As the daughter of a career serviceman, Maggi Ward was always bouncing around. She and her entire family made the jump across the world to Southeast Asia when the war broke out in Vietnam, She spoke to us about how photos helped keep them together while her father was at war, and how they bring her back to a truly wacky time.
Dad, the hero
My father was a very prominent figure in my life. I started out as an army brat so when my dad was overseas, it was a big deal anytime we got pictures from him.
He was drafted into World War II as a young man of about 20. I used to hear and think about how he would have been working in some bank in New Jersey with his mother pretty much controlling his life. Instead, he became a world traveler thanks to the Army.
During the war, he became a company commander when he was just about 21 years old so he was in charge of all of these men on the line, being shot at, bombs blowing up, the whole thing. He ended up getting many medals including a Purple Heart from it all.
My parents met during World War 2 on an army base. They always told us that they knew each other for two months, but actually, they knew each other for only two weeks. He did not want her to be drafted overseas, so he married her. They were together 35 years before she died.
His career then moved on to fighting in Korea and then later on to Vietnam. My family was sent over to Vietnam as part of some Public Relations thing like they were saying “Well, there’s no problem over here. There’s nothing more happening. There’s nothing going on.”
Connecting through photos
When he was in Vietnam, my sister was getting married and he couldn’t be there. We had to have his picture there though, so he sent us a picture of himself in his uniform. We then took the family photo with all of us standing together while holding his picture as he is in Vietnam so he could be there in spirit.
My Aunt Betty - who was like my grandmother - had boxes & boxes of photos. She was much older than my father, so when he got drafted into the army, she started sending him photographs while he was over in the war. She would also send him liquor even though she wasn’t supposed to. She’d put it in little Listerine bottles, re-cap them, and send it off in a care package.
Good morning, Thailand
When I was about 3, we went to Vietnam with him and lived on an army compound in Thailand. As the youngest of 7, my brothers and sisters eventually all left as we gradually grew up, but the one special thing about Thailand was that we were all there. It was just a time I remember everybody being together.
My mother was a wreck when we lived in Thailand since she had to care for six kids. I was little - living there from ages 3 to 5 - so I was always with her, but it was the 60s and everybody was on the loose. You know, there were all these markets you could go into & my brothers would be all over. I always referred to Bangkok as "Sin City" because you could do anything there. She was just a wreck because she was so worried about them.
At the time, my brothers were like eight and ten. They went out and they gambled, they ran the streets, they rode their bikes around and did all sorts of capers like frying an egg on the marble. My brother was always holding this stick in his hand because he said there was this wild donkey that used to come after them. They had to use the stick to protect themselves from the donkey. I was little but still remembered these things.
Back then, there were Cobra Farms everywhere and snake handlers were a thing. They were part of the entertainment. My brother Peter died shortly before my mom did, but this photo is from his birthday and he wanted the cobras. My father assumed he would want clowns or something like that, but instead he wanted the snakes so a handler came. It’s crazy to me how close they sat to him. There’s a little kid sitting next to him and all the rest of the kids are just right there. I wasn’t there because my mother probably had to leave the house with me when they did that because she got so anxious.
I’m pretty sure my brother Peter, whose birthday it was, took the picture, standing and looking at my other brothers. When I see this photo, I always think of a few things. First, how my brother is wearing a shirt from New Jersey and that he’s holding that stick haha. My brother Paul is very adventurous and always has been, so he’s right up there with the stick very close to the cobra. My other brother, Mark, is very grounded and lives on a farm. If you look in the background, you can see him crouching down and he has this look on his face like ‘oh my god’ like he is so excited. But he’s also crouching back like he’s ready to run if necessary. It just really captures the personality of both of them so well.
My mother died when I was 14 & I didn’t know my grandparents either. When other kids would complain about going to see their grandparents, I’d get angry and be like ‘you’re lucky to have them.’ We had a lot of traumatic years, so we’re fortunate to have those photographs. When you lose people all those memories become very precious. All of the pictures that we had just became something to remember everyone by. I’m lucky enough to have looked through those boxes of photos.
Interview edited for clarity.
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