. When our soldiers go to war they still take the hearts of their families with them. In this moving book Donna Moreau illumines the soul of the American military family. As the father of a Marine who recently deployed to the Middle East I identify deeply with the brave women and children of Schilling Manor who lived through days that felt like lifetimes."
-- Frank Schaeffer, author of Faith Of Our Sons: A Father's Wartime Diary and Keeping Faith: A Father-son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps

"So much of what we know about women during wartime comes from contrived, one-dimensional images of dutiful wives left behind, making do, while their husbands are off performing the brave, important work of war. In the stories of her own mother and the other wives of Schilling Manor, Donna Moreau erases those stock characters, replacing them with surprising portraits of women and their children finding ways to live for years and even decades through an often-ignored kind of hell of war. Waiting Wives gives voice to the struggles, heroism and transformations just below the surface, as these American women endure the minute-by-minute, day-by-day slow torment of waiting, hoping and not knowing, during the Vietnam War."
-- Emily Yellin, author of Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

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