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Invisible Wounds of War

Minefields of the Heart

Sue Diaz



How do combat veterans and their loved ones bridge the divide that war, by its very nature, creates between them? How does someone who has fought in a war come home, especially after a tour of duty marked by near-daily mortar attacks, enemy fire, and roadside bombs? With a journalist's eye and a mother's warmth, Sue Diaz asks these questions as she chronicles the two deployments to Iraq of her son, Sgt. Roman Diaz, from the perspective of the home front. Diaz recounts the emotional rollercoaster her family and other soldiers' families experience during and after deployment. She explores this terrain not only through stories of her son's and family's experiences connected to the Iraq War, but also by insights she's gained from other veterans' accounts--from what she calls "the box" that soldiers returning from any war carry within. This added layer gives her narrative broader meaning, bringing home the impact of war in general on those who fight and on those who love them.

About the Author

Sue Diaz is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Christian Science Monitor. Her essays have also aired frequently on National Public Radio. Her son, a Purple Heart veteran, served two tours of duty in Iraq's Triangle of Death during the height of the insurgency. While he was there Sue wrote about the war from the perspective of the home front in a series syndicated nationally and internationally by the Monitor. Those stories were the starting point for her book, Minefields of the Heart: A Mother's Stories of a Son at War (Potomac Books, 2010). An advocate of writing as a path to healing, Sue has led writing workshops for war veterans at the San Diego Vet Center, the Naval Medical Center, and Veterans Village of San Diego since 2007. To learn more, visit the website

Sue Diaz

A message from Sue:

"I am honored that my book Minefields of the Heart: A Mother's Stories of a Son at War has been selected for Silicon Valley Reads 2013.

"On the surface, Minefields of the Heart is about my son's two tours of duty in Iraq as an infantryman during the height of the insurgency. Like combat veterans of every war, Roman lived through events that would bring out both the best and the worst that human beings are capable of.

"In my capacity as a journalist during that time, I wrote to reach readers and invite them into the uncertain world of families with loved ones in a war zone. I wanted them to pull up a chair at our kitchen tables, to watch the evening news with us in our family rooms, to feel the fears we lived with, the hope we clung to, and the joy we knew when our sons and daughters returned.

"I wanted readers to realize, too, that for many combat veterans, 'coming home' is a journey - a journey that can last a lifetime.

"With today's all-volunteer military, it is, I think, too easy for most Americans to feel disconnected from the conflicts our country is engaged in, to feel that war is someone else's job, someone else's responsibility. So I also wrote in hopes of bringing home the fact that when our country is at war - whether we agree or not with the politics that took us there - we, as a society, are in it together. The moral responsibility belongs to us all.

"While I continued to write about the war in the series for the Christian Science Monitor that became the starting point for the book, I began to lead writing workshops for war veterans. And I became more and more aware of the fact that war is an experience that transforms those in it, as well as those who wait for them at home. What started out as one journalist's chronicle of her family's wartime experiences turned into a book that explores the impact of war on the human soul.

"As the mother of a Purple Heart veteran, I deeply appreciate your organization's role in leading the community to think and talk about the 'invisible wounds of war.' Mother Teresa once said, 'If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.' It is my hope that the Silicon Valley Reads discussions next year will remind readers that we do."

-- Sue Diaz


"Minefields of the Heart is very finely written. Because a mother's love is so overpowering, so singular in its focus, I had half-feared that this book would be a morass of melodrama. But Sue Diaz is a disciplined and careful writer and this, ultimately, is where the power of her book comes from. She is spare where most writers would be mawkish, she is understated where most writers would be sentimental, and she understands that life, death, war, grief, gratitude and the loss of innocence--hers, and her son's--need no baroque writerly adornments. The truly great and terrible stuff of life is most dramatic when told as simply and plainly as possible. Over the course of her book, the reader comes to know not just Roman, but the whole Diaz family and how they all aged and matured both during and after Roman's two harrowing deployments." --From the Foreword by Jim Frederick, author of Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death

"Minefields of the Heart is an accessible and well told reflection on the impact of war on the families of our troops today. It is an intimate look through a mother's eyes, giving us a heartfelt appreciation of the military family experience." --Edward Tick (author of War and the Soul) and Kate Dahlstedt, co-directors of Soldier's Heart

"Harrowing, hopeful, and beautifully written. Ernie Pyle meets Anne Lamott." --Sharon Bray, author of When Words Heal: Writing Through Cancer

"Minefields of the Heart is a brilliant, beautiful, and compelling book. Sue Diaz writes as the mother of one soldier and the daughter of another. She traces her son's transition from a boy to a combat-wounded veteran of two tours in Iraq. She lets him speak for himself through emails, letters and conversation, all the while growing in her understanding of him and of war. She weaves together her family's history with the larger events through which they have passed. Though intended specifically `for all who have served and those who love them,' the book should be read by any American who wants to understand what war really does to those who endure and to their families. As a bonus, the book is a real page-turner. You can't put it down until you finish it." --William P. Mahedy, author of Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets

"This is a book to break your heart, and to heal it. Diaz writes to and for her son, to and for the veterans she leads in writing workshops. The larger gift of this book is its generosity, allowing the reader to take the journey of a mother whose son carries the wounds of two deployments to Iraq. Minefields of the Heart teaches us what we might rather not know, but knowing, we are deeper and better human beings." --Pat Schneider, founder, Amherst Writers & Artists, and author of Writing Alone and with Others


In the Introduction, Diaz writes, "I know it's not uncommon for vets to want to keep a lid on their memories. Opening up can take some time. Years for some. Decades for others. Many never do. But it's important to try." What do you think are some of the factors that make "opening up" difficult? What are some of the ways it might be made easier? Roman's decision to join the infantry surprises his mother, who had expected that the next chapter in her son's life would have been college. How would you respond to a son's or daughter's decision to join the armed forces in a time of war? Did you enlist and how did you tell your family? On the eve of the start of military action in Iraq, Diaz attends a gathering to protest the war. "I felt grateful for the right to assemble and protest my government's policies. And I was well aware that I owed that right to the brave deeds of those who had served in our armed forces in the past," she says. What is your view of a soldier's family member participating in an anti-war rally? What impact has today's electronic communication - e-mail, Instant Messaging - had on the relationship between soldiers in combat and their loved ones at home? In your opinion, what are pluses and the drawbacks of real-time communication during a war? Though the topic of Minefields of the Heart is a serious one, the book is not without humor. What in the book that made you smile? During the most difficult stretch in his second deployment, Roman communicates very little with his family. In one Instant Message, Roman quickly answers "No," to his all of his father's offers to send things he might need. Diaz concludes, "the gist of it all seemed to me to be, 'Mom, Dad. For your sake and mine right now, don't love me so much."  Do you think her interpretation is accurate? What are some circumstances that might prompt a message like that from a soldier?How do the two main characters - Diaz and her son, Roman - change over the course of the book? In what ways do they remain unchanged?Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why? Did any sections of this book lead to a new understanding or awareness of war and its aftermath?According to the author, what are some things that can help a returning veteran "win the war within"? From your own experience with or as a veteran, what would you add? In one of the book's final chapters, the author quotes from a poem by Archibald MacLeish in which fallen soldiers say to the living: "Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say; it is you who must say this. We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning." What are some specific ways that we as individuals and as a society can give meaning to the sacrifices of those who have fought - and died -- for our country.To hear an excerpt from Sue Diaz's book "Minefields of the Heart," play the following video on YouTube [].

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