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?