Veterans encouraged to write war stories
September 17, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany — The stars were out over Mosul, and Spc. Colby Buzzell sat down, leaned back against a tire and looked at them. He’d just barely survived a firefight. His hands were still shaking. He sat all alone and remembered the angry look on the Iraqi man’s face, the one who pointed his AK at Buzzell’s head and fired.
"I was thinking how lucky I was to be alive. I’ve never experienced anything like the fear I felt today," he wrote.
Buzzell’s sergeant sat down next to him. He said his father, a Vietnam veteran, had given him some advice for situations like this.
"Put all the things that bother you and keep you awake at night and clog your head up, put all those things in a shoebox, put the lid on it, and deal with it later," the sergeant told Buzzell.
Buzzell opened the shoebox when he got home. He is one of the writers who contributed to an anthology of writings about their experience of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Called "Operation Homecoming," the book was published to great acclaim two years ago.
Efforts by the National Endowment for the Arts for more soldiers and their families to tell their stories, save their letters, e-mails and journals, continue.
The editor of "Operation Homecoming" on Monday wrapped up his nine-base speaking tour designed to encourage U.S. Army Europe soldiers to open their boxes and share what they’ve been through.
"There’s no question they contain a lot of grief and suffering," Andrew Carroll told those gathered at the Patrick Henry Village movie theater on Monday.
But in addition to providing a first-hand historical record and informing civilians, the writings serve to let other soldiers and families know their experiences have been shared; they’re not alone.
"This is really the spirit of the project," Carroll said. "I think these writings are the best and most permanent tribute to those who serve."
Some of the accounts are funny. One Carroll read dealt with a group of Iraqi soldiers lustily singing along to The Beatles’ "Let It Be." The lyrics were a little bit off. When Mother Mary came to them, speaking words of wisdom, she said "Little pea."
Carroll read several excerpts from the book, handed out a guide for writers and showed a short film about the project to about 30 people, most of whom appeared to be wives or retirees. It was the largest audience he’d had in some two weeks of touring bases.
By comparison, Carroll once drew 200 to a talk at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"Folks are worn out," he said. "That’s understandable. You’re talking about a subject — people are just tired of it. … We know we’re getting a good reaction from the people who are coming."
But librarians were disappointed that there weren’t more soldiers to hear Carroll’s talk.
"Baumholder — we were expecting lower numbers because they’re deployed," said librarian Chris Kruger, who helped arrange the tour. "Twenty wasn’t bad. … I guess the thing is [Carroll’s talk] is a powerful thing. It gives something to the audience. That’s what’s so disheartening."
At Monday’s talk, just two people were in uniform: Col. Robert Ulses, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg, who introduced Carroll, and Staff Sgt. Jacob Marshall, who had arrived with Ulses.
Marshall had been deployed twice to Iraq, he said, and had written letters home to keep in touch. "I just sent, ‘Hi, Mom, Hi, Dad,’ " he said.
His wartime experiences had, for the most part, gone unexpressed. "It’s up here," he said, pointing to his head.
Would he ever write about it?
"I don’t know," Marshall said. "I still have feelings from 2003 I haven’t even developed."