AS YOU WERE: THE MILITARY REVIEW, Vol. 12 Released

Military Experience and the Arts is proud to announce the release of As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 12 on Memorial Day, 2020. This edition contains fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork from more than fifty writers, poets, and artists. There are debut works as well as the latest from more experienced artists. Several have worked with our editors to refine their works and enhance their skills and understanding in their chosen genres.

Together, the works contain material from WWI, WWII, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Global War on Terror. There are voices and visions from the perspectives of veterans, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and neighbors and colleagues. Engaging with these works helps us bridge the gap between military and civilian cultures. Indeed, these works prove that those bridges are  built by creative expression.

We invite you to check out As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 12 and share this edition. Thank you!

Keeping It Lively

by Michael Lund

Following a Military Experience and the Arts writing seminar for military, veterans, and family this fall, Blackstone, Virginia resident Thomas Bragg has produced a memorial booklet about his friend, Edward Bartholomew Lama.

Thomas and Eddie served in the same unit in Vietnam in 1968-69. While Tom came home to Southside Virginia, Eddie, a native of Mundelein, Illinois, was killed in action on 31 March 1969. Thomas portrays their friendship though pictures and story.

Working with workshop director, Michael Lund, also a veteran, Thomas was able to contact members of the Lama family in Illinois and Wisconsin. They sent photographs taken in Vietnam by Thomas, which had been sent home by Eddie to his family. Eddie had done the same thing, snapping photos of Thomas that he then mailed to relatives in Virginia.

The Lama family also sent a copy of an article from the 28 April 1969 Newsweek magazine that mentioned Eddie’s death, “A Quiet Week in Vietnam.” Two others were specifically identified from the 204 killed in those seven days.

Gordon Chaplin, the Newsweek journalist who wrote about casualties in 1969, is now a celebrated writer and conservationist. He wrote to MEA that, “It’s amazing and wonderful that you’re following up [on the story] after all these years.” Reading what Bragg has written about Lama’s personality, Chaplin added: “It was a long time ago, but I do remember that Lama’s story was by far the most dramatic of the three that I included in my piece. That was why I led with it. His buddies obviously loved him. His story’s resurrection after almost 50 years is ample testament to that love and to the kind of guy he must have been.”

In this 32-page booklet, a compelling portrait emerges of the two men, who were both a team of machine gunners doing their job and a pair of comedians trying to lighten the mood in their unit, which sustained a high number of casualties. “Keeping it Lively” was their motto, and that’s the title of Thomas’s tribute to Edward.

The Blackstone Conference and Retreat Center generously donated space for the workshop. Copies of Thomas’ booklet can be obtained from Michael Lund at Longwood University’s Department of English and Modern Languages, which co-sponsored the workshop.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of “Keeping It Lively,” please contact Michael Lund at mlund@embarqmail.com

What’s It Like to Kill Someone?

by Travis Switalski, Sr.

I have been asked that question more times than I care to count. I have been asked it by complete strangers, friends, and by those closest to me. I have been witness to the anger that erupts when someone is asked it and I have on occasion been the outlet of that anger. Most real honest-to-God combat veterans will tell you that asking that question is inappropriate, to say the least. However, the farther away I get from my time in the military, the less the question bothers me. In fact, I often find myself asking “what was it like to kill someone?” When I think of being asked it occurs to me that I was offended by it not because it was inappropriate, but because I didn’t really have an answer to the question. It was much easier to explode into a tirade or ignore the question than to face it.

I have killed. Killing to me wasn’t so much an act as it was a journey. It began as we marched in formations at Fort Benning, when we responded to the Drill Sergeants counting our steps by saying “Train to kill, kill we will!” I went to the rifle range with my comrades and shot at pop-up, man-shaped silhouette targets. The Army’s mental conditioning designed to offset the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” training provided by society. Action, reaction; target up, shoot, target down; see the enemy, kill the enemy. Train to kill and kill we will. More of the same mental conditioning was provided to us at our units. In Staff Sergeant Moore’s Squad we were taught to “Strike Fast, Kick Ass!” See the enemy, kill him first. Strike fast, kick ass. Our job as Infantrymen, to close with and destroy the enemy by means of maneuver and superior firepower, was drilled into our heads and into our souls. Trained to kill, kill we will. The journey took a few years. All of the training and mental conditioning culminated at one moment, a squeeze of a mechanical trigger, just a fraction of friction. I remember feeling relieved that I had done it, had proved to myself and those around me that I was capable of doing what I was trained to do.

Ramadi 550

The act of killing I think is immensely private. My buddies saw me do it, but the feelings I had about it were mine alone. Those feelings are not always the same for everybody. I felt a sense of relief and a feeling of accomplishment. I had done it without hesitation and without fanfare. Others took it much harder outwardly. It was not uncommon for guys to lose their nerve after taking a life, or for them to become overwhelmed with the feeling that they had done something wrong. Then, some of the boys took great pleasure in killing, or at least they seemed to. As a defense against labeling the act of killing as killing we use gentle euphemisms to describe it like wasted, smoked or zapped. We also dehumanized our enemy to make wasting him easier on the conscience by calling him Haji, The Dirty Haj, and Raghead to name a few. And after the first time I killed another human being came as a relief to me, all of the ones I killed after him didn’t matter. Killing became a perfunctory and mechanical aspect of my employment.

What is it like to kill someone? As I look back on it now, years after what I hope is the last time I will ever have to kill another person my answer is this: The act of killing is a terrible and sad thing. For many it is a mentally and spiritually damaging act from which they’ll never recover. For others it doesn’t mean anything. For me, all I know is that it is better to be alive than to be dead, to walk the Earth, not to walk in someone else’s memories. I also know that to explain what killing is “like” to a person who has never had to kill, is an exercise in futility. They possess an annoying curiosity on the subject of killing, and maybe they have a right to know exactly what we did on their dime and in their name. Perhaps instead of coming unglued or shutting down, we as veterans should tell them exactly what they want to know even if they could never possibly understand it. Maybe we should find a way to articulate it to them in one word. If I had to sum killing up in one word, I’d say, “Easy.”