Master’s alumna pens novel as tribute to Vietnam vets

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February 20, 2012

More than two decades ago, English professor Pam Regis handed then McDaniel M.L.A. candidate Sally Sawyer the compilation of her work in memoir writing class and said, “Here’s your novel. Go write it.”

That novel, “Prelude to Reveille: A Vietnam Awakening,” was published in October 2011 and written under her pen name SD Sawyer. She chose to tell the story through the genre of historical fiction because it best suited the universality of the topic that she wanted to remain firmly rooted in actual historical events of the era.

“It took me more than 20 years to get started, but I did it,” says Sawyer, who retired from teaching English in Gettysburg School District to write the novel that had really been on her mind since the late 1960s when she was a young mother and waiting wife of a combat soldier in Vietnam.

Regis was among the first to receive an autographed copy that read “Thank-you, Pam, for seeing the novel within a Memoir assignment and saying, ‘Go and write it before someone else does.’  I heard your voice for years! – Sally”

“Teaching has many rewards, some immediate, some that come to you years after a class has ended,” Regis says. “Receiving an inscribed copy of ‘Prelude to Reveille’ is the latter – one of those delightful, unexpected bonuses that make teaching all the more worthwhile.”

Like so many in her generation, Sawyer watched her husband head off to battle in Southeast Asia and return to a nation that seemed anything but appreciative. Veterans had trouble coping with their experiences in Vietnam and often suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder among other injuries, Sawyer says. Being equated with an unpopular war at home just added to their re-entry difficulties. Many have never talked about being in Vietnam even to this day.

“Vietnam vets could still use that ‘Welcome Home,’” says Sawyer, who has been to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C. many times with her husband, Richard, and recently with their three grandsons. “That’s what I hope for my novel – that it gets into the hands of the people who can most benefit from it. I hope it helps ease some of the sadness I see on the faces of some of the vets I see at the Wall.”

Sawyer, who did her undergraduate work at Gettysburg College, says that her research has shown that while vets told the story of their time in Vietnam, there’s virtually nothing available that tells the story from the perspective of the waiting wives and the family experience when they returned to “the real world.”

Until, that is, “Prelude to Reveille: A Vietnam Awakening,” which is available on and other bookstores listed on Sawyer’s website The novel will be available in the McDaniel bookstore after March 14. Sawyer donates partial proceeds from sales of the book to Fisher House Foundation and Vets Journey Home, two organizations that support veterans.

“Once I started, the memories and feelings came right back,” she says, explaining that unlike many vets, her husband was able to talk about his experiences immediately after he was injured and returned to the U.S. “Rich was right here with me working on the book and although it brought back memories for him too, he didn’t have trouble dealing with it.

“It was very intense, but I didn’t want to do anything else except work on the book.”

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