The real cost of the Vietnam War did not happen on battlefields in Vietnam. Despite the numerous Vietnamese and American lives lost, there was a greater and more residual impact of this historic conflict. Karen Spears Zacharias is one such victim whose loss has been powerfully documented in After the Flag Has Been Folded. In July of 1966, Karen’s mother received word that her husband had been killed in Vietnam, leaving her to raise three children alone. From that moment, Shelby Spears has been a hero.
Originally titled Hero Mama, After the Flag Has Been Folded portrays a resiliant woman who did not rely on anyone but herself to care for her family. Tragically, the U.S. government did not offer finanical support for the Spears family after Staff Sergeant David P. Spears deceased. The monies intended to for the family were lost in transit. Regardless, Shelby remained determined to find a way to provide for all the needs of her children. Buying two different houses and putting herself through nursing school, Shelby Spears truly has been a hero, as Karen so beautifully depicts.
Karen’s graphic depictions of life growing up fatherless, and oftentimes motherless due to Shelby’s demanding work schedule, convey profound psychological insights into this generation whose fathers faced a similiar fate. The narrative is not overly burdened with stories of suffering, but it is peppered with humorous accounts of life in the South as her family moved from one trailer park to another. Karen does not refrain from sharing rather intimate details about her childhood friends, early pregnancy, abortion and overwhelming grief at the absence of her father. The reader has a rare treat to delve into the psyche of someone who mourns over the course of decades. It is evident that her faith in God keeps her through some very dark times as a child and as a mother. Spiritual light breaks through the dark moments, which makes After the Flag Has Been Folded a unique work of Christian literature, which offers an entire story of human depravity and personal victory.
In 2003, Karen traveled to Vietnam with a group of men and women who likewise lost family members in the Vietnam War. This trip provides some closure and clarity surrounding her father’s death. By taking this journey and facing her fears of the unknown land that took her father’s life, she realizes the heroic nature of her mother who managed to keep her family together. After the Flag Has Been Folded is a tribute to Shelby Spears and the countless other women who loved, sacrificed and served their children as single parents.
It is difficult to imagine a better account given by a first hand witness of the aftermath of one of the most controversial conflicts in our nation’s past. Vietnam War and American history buffs need to make this a priority on their reading lists.