It’s time to revisit the veterans’ writing group, which I’ve had the privilege of conducting for almost three years.
“We Were There: Writing Your Military Experiences” started when Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken became the One Book choice for 2012. A neighbor who worked at the library suggested me to conduct a three-week workshop. The story of Louis Zamperini (who died just recently) provided endless possibilities from his early days as a thief and scoundrel to his heroic survival during World War II.
The group started small, but the guys wanted to continue after the three weeks was up. About a year in they asked for instruction in English composition, so out came the textbook I had used at Capital Community College. We went through narrative, description, comparison, contrast, etc. I was supremely grateful that everyone in the group knows grammar, spelling, and all the basics.
Since then, we’ve grown in numbers and now have veterans from World War II, the Korean era, and Vietnam. They represent all branches of service including the Coast Guard. Two guys drive almost an hour to join us.
We are putting their stories into a book, which I think will appeal to a huge audience because of the variety of experiences.
Beyond the words, the guys have shared artifacts, some that evoke sadness or horror: a POW tag from WWII; a tag from the twenty-years late Vietnam veterans parade; an MRE that had spent time in Vietnam, which was still edible but not improved with age; and lately a piece of shrapnel that surgeons dug out of the heel of a seventeen-year-old Marine who was shot in his first combat on a tiny island in the Pacific during WWII.
The veterans’ writing group has been a learning experience for me, and I am grateful to Christy Billings, who keeps me organized and shares the guidance of the workshop. It is truly an honor to be working with these amazing men.