Filling in the negative space

Prineville woman Kathleen Addison Peet researches and writes book to tell story of her first husband, who was killed in Vietnam nearly 50 years ago

JASON CHANEY - Kathleen Addison Peet looks down at a copy of her recently self-published book, 'Out of His Time,' which looks back on the life of her late husband, Harvey Addison. To her right are the many files she compiled while researching for the book.

Negative space is an art term used to describe the unpainted, white portion of a canvas.

An artist herself, Prineville woman Kathleen Peet has discovered a parallel between this concept in art and in her own life.

“Where you leave the paper blank and you are painting around it, it can become your clouds or the white part of your flower,” she explains. “If you look at life as a canvas, negative space is where this life didn’t get lived. This person is gone. There are no children. There are no grandchildren. There is this big blank there.” Flash back to 1968, Peet was newly wed to Harvey Addison, a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. Having spent the first four months of their life together in Fort Rucker, in Alabama, near the Florida panhandle, her husband had received orders to go to Vietnam.

“I was going to go to college when he was in Vietnam,” Peet remembers. “I was all set for being married and being a mother — hearth and home and all that stuff.”

Instead, one month after leaving for Vietnam, Harvey was killed in a helicopter accident. Suddenly, on June 25, 1968, Peet was left alone and set on a new path.

“I focused on my career. I stuck with my goals and got my master’s in social work eventually,” she said.

Five years later, she would meet her future husband, Bruce Peet, with whom she would start a family. After 43 years of marriage, she has three grown children and four grandsons. She moved on.

But as time passed from that tragic day almost 50 years ago, Peet found herself longing to tell Harvey’s story, wanting to write a book that would introduce him to her children.

“They always knew that I had been married before,” she said. “They knew about him, but they didn’t know him.”

Then finally, Peet stumbled upon some inspiration that would give her yearning a push and prompt her to put pen to paper. An avid reader, she is partial to J.A. Jance mystery novels, and one of her books in particular resonated with Peet.

“Her main character had a knee replacement, and he had this period of time where he was out of it. He basically relived his Vietnam experience,” she explained. “She wove a character into the story that was someone she actually knew in high school that had died in Vietnam. I was moved by how she handled it.”

Finding Jance’s email address on a back page of the novel, Peet sent the author an email telling her about the experience she endured with her late husband. Much to her surprise, Jance replied the next day.

“I didn’t think I would hear back from her,” she admits.

Jance gave Peet words of encouragement and stressed that she should tell Harvey’s story.

“If you don’t, who will?” she was told. “If you want to write, you need to do this.”

Peet saw no reason not to. She was retired and 46 years removed from the loss.

“I could re-read his letters without falling apart.”

Going through the letters was the first step of the process for Peet. She and Harvey had met during Christmas in 1966. After a short courtship, the couple got engaged in March and wed nine months later in December 1967. He went to Vietnam in mid-May of 1968, before his death on June 25. During much of that time, about 10 months total, the couple spent time apart and wrote letters back and forth.

Next, Peet connected with his two siblings, which took some effort since she had no idea where to find them. She then reached out to members of his old high school, going so far as to attend Harvey’s 50th high school reunion.

“I met a lot of people he went to school with,” she said. “It was a small class. They were very close.”

These face-to-face meetings helped fill in many of the blanks for Peet, who had never learned a whole lot about Harvey’s childhood. She knew that he had been raised by his grandparents, having lost both his parents by the age of 5. But she never learned how his father had passed or why his mother died. It turns out both fell victim to heart conditions.

“We were so busy with him learning to fly and planning our wedding and all of that stuff, it was like, ‘We can wait until later to learn all of those details,’” she recalls. “We never talked about it a whole lot.”

Peet also spent time investigating the accident that claimed Harvey’s life and turned to a resource that hadn’t been available until long after the incident — the Internet. Online, she found the official description of the accident as well as a virtual version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

“He was killed in a midair collision that was kind of infamous among other helicopter pilots. It was pretty well-known,” she said.

Peet learned that several aircraft were in formation when the lead ship below told pilots they needed to come down to 900 feet, below the clouds. They came down only to discover that the front ship below was on a collision course with the commanding control ship.

“They were able to avoid each other, but somehow, one of the helicopters clipped another one and exploded and a third helicopter was pulled down in the explosion,” she said. “They were all fully loaded with troops, so there were 12 aircrew killed and 17 Thai soldiers they were moving ... It was so pointless. They got their medals and stuff, but it wasn’t in combat, it was because of an accident.”

Throughout the writing process and the publishing effort that would follow, Peet’s current husband, Bruce, has been a great source of help and support.

“He has not had a hard time with this,” she said. “He has been pretty comfortable with me doing it.”

And when it came time to publish, he helped her navigate CreateSpace, a self-publishing website affiliated with Amazon. He helped her prepare the written documents and photos and submit them to the site, which ultimately resulted in her holding a copy of “Out of His Time” in hand.

The title Peet chose for the book, her first attempt at writing a book, was inspired by a quote in “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg — a writing book she has owned for many years.

“We are all interwoven and create each other’s universe,” the quote reads. “When a person dies out of his time, it affects us all … We are not separate from everything else.”

The new book is available on demand from Amazon or CreateSpace, and Peet has provided a copy to the Crook County Library. But she has no grand distribution plans beyond that. She stresses that she did not write it to make a lot of money or with the expectation that it would become a best seller.

“I was just curious to look back and get some of my questions answered,” she said. “It was just something that I had always wanted to do.”