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Release of AS YOU WERE: THE MILITARY REVIEW, Vol. 8

MEA is proud to announce the release of As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 8. This publication contains the work of 52 veterans and family members, most of whom collaborated with volunteer editors to revise their work.

These stories and poems illustrate the experiences of veterans and family members throughout more than sixty years of military history, including World War II, the Vietnam War, and the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their perspectives range from granddaughters and friends to combat veterans and the parents thereof.

Please take a moment to read through As You Were, Vol. 8, where you can be entertained, educated, and perhaps even moved.

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Blue Nostalgia, Vol. 3 Released

MEA is proud to present a new edition of Blue Nostalgia: A Journal of Post-Traumatic Growth, our third installment of the title. Blue Nostalgia is a unique publication in that it contains stories of veterans’ and family members’ stories of how they face the challenges of post-traumatic stress as well has how they grow in spite it – or even because of it.

Volume 3 contains works from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan veterans, each with a unique voice and perspective. They have in common the bravery to share their deeply personal  stories in order to educate the public and let their fellow veterans know that they are not alone.

Read Blue Nostalgia: A Journal of Post-Traumatic Growth, Vol. 3 by clicking on the titles in this post or by navigating drop down menu under “Publications.”

Giuseppe Pellicano / Left. Left. Left, Right, Left (2) / The Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 3

Unfinished Lives

by Lieutenant Colonel (P) Zoltan Krompecher

We live in an age where some confuse heroes with entertainers, role models for charlatans, but remembering Americans who died in distant lands places perspective in sharper relief.

As a boy, I spent afternoons dashing around the neighborhood playing “Army” with friends.  Tree forts became castles, and passing cars were tanks to avoid at all costs.  Somewhere in our minds we were aware of Vietnam, but the neighborhood sheltered us until two names came to personify the war: Corporal Frank Miller and Lieutenant James Francis O’Laughlin.

Frank was the uncle of my best friend while James O ‘Laughlin was the father of another classmate.  Both Soldiers died in Vietnam.  Each representing link to Athens.  Every Memorial Day, I thought of them.  Decades later, I visited the Wall in Washington and etched their names.

Iraq and Afghanistan are my generations’ wars.  One autumn day I was told my friend Dave was killed in Iraq.  I was to escort him home.  I reflected on our time together at Fort Bragg. Fighting was the melody he danced to, and Dave knew the steps well, but he had a clean heart, too.  Ever the consummate warrior-scholar, Dave was a well-read Green Beret who helped children wherever he served, but life shifts in an instant. I remember how he set his jaw in grim determination when challenged and suppose that’s the look he had on the final day of his life when the sun boiled.  There was no manual instructing me what to say when his wife threw herself onto his casket.  The experience skinned my insides.

Some nights I stare at the stars and think of Bill, Laura, Ted, Justin (who grew up down the river in Coal Grove) and Drew.  They were the brave ones willing to lay it on the line when things got rough and now remain eternally young, preserved in the minds of those who knew them best.

When visiting their graves, I don’t blunt emotions or debate the logic behind the wars in which they fought…that is for other venues. What I see are patches of grass containing dreams of what might have been—Daddy/Daughter dances, games of catch, first days of school, walks down the aisle, and reunions.  Their unfinished lives moor me to the past while whispering the warning not to allow life to grow stale.  The cemetery is a confessional where secrets to my friends leak out of my mouth and the past grafts with the present.  But what of graves with no names and few visitors?

Just off to the right of the Fort Myer entrance to Arlington Cemetery stands a stone with a simple epigraph:

#8067

Unknown US Soldier

 

Behind this grave is number 8429.  Behind that stone is 8443.  Flanked on both sides are others.  Who knew these brave souls “Known but to God”? 8067 is buried in one of the Civil War sections.  Did this Soldier know my Great-Great-Uncle Eli who joined the Union at eighteen, saw action at Shiloh and died soon after?  I can only wonder.

On Memorial Day I try to make my friends’ sacrifices worthwhile by evaluating relationships, determined to fill the in-betweens of my life by doing better.

Each one of us has the capacity to make a difference: surprising our children at school lunch; calling old friends with whom we’ve lost contact; inviting neighbors or clergy for dinner; visiting retirement homes to listen to stories of times that disappear with each breath; or spending the day with a spouse.  Maybe it’s a simple “Hello” to one who least expects it.  Showing kindness and empathy to fellow Americans—even those with whom we disagree—is the least we can do for Frank Miller, James O’Laughlin, Soldier #8067 and others who left behind unfinished lives.

