Sonneborn continued to write for more than a decade, spinning the letter to Jeff into the narrative thread and inspiration for a documentary film, "Regret to Inform," about her journey to the isolated village where Jeff died. Sonneborn included the experiences of Vietnamese war widows, heartrending stories that Sonneborn thinks are the best deterrent to war. "If people only knew what it was like to live through a war they would never want to do it again," she says. "I wanted to show the women, on whom the napalm and bombs fall and who get the 'we regret to inform you' letters. I wanted to do something on war itself." Nominated for an Academy Award in 1998, "Regret to Inform" won the award for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival last year. PBS will air the film Monday, January 24 on its independent film showcase, "POV."
Now Sonneborn has started on another journey, touring the country with a group of four other war widows-including women from the former North and South Vietnam. The women are promoting an online project, the Widows of War International Living Memorial, that invites war widows to post their stories in the public forum of the Web. "Imagine a Vietnam War wall where you touch the name and hear that person's story," says Sonneborn. Besides the lessons the widows' stories teaches, she says, widows need to tell their stories for their own sake: "Each time they tell it it's like a layer of pain peeled away." The site will be launched in April, in time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
Sonneborn recalls that she fought "tooth and nail" with her husband about his decision to go to Vietnam-"He was a guy from the John Wayne generation," she says-and widows she's spoken to report the same grim feelings of being proved right. "One woman told me she just kept repeating, 'I told you so, I told you so.' I would say the same thing," says Sonneborn. Her goal now is to tell Americans so before it's too late.