Local author seeks stories for book on faith and Vietnam War
Larkin Spivey is a retired Marine Corps officer, a former military professor at the Citadel and a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. During his distinguished military career, he took part in airborne, Special Forces and ranger operations, including action during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Life and death were often a part of his life. Yet during the years when his existence was most fragile, so was Spivey’s faith.
It is a paradox that he wrestled with for decades.
When he retired from his military service, Spivey began to reflect on his religion and on religion as a whole. He channeled his curiosity into a series of books exploring the role of God during pivotal times in American history, as well as the effect or existence of faith on the battlefield.
The author of three books, Spivey is currently in Jamestown researching a fourth book centered on the Vietnam War. As part of his research, he is seeking stories of faith and courage from Jamestown residents. He is most interested in first-person accounts from all periods and campaigns of the Vietnam War, including stories from families and friends on the homefront.
“I grew up in a Presbyterian church in a small town in South Carolina where everyone went to church,” said Spivey, though they didn’t give much thought as to why they went to church. “The experience was pretty superficial, and my faith and church-going disappeared in college and the military. Accepting things on faith didn’t do me any good.”
For most of his young adult and middle-aged life, Spivey considered himself “a religious skeptic,” encouraged initially by college professors advocating that students to think for themselves and to question things. “I fell into this sort of thought and believed I was too intellectual for religion and faith,” he said.
It was a philosophy Spivey held, even as he went to fight in Vietnam.
“I can’t say I didn’t pray in Vietnam,” said Spivey, the father of four. “But I never gave God credit for protecting me. I know now he did, but I didn’t appreciate it then.”
Jamestown is a ‘spiritual place’
Eventually, his noncommittal approach proved unpalatable to Spivey.
“It took the challenges of adult life to let go of that way of thinking,” he said.
Once free of his religious aloofness, Spivey left South Carolina and his Myrtle Beach recreation vehicle resort business in 1998 and came to Jamestown. He took a month off to make sense of his thoughts and ultimately put his discoveries on paper. Spivey conducted most of the research and writing for his first book, God in the Trenches, at the Naval College in Newport and in Jamestown, where he and his wife, Lani, stayed in the houses of friends, most notably that of Pat and Rodney Thomas on Whale Rock Road.
Of Jamestown, Spivey said, “It’s the perfect place to regroup. Everywhere you look is a postcard. It’s the prettiest place we’ve ever been. A very spiritual place.”
Published in 2001, God in the Trenches identifies four moments in American history when the republic was at stake and, according to Spivey, tries to discern God’s hands in these events: The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“I’ve always been interested in military history and always been amazed at the role of apparent luck in military battles,” Spivey said.
In the book, he examines a critical event that happened in 1862, during the Civil War, when the South was on the verge of winning the war. In this instance, according to Spivey, Confederate General Lee lost a set of orders for the next attack. A Union soldier found the order used as wrapping for cigars.
“Up to that time, Lee had won every battle he had fought. Finally [the North] understood what Lee was doing,” Spivey said. “The Battle of Antietam was a draw, but Lee withdrew from Maryland. It encouraged Lincoln, who took the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.”
“It was the turning point of the war,” said Spivey, who is considered a respected military historian. “In my opinion, God’s hand was involved and resulted in a unified America.”
Vastly different wars
His new book, tentatively titled Battlefields and Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage From the Vietnam War, will use the same format as his previous similarly titled book on World War II, which culled individual stories of people being sustained by their faith during wartime. Although the books have similarities, the two wars they analyze had little in common, Spivey said.
“They were vastly different kinds of wars. There were more people in Vietnam that lost their faith,” he said. “It was so frustrating for a lot of men. You fought over a piece of ground, then walked away and left it.”
The type of combat in Vietnam – and the lack of public support in the U.S. – pushed Spivey to explore the experiences of those connected to the Vietnam War. He has drawn some preliminary conclusions.
“Vietnam vets had bad experiences, but real experiences with the evil of life,” he said. “Some of these men have come back to God. They wrestled with God, but found a deeper faith.”
Today, with America engaged in two wars, in addition to the allencompassing war on terror, Spivey said he feels that the issues he covers in his books are apt, whether you embrace his ideas or remain a skeptic. After all, religion was present in America’s founding.
“The question we need to ask is, ‘Are we on God’s side?’” he said. “I think that if America could get back to its godly roots, we’d be much better off.
Individuals with first-person accounts connected to the Vietnam War can contact Spivey at larkin@ larkinspivey.com. Give a synopsis of your story, and indicate if Vietnam era and present-day photos of yourself are available. Stories of special interest include incidents where Biblical passages provided reassurance or guidance; events, actions or words that inspired your faith; meaningful messages or sermons; and stories of lost and regained faith.