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Writing personal stories about war

Pat with her Uncle Vern (Vernon Coil), a military hero

Updated 11-17-22


Writing about wartime experiences and memories? Some of these resources may be helpful or inspiring:

My Grandfather’s Secret D-Day Journal (Barry Svrluga, Washington Post, 5-30-19) A powerful story in which voices from the past and present reveal a lifetime's emotional history, with a journal from the past bringing the horrors of D-Day vividly to life.
Veterans History Project (capturing personal accounts of American war veterans and U.S. citizen civilians involved in war efforts, such as USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers). You can download the VHP field kit and forms online.
Veterans who write -- and writing about wars and the military (Pat McNees's site about dying)
History Interpreters Keep Alive Memories of Fallen D-Day Soldiers (Bill Hinchberger, Epoch Times, 6-5-19) Cambridge and Normandy count among the 26 U.S. military cemeteries and 30 memorials in more than a dozen countries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), a U.S. government agency. Most commemorate the service of Americans in World War I and World War II. As the generations who lived through those wars have nearly died off, the agency's mission and “target audiences” have shifted, said Jerry Lefler, deputy director of cemetery operations at the Normandy American Cemetery. “ABMC is making a transition from a mourning to a commemorative agency.” “Most of the direct relatives of people from World War I and World War II have passed away,” said Lefler. “How do we keep our cemeteries, our story, and the stories of those buried there relevant?” Constant Lebastard added, “We are not teachers. We give people an idea of what happened and make people think.”
Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story (Ron Capps, CreateSpace). Written by a veteran for veterans, it details the elements of craft involved in writing both fiction and non-fiction. The Veterans Writing Project uses the book in its  seminar and workshops for members of the armed forces, active and reserve, who want to learn about writing in order to tell their stories. Capps is also author of the memoir Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years.
Soldiers Lost and Found: Students Rediscover the Fallen (Michael M. Phillips, WSJ, 10-20-12). A generation of Tom Clark's high school history students have been tracking down the families of Indiana's war dead and creating an archive of their stories. "His classroom is like a forgotten corner of the Smithsonian."
Top Reasons to Record Your Military History (Mary V. Danielsen, Documented Legacy).
Writing Vietnam (Donna Apidone, Next Avenue, 11-11-22) For military veterans who served in Vietnam, the past few years have been a time to open the memory vault. Decades after their service, they feel free to document and publish their experiences.The catharsis of writing their memoirs helped two Vietnam veterans heal. Some discussion of teh book
Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today by Craig McNamara. The author came of age in the political tumult and upheaval of the late 60s. While Craig McNamara would grow up to take part in anti-war demonstrations, his father, Robert McNamara, served as John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense and the architect of the Vietnam War. "This unforgettable father and son story confronts the legacy of the Vietnam War across two generations." In filmmaker Errol Morris's 2003 documentary =The Fog of War, Robert McNamara admitted he was wrong in his directives in Vietnam. His son says that apology was not enough.
Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation by Myra MacPherson. As this important book makes clear, we will be paying the costs for Vietnam for long years to come. Myra MacPherson not only lived through the Vietnam years, she writes with the insight of one still deeply caught up in the issues of that tragedy." ~George McGovern
A Year at War (stories of the 30,000 men and women of First Battalion, 87th Infantry, taking part in the Afghanistan surge), excellent New York Times video series.
Writing the War (Colin Wilhelm, Narratively, 11-14-13) Distraught by his peers’ disengagement from a war still being waged, a shaken Afghanistan veteran helps fellow fighters put their war wounds into words.
If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O'Brien. An intensely personal account of his year as a foot soldier in Vietnam. NY Times review: ""O'Brien brilliantly and quietly evokes the foot soldier's daily life in the paddies and foxholes, evokes a blind, blundering war."
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. "They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."
Writing About War: I Hate It but Can’t Stop (Don Gomez, Daily Beast, 9-2-13)) Among veterans of war, there has always been a tension between wanting to tell everything and wanting to say nothing at all, writes Army veteran Don Gomez.
Home Fires (George Packer, New Yorker, 4-7-14) How soldiers write their wars. The new war literature by veterans is largely free of politics and polemics.
The Last Ring Home: A POW’s Lasting Legacy of Courage, Love, and Honor in World War II by Minter Dial. Minter Dial’s grandson, named for him, spent years of his own life tracking down facts, and interviewing more than one hundred interviews with experts, survivors, and descendants of the Greatest Generation to tell the powerful story of American prisoners of war in the Pacific.
Women Writing War: A List of Essential Contemporary War Literature by Women Kayla Williams, Los Angeles Review of Books, 5-26-14)
Dad's Message Recorded At War, A Gift Given Decades Later (NPR, 1-4-14). See also At 71, finally hearing her father's voice (Susan Reimer, Baltimore Sun, 12-27-13) and listen to the hour-long original show.
Ben Patton on interviewing military veterans . Listen to 21-minute R.J. McHatton's audio-only interview with documentary filmmaker Ben Patton about the process of making short films about veterans.
Veterans, Alone Together, Share Stories They Can’t Tell You (Lawrence Downes, NY Times Editorial Observer 10-5-08,writing about weekend workshop run by Vets 4 Vets, a Tucson nonprofit that is setting up peer support groups around the country for a new generation of veterans making the transition from "hunter-killer" mode to husband-student mode)
Harry