- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

It was 8:10 a.m. on a warm spring day when an Army captain knocked softly on her front door.

"He came in and told me my husband had been killed in action," Atlantan Mattie Brown remembers. "It seemed so unreal. I just couldn't believe it."

That was 31 years ago, during the height of the Vietnam War. Mrs. Brown, 54, still sees her late husband, Sgt. Preston Tribble Jr., in her dreams.

"He's young," Mrs. Brown says. "Forever 22."

For Lucy Freeland, 59, of Fayetteville, the same thing happens every time she sees a letter carrier. A glimpse of tall trees with high, thick branches still evokes painful 55-year-old memories for Mary Alice Giles, 84, of Avondale Estates.

All three suffer the trauma of having lost a spouse to war. And all three have posted remembrances of their dead husbands on a new Web site (www.warwidows.org), the Widows of War Living Memorial.

Call it group therapy for the high-tech age, the latest of many Web sites that tap into people's need, amid a sometimes isolating culture, to speak to someone about deep personal feelings.

The new site's purpose is to provide women made widows in any war a way to share their feelings. Already, remembrances also have come in from women whose husbands died in Kosovo, Rwanda and Afghanistan. And even one from a Vietnamese widow whose husband was killed by American bombs.

The Web site was the brainchild of Barbara Sonneborn, 56, of San Francisco, an artist and filmmaker whose first husband, Jeffery Gurvitz, was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. She finally dealt with her lingering grief by producing an Oscar-nominated documentary called "Regret to Inform," which was broadcast on public television this year.

Both the Web site and documentary have been funded by San Francisco-based Sun Fountain Productions, a nonprofit group founded in 1998 to help women fight war, racism and violence.

She compares the new site to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington.

"People say that one of the most powerful impressions they have of the Wall is imagining the stories behind each of the names etched in granite," says Mrs. Sonneborn. "Now, the Widows of War Living Memorial actually lets you read these stories. As visitors wander through the site and read the stories, they will understand war on a personal level."

If the Wall is any indication, the War Widows site will be heavily visited.

A cyber-version of the Wall (www.thevirtualwall.org) was opened in November 1998, and it has posted more than 15,000 remembrances, says Jan Scruggs, the Vietnam veteran who led the efforts to build the Wall and to put the virtual Wall on the Web. The site averages 600,000 hits a month.

"Anything like this that helps people record their feelings and keeps the issue alive is good," Mrs. Scruggs says of the war widow site. "It doesn't end with a body, flag and casket," he says. "The pain just continues. It's a valuable lesson, and that's good."

Mrs. Freeland agrees. Her husband, Green Beret Capt. William W. Walker, was killed in Vietnam in 1970.

"How do you find the love of your life, and then they go away?" asks Mrs. Freeland, who, like Brown, has remarried. "I had just left him in Hawaii while he was on R&R.; He died two weeks later. He only had 30 days on his tour before he was coming home."

They wrote daily, but just before she received a "regret to inform" telegram, she sensed something was wrong.

"The worst part was seeing the postman pass my mailbox without stopping," Mrs. Freeland wrote in her remembrance. "There had been daily tapes and letters that passed between us and were the glue that held us together."

At 84, Mary Alice Giles still sees her late husband, Harlan Giles, in Atlanta's many trees. "He'd always been so agile and strong. He'd often climb to the tops of trees. I still think about that."

Mr. Giles was mortally wounded in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, where a German bullet made him a paraplegic. He lived in pain until 1953.

In her remembrance, she described their life after he came home.

"My husband was a very brave person," she wrote. "He was always cheerful during his long illness. He never complained even though he was in much pain at times. I loved and admired Harlan very much. I cherish great memories of him."

Mrs. Sonneborn says her Web site is "a place for reconciliation, healing, communication. You no longer have to hold in feelings that are so powerful and strong."

For the most part, though, that's what war widows have been expected to do throughout history, she says.

"War has been an arena for men to speak out, not for women," she says. "It was difficult to get funding at first for this project because people didn't want to know what women thought about war."

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