Michele with her parents

“Be brave.
Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly
as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small—far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”
~Elizabeth Gilbert

Michele remembers being in her nightgown walking barefoot through the jungle. She had no way of knowing where she was going and if she would see her mother, sisters, and baby brother again. Tears hesitated, but she stayed strong and Michele kept her eyes forward and followed orders, even though she wanted to scream and run away.

Michele's parents Camille and Suzanne

Somewhere deep in the jungle of Vietnam, people were consumed with confusion, though Michele had her brother, father, grandfather and sister there as comfort. Michele’s maternal grandfather was a kind man, he always seemed to have a smile on his face—it was an endearing quality. At that moment, it cost him his life. The men yelled for her grandfather to wipe his smile off his face. Her dad interjected, “He can’t control his face, that is what he always looks like.” Anger came across their faces and it was a moment that Michele will never forget. She watched them break every bone in her grandfather’s face. They continued to remove his eyes from his head and beat him until he finally gave in and died in front of his loved ones. Michele never felt hate like she did in that very moment.

Michele's Grandfather Henry

Though there were times that felt like slow motion, looking back it felt like it happened so fast. Many were taken away into the jungle, Michele was left without her father, brother, and sister, and she never saw them again. She wasn’t sure why, but she was not tortured or killed. As the only survivor from the mens group, she was taken again through the jungle to the women and children. As if in a state of Déjà vu Michele watched as many women and children were taken away and never returned. Her mother who was nine months pregnant never got to hold her baby, or say goodbye to her children. That day Michele became the oldest child, and a mother to her surviving sisters Pierrette, Danielle, and her brother Gerard who was only two years old.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
~ Nora Ephron

Michele with her siblings and cousins

It was later said that more than 300 men, women and children were taken hostage and only some women and children survived the attack. Another 100 French men and women who had seemed to have disappeared. This became known as the Cité Héraud massacre.

Michele’s life changed that day forever. More than half of her family was killed in the same day, she became a big sister, and an orphan. Michele had to make a decision and that decision was to be brave. She had no other choice—giving up was not an option. A few questions were running through her mind, the first was why? Why was she saved? Her second question was How could God do this? Her parents were good people. How could He allow them to suffer so much and leave their children as orphans? They were big questions for an eleven-year-old, and questions that were heavy on her heart for many years.

Michele and her siblings and cousins

Michele, Pierrette, Danielle, and Gerard began living with her aunt and uncle. It was a very bitter/sweet. Though her uncle was a cruel man, it was the only place for them to all three stay together. She missed her parents, she missed her old life. Vietnam was never the same two years after the massacre Michele moved with her aunt, uncle, cousins and siblings to France. She wanted to be excited, to start fresh in a new place, but her heart was left in Vietnam with her parents. As a thirteen-year-old, she again had to choose bravery over fear. She had to stand up, hold her head high and leave home. Facing courage again in her young life.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
~ Maya Angelou