What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family's Search for Answers

What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family's Search for Answers

by Jessica Pearce Rotondi


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"Part memoir, part investigative journalism, and completely engrossing, What We Inherit is not a book you'll be forgetting anytime soon." —Oprah Magazine

In the wake of her mother’s death, Jessica Pearce Rotondi uncovers boxes of letters, declassified CIA reports, and newspaper clippings that bring to light a family ghost: her uncle Jack, who disappeared during the CIA-led “Secret War” in Laos in 1972. The letters lead her across Southeast Asia in search of the truth that has eluded her family for decades. What she discovers takes her closer to the mother she lost and the mysteries of a secret war that changed the rules of engagement forever.

In 1943, 19-year-old Edwin Pearce jumps from a burning B-17 bomber over Germany. Missing in action for months, his parents finally learn he is a prisoner of war in Stalag 17. Ed survives nearly three years in prison camp and a march across the Alps before returning home.

Ed’s eldest son and namesake, Edwin “Jack,” follows his father into the Air Force. But on the night of March 29, 1972, Jack’s plane vanishes over the mountains bordering Vietnam and Ed’s past comes roaring into the present.

In 2009, Ed’s granddaughter, Jessica Pearce Rotondi, is grieving her mother’s death when she stumbles across declassified CIA documents, letters, and maps that reveal her family’s decades-long search for Jack. What We Inherit is Rotondi’s story of her own hunt for answers as she retraces her grandfather’s 1973 path across Southeast Asia in search of his son.

An excavation of inherited trauma on a personal and national scale, What We Inherit reveals the power of a father’s refusal to be silenced and a daughter’s quest to rediscover her voice in the wake of loss. As Rotondi nears the last known place Jack was seen alive, she grows closer to understanding the mystery that has haunted her family for generations—and the destructive impact of a family secret so big it encompassed an entire war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781951213077
Publisher: The Unnamed Press
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Pages: 275
Sales rank: 125,738
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jessica Pearce Rotondi is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. Her work has been published by The History Channel, Atlas Obscura, The Huffington Post, Refinery29, and Greatist. Previously, she was Senior Lifestyle Editor at The Huffington Post and a staff member at the PEN American Center, the world’s oldest literary human rights organization. Her first job in New York City was as a book publicist at St. Martin’s Press, where she had a “room of her own” in the Flatiron Building to fill with books.

Jessica is a graduate of Brown University, where she received a research grant to conduct an oral history project on World War II. What We Inherit is her first book.

Connect with Jessica on Twitter and Instagram @JessicaRotondi or visit JessicaPearceRotondi.com.

Table of Contents

Prologue 17

Part I Faith

Operation Homecoming 21

1 The Discovery

West Newbury, Massachusetts October 29, 2009 25

2 Gunner's Moon

Milford, Pennsylvania March 29, 1972 33

3 Drifting

Chiang Mai, Thailand

November 16, 2013 41

4 Lost

Vientiane, Laos: October 13, 1973 47

5 Prometheus

Chiang Mai, Thailand: November 17, 2013 57

6 An American in Paris

Paris, France: April 15, 1975 69

7 Faith

Chiang Mai, Thailand: November 19, 2013 79

8 Détente

Milford, Pennsylvania: July 13, 1975 87

9 Lucky

Vientiane, Laos: November 20, 2013 95

10 The Rallier

Binghamton, New York July 24, 1976 109

11 American Imperialists

Vientiane, Laos: November 21, 2013 119

12 The Trial

Randolph Air Force Base, Texas: March 27, 1979 133

Part II Blood


Vientiane, Laos: November 21, 2013 149

14 Politically Depressed

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: October 3, 1983 165

15 "Same-Same"

Savannakhet Province, Laos: November 22, 2013 171

16 White Christmas

Milford, Pennsylvania: December 24, 1984 191

17 Just Pray

Savannakhet Province, Laos: November 22, 2013 199

18 Archaeologists and Undertakers

Milford, Pennsylvania: March 7, 1986 209

19 Let Go

Milford, Pennsylvania: September 20, 2008 215

20 The Crater

Savannakhet Province, Laos: November 23, 2013 221

Epilogue 233

Acknowledgments 237

Notes 241

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This fascinating memoir is at once about a moment in American history and the particular logics of grief. Jessica Pearce Rotondi begins, on the page and in striking prose, to unfurl the grief she feels at her mother’s death. Reading this book, I learned about the after-effects of war, and about the power of grace. I learned about hope, and its transformation into peace. What We Inherit is a powerful book about how we make sense of unfathomable loss - and about the realization that all loss is unfathomable. In our current world, with so much war and pain, this is the book we need." —Eva Hagberg, author of How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Life-Saving Friendship

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