Now, in his vivid memoir, Wait For Me, True Stories of War, Love and Rock & Roll, Bill Gentile turns back the clock to the 1980s and thrusts us into the mountains of Nicaragua and the slums of El Salvador to offer what he calls a firsthand, frontline account of the human cost of war."

— Alan Riding, former New York Times Mexico and Central America bureau chief.

Introduction

The stories of our lives describe what is meaningful to us. They help define who we are. The stories I pass on in this book form the account of one man's embrace of, and struggle with, war, love, family, a profession and self. I have carried these stories with me for decades, and for decades they have yearned to be released. To be shared. To be told.

I tell these stories now because I believe they contain something of value to researchers seeking information about the historic events that swept over Central America in the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s; value to young men and women who aspire to use the craft of journalism, especially photojournalism, video journalism and other forms of visual communication to engage and to document their own times and experiences; value to all who might learn something of the human condition seen through the prism of one man who lived through those times and those experiences and who is willing to write about them.

Photo by Murry Sill

These are more than just stories about war. They are a collective statement about journalism and the men and women who practice it. About the decisions we make. About what we aspire to achieve. About the people and the stories that we tell.

Perhaps more importantly, this book introduces the American people, who sponsor those faraway conflicts, to the victims of U.S. military intervention abroad. We intervene in foreign countries supposedly for "freedom" and "democracy," but few Americans see the faces of "collateral damage" or know the names of the dead and wounded in those battles. Wait for Me is a firsthand, frontline account of the human cost of war.

Hopefully others can learn about the tragedy of war from these stories. To be clear, the information, opinions and conclusions presented here do not represent those of my current or former employers. They are mine and mine alone.

I make no pretenses. Though I have devoted significant time and effort to covering the conflicts in Central America and the Caribbean, in the Persian Gulf, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, I do not pretend to be a "combat photographer" or a "war correspondent." I say this out of respect for many of my colleagues who have invested much more time, effort and risk covering conflict around the world than I have. I do not pretend to do what they have done.

Nor do I make any claim of righteousness. I have no shortage of human flaws, shortcomings and failures. Some of those deficiencies may have offended or even hurt others along the way. If so, I apologize for that.

Finally, I offer this book as one person's contribution to the collective memory of family, friends and colleagues with whom I share some of the most vibrant, meaningful and enduring experiences of our lives. May we remember and relive them in the pages of this book. I apologize for lapses in memory or failure to include persons who otherwise should be listed here.

Photo courtesy of Beaver County Industrial Museum

The title of this book comes from a poem that I stumbled upon during the final days of assembling the manuscript. Written by Konstantin Simonov, the Russian poet and playwright turned war correspondent, Wait for Me is one of the best known Russian poems of World War II. Simonov wrote it in 1941 after he left his love, Valentina Serova, to take on the duties of war correspondent on the battlefront.

I adopted the title because the poem so accurately describes how the love and support of so many helped ensure my own return from the edge of human experience to a more "normal" or "mainstream" existence. They waited for me.

A translated and compacted version of the original Russian poem is included here, as seen in The World at War, a 26-episode, British television documentary series chronicling the events of that conflict.

Wait for me to return.
Only the wait will be hard.
Wait when the grief invades you, while you watch the rain fall. Wait when the winds sweep the snow.
Wait in the suffocating heat,
when others have stopped waiting, forgetting their yesterday. Wait even when letters do not reach you from far away. Wait even when others have tired of waiting.
Wait even when my mother and son believe that I no longer exist, and when friends sit by the fire to toast my memory.
Wait.
Do not rush to offer for my memory you too.
Wait, because I will defy all deaths,
and let those who do not wait say I was lucky.
they will never understand that in the midst of death,
you, with your wait, you saved me.
Only you and I know how I survived.
It's because you waited, and the others did not.

Wait for Me, by Konstantin Simonov
(seen in The World at War)

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