It doesn’t seem Terence A. Harkin will ever put his Vietnam War experience behind him. In fact, it has been front and center the past several years, as Harkin splits time between his “retirement” homes in Toms River and Chiang Mai, Thailand, researching a proposed trilogy of novels based on his wartime service in an Air Force film unit. The first of the set, The Big Buddha Bicycle Race: A Novel, (Ohio University Press), revolves around a morale-building exercise that goes awry.
“What I feel is unique about my writing is that on a factual level, it creates a coherent picture of the last couple years of the war,” says Harkin, 71. “The storytelling comes out of the mix of draftees and guys, like me, who joined the Air Force to get out of the draft, and how opposites bonded.”
Harkin grew up in Red Bank and Sparta, later moving to Pennsylvania. He attended Brown University, earning a B.A. in literature, before enlisting in hopes of being stationed Stateside with a film unit. He eventually shipped out to Thailand, close to the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. He found his overseas stint harrowing, and it turns out, cleansing.
After the service, Harkin worked as a camera operator on major films and TV series, including Seinfeld. He later became a high school writing teacher in California, then in New Jersey, at Lakewood and Middletown East. These days, he spends the warm-weather months at the Shore, then returns to Chiang Mai, a cultural mecca an hour’s flight from Bangkok.
“I meet all sorts of people from around the world there, then bask in the warm memories of New Jersey,” says Harkin, whose wife also hails from the Garden State. “It’s unusual, but for me, quite the way it should be.”