Author’s Bio

Nathan Pyles is President of Johnson Health Tech North America, Inc. His essay “Building Political Will: Branding the Nuclear-Free-World Movement” won a 2008 McElvany Nonproliferation Challenge Award, and was published in The Nonproliferation Review. His op-eds and letters have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Wisconsin State Journal, Wall Street Journal, and The Capital Times.  He has spoken at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington D.C. He is also Executive Director and founder of The Reagan Vision for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World. He now lives in Lake Mills, Wisconsin with his wife, Janet.

The author may be contacted at:

He is available for speaking and book readings with notice.

We Gathered These Stones-Bio-Family

My Family-Chelsea, Harley, Nathan and Janet


Why I Wrote, We Gathered These Stones

I have been asked why I wrote of my family’s story in We Gathered These Stones. Why would I reveal events that my family always regarded as private. And why would I choose to willingly revisit such painful episodes in our lives? 

The simple answer is this: I had no choice.  

Over the years, I increasingly felt like Richard Dreyfuss’s obsessed character in Close Encounters of a Third Kind, who developed such a strong calling to visit Devils Tower that he madly reconstructs its distinctive spire out of clay in his basement. Rather than clumping clay, I mounded and molded words. This memoir was not the first time I had attempted to tell my father’s story. For years I quietly wrote fiction and prose poems, and inevitably, Dad would weave his way into my words. Yet none of these earlier scribblings ever worked.  They failed to capture him, or our experience, and pages of drafts collected unread in the recesses of my desk drawers. 

It was only after my wife, Janet, and I began typing up my father’s fading letters from Vietnam that I understood why my previous attempts to tell his story had failed.  Dad’s story needed to be told straight. It needed to be told just as our family had experienced it. Nothing more. Nothing less. And it needed to include my father’s voice. He could have his say through his letters.

After I began writing this memoir, I often stammered and struggled. It was just too hard to piece together a family story that spanned more than half a century. Too much had been forgotten, and the few events which remained intact were difficult to go back to. Plus, there was too much I simply did not know – about my father, about the war. Nothing about my father’s story or the Vietnam War was ever simple or straightforward. Both were perpetually enveloped in layers of politics, doubt, and complexity.

Often stalled, I further delayed. I convinced myself that I needed to understand the form and structure of the well-told memoir, and to do so, I must read, and reread, dozens of time-tested memoirs. One of the memoirs I chanced to pick up again was Elie Wiesel’s haunting childhood memoir, Night. Wiesel had written a new preface and included two lines which I promptly posted above my desk.

 “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory.”

I would read these lines whenever I felt the temptation to give up, whenever I believed my efforts to be futile and impossible. Elie Wiesel’s words would remind me of what deep down I already knew, but didn’t want to face. And I would get back to work.

I had a responsibility to tell our family story. I owed it to my father and to my children.

I had no choice.