Monday, November 11, 2013

Brothers in Arms -- 11/11/13 -- Writing about Veterans of War

I doubt that it is a mistake that most of the characters that I write about are veteran soldiers. Josiah Wolfe and Lucas Fume both fought in, and survived, the Civil War.  The character I'm writing now survived World War I.  It's not a conscious decision on my part, but a natural part of each of these character's past.  They are haunted by their wartime experience.  Changed by it.  It contributes to their present, to the story as an underlying understanding of the nature of violence, of hate, of battle and aggression.  The reaction to blood by these men is different than it would be if they had not served in battle.  It is an important part of the story that I seem to need to tell. 

Perhaps this is all based of my own military experience.  As a boy, and that's all I was was a boy, of seventeen, I fled home and joined the Air Force.  I was no more ready for that commitment than flying to the moon, but I did it, and it became part my story, my own experience as a human being, and ultimately, as a writer.  It was not a match made in heaven--but it could have been if I had waited a little longer, matured. The structure and discipline would have appealed to me at a later age.  But that was not the case, and in hindsight, well, when you're in your fifties looking back to your teens, hindsight can be smeared with a lot of different emotions, and stories. I finally caught up to the discipline I was exposed to in the Air Force, and it serves me well, now.

My time in the military was during peacetime, but the the ghost of the Vietnam War loomed large.  All of my sergeants and commanding officers had served and survived. I suppose that is a seed to those that I write about. Those men who went off to the jungle, and returned uncelebrated, jeered, and lost.  Those vets are special to me because I knew them, was taught how to fire a weapon by them.  If there is any soldier left in me at all, it is because of them.  

There is also no way to escape the cost of war, of stories that rise through the generations of families in this country.   I knew men who fought in Korea who refused to speak of it, while others celebrated it with a hat proudly announcing their veteran status.  Neither was right or wrong--it just was.  And I knew men that served in World War II, and survived.  Great Uncles.  Uncles.  A second-cousin died on the beaches of Normandy.   His death loomed large, and those that knew him, and loved him, worked hard to make sure that his memory--and sacrifice--was never forgotten.

Over the summer, I discovered some old family papers, and followed a trail back in time to discover a distant relative who fought for the Confederacy.  This was news to me.  Since I was born and raised in the Union state of Indiana, I had always assumed that if I had any relatives that fought in the Civil War, they would have worn the blue uniform.  This relative was wounded and left for dead at Shiloh, captured and sent to Camp Morton in Indianapolis, then traded, once he healed, and was wounded again in Sherman's march, just outside of Dallas, Georgia.  He would survive that wound, to fight again, and be wounded again, in New Orleans at the close of the war.  He died at the age of 86.

There are countless stories that concern the bravery of the American veteran, man and woman.  New wars with new injuries to survive.  We are seeing those now.  Saying thank you doesn't seem enough.

I do my best to write honestly and honorably about the men--and women--of war that people my books.  It is an honor to tell their stories, and in a small way, I hope their stories help further the cause of understanding war, and its affects, and offers some healing; a salve that tells them that they are not alone. 

So thank you to the men of my family who made the ultimate sacrifice, to the men and women I served with, and to all those that have served this country, and are serving it now.  Your cause is great, just as is your heart.  


Tom Cochrun said...

A great post Thanks for the insight and back story of your own life and the lives of your well crafted characters. Now they are even more real to me.

Larry Sweazy said...

Thanks, Tom...