In 2005, I started writing about the wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq. I needed to somehow make sense of what I was seeing on the news and media about the war. As I continued writing, I decided I wanted to help soldiers and veterans write their stories, so in May 2010, I introduced a creative writing workshop at the West Los Angeles Veteran Hospital in the Domiciliary. That was in late May.
Soon after I started facilitating the veteran’s writing workshop, my friend and fellow poet, Lee Mingh Sloca, asked me to help with an upcoming event in November he called “Returning Soldier.” Lee was also writing poetry about the war (poets do that), and he wanted to have an evening where military personnel spoke. He had booked November 7th at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California, a literary mecca for local poets and writers. He chose that day to commemorate Veterans Day. Since I was working with veterans and wanted to help my friend, I accepted Lee’s offer. It sounded perfect.
Lee died on June 19th, suddenly and unexpectedly. His heart was too big, the coroner said.
Lee was a child in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and came to the United States with his family in the 1980s. He was my best friend. He was kind and gentle, an advocate for high-risk children and not afraid to ruffle feathers with his words. After reflection, I decided to carry on Lee’s evening with returning soldiers at Beyond Baroque.
“Returning Soldier” was renamed to “Returning Soldiers Speak: An Evening of Poetry and Prose.” I wanted the event to be about veterans writing and telling their stories to the community in a meaningful way. The evening is and always will be held in Lee’s honor, as will everything we do in the present and in the future.
Lee gave me a gift. I hope he’s proud of what his idea has become.