And so what’s the cost?  A moment of our time, that’s all.  And what some wouldn’t give for a moment.

 

 

Lieutenant Colonel (P) Zoltan Krompecher is an active-duty officer from Ohio.  He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now lives near Washington D.C. with his family.  These views are his own.

 

(Featured Image: Giuseppe Pellicano / Left. Left. Left, Right, Left (2) / The Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 3)

Tif Holmes / War / The Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 2

Adjusting Fire: Redirecting Veterans’ Verbal Energy

by Travis Switalski, Sr.

Vietnam had O’Brien, Caputo, and about ten dozen others. World War Two had James Jones and Korea had Hornberger, to name two of a hundred with ties to those wars. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have no unified, enduring voice outside war porn authors or the newest Medal of Honor recipient’s ghost written book. So far our voice consists of social media posts and rantings related to political candidates using us as bait and pawns to meet an agenda. We need our own voice, and we can develop it into something lasting.

It would be unfair to say that there aren’t any voices for us out there. Plenty of outstanding writing has been done by OIF and OEF Veterans. David Ervin’s non-fiction, Leaving The Wire: An Infantryman’s Iraq, and Jerad Alexander’s novella, The Life of Ling Ling are two fine books born from the true voice of experience.  Short stories like Kyle Larkin’s “Minarets” and Christopher Lyke’s “These Are Just the Normal Noises,” or articles like Sean Tyler’s “The Other Side of the Gunfire: Life in a Battalion Aid Station,” or Brian Mockenhaupt’s “I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War” do render the voice of our war. Organizations like Veteran’s Writing Project and Military Experience & the Arts don’t use “war porn” or publish Special Operations’ narratives, but instead showcase art, poetry, non-fiction and fiction works by ordinary people who lived through extraordinary circumstances. There are literally thousands of works by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – art, poetry, fiction, non-fiction all done by those who fought in America’s longest military campaign. Why are good works being drowned by rantings on Facebook?

Social media has been detrimental to the veteran experience. We are so flooded with articles, posts, memes, rants and groups that there is little time to actually read what is presented. We’re inundated with war porn and hero worship to the point that we have grown numb to our own experiences and the experiences of our fellow veterans. We live in little, fragmented, online groups that separate us from each other and from the rest of the American population. We label ourselves as disgruntled or dysfunctional and participate in causes that amount to little more than online “slack-tivism.” We “like” or “share” pages and articles without reading them, and we have little interest in actually educating others about our time in the service. The shame is that no one is going to scroll back through years of memes and online articles to try and understand what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they did, the information they would find wouldn’t be representative, rather it would be based on the bravado of a select few whose experiences are not in line with the majority of American veterans.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried was published in 1990, a full 25 years after the Vietnam War ended. Today, high schools teach the novel for its historical and literary value. O’Brien has (probably unwittingly) become the voice for his generation of veterans. O’Brien’s generation had two sects of veterans, the “Lifers” those who joined the military of their own accord and planned on making service a career and the “draftees” those unfortunate souls who were forced to partake in combat as a result of conscription. The Things They Carried was written by a draftee infantryman and transcends the “Lifer” and “draftee” mistrust by the illustrating how both groups bore the moral weight of sustained missions of attrition in Vietnam. Today’s high schoolers pick up an actual book, bound with paper pages, and read about the experiences of those who fought in Southeast Asia fifty years ago. Perhaps twenty-five years from now works by Ervin, Mockenhaupt, Alexander, or Larkin or a host of others will be the voices of our contemporaries speaking to future generations of American veterans. However, the formation of that type of bond will face significant hurtles given the desensitization brought on by social media. Social media has given us a technologically induced lobotomy.  The “vet voice” on social media doesn’t talk about having beers with Vietnam veteran uncles or grandfathers and laughing as veterans always do together.

Social media is not leaving American culture. It will only evolve further and continue to dilute our experiences.  It seeks to categorize us all as PTSD riddled psychopaths. It doesn’t have to be this way. If we as a community begin promoting our veteran artists, poets and authors, if we focus on our actual experiences as opposed to caricatures of them, if we foster the idea that social media is a forum to promote our true experiences as opposed to a medium to further alienate us from the rest of the world, we may emerge with a voice that speaks to who we are as a generation of combat veterans and humans.

 

(Feature image: “War” by Tif Holmes, originally appearing in the Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 2)