Finding truth forms the foundation of What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers (Unnamed Press, 275 pp. $26, hardcover; $12.99, Kindle). In her first book, the writer and editor Jessica Pearce Rotondi has put together an excellent account of her family’s gradual unfolding of facts regarding her Uncle Jack Pearce’s fate following the 1972 loss of his AC-130 in the skies over Laos during the Vietnam War.
Jessica Rotondi describes the family’s effort by interweaving two quests. The first, which stretched from 1972 to 2008, was undertaken by her grandparents, Ed and Rosemary Pearce, and her mother Linda Pearce. Following Linda Pearce’s death in 2009, her daughter vigorously resumed the second: her search for the same answers after discovering a closet filled with boxes of material dealing with whether her uncle was initially killed or survived and went missing in action.
Ed Pearce’s conviction that his son survived the destruction of his airplane had continually compounded the question. In World War II, Ed had been a B-17 gunner, and was shot down over Germany. He spent nineteen months as a prisoner in Stalag 17. He visited Laos in 1973, but found nothing confirming his son’s fate. His face-to-face discussions with American military authorities highlight the book’s many contentious episodes. Linda Pearce also was a tireless fact finder. During a 1975 trip to Paris, for example, she singlehandedly confronted the Vietnamese and Laotian ambassadors to France.
Jessica Rotondi is an excellent writer—and one deeply involved with her topic. Much of what she reports in the book is based on official transcripts. She recreates the tenseness of the times and brings people vividly to life. She also provides insights into the work of the Pentagon’s Joint Casualty Resolution Center and the Central Identification Laboratory.
Jessica Rotondi’s involvement culminates in 2013 with a harrowing but fulfilling hike through the jungle in Laos where her uncle’s airplane had crashed. This part of the book offers a study in determination and fortitude—a fitting climax to all that the family endured.
The book’s website is jessicapearcerotondi.com/book