In honor of Veteran’s Day, a book review from My Dear Husband. Enjoy!
Yesterday was the federally observed Veteran’s Day (the actual Calendar day fell on Sunday). We have been reading a book by Tim O’Brien titled “The Things they Carried.” It is a very insightful book about veterans from Vietnam and focuses literally on the things that soldiers carry, from C-rations, claymores, helmets, photographs, moccasins, and letters, to daydreams of girls, memories, sorrows, and the peaceful sunny moments that existed between mortar fire.
The book is a collection of stories, interrelated, and somewhat auto-biographical that lays out the cost, joy, brotherhood and life of soldiering. Both during and after service. This small excerpt is a taste:
I feel guilty sometimes. Forty-three years old and I’m still writing war stories. My daughter Kathleen tells me it’s an obsession, that I should write about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony. In a way, I guess, she’s right: I should forget it. But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection between past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That’s the real obsession. All those stories. (The Things they Carried, Tim O’Brien p, 33).
While trying to make our generation’s wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) different from the past we often make a show of thanking soldiers and service members “for their service” and then moving on. What made “The Things They Carried” so important when it was published was that it let us, the public, into moments that we as non-service members, don’t always understand, but which exist and which shape us and our veterans.
With our World War II veterans passing, our Korean War veterans becoming fewer, and our Vietnam veterans still struggling with the tumult inside and around them, we welcome home our brothers, sisters, husbands and sons and daughters. Instead of simply thanking them for their service, we need to take a quiet moment and ask them to tell a story. You may not understand it or their experience, but that act of sharing will draw us closer together as a nation, and as families, friends, and neighbors.
Ask for a story, and simply listen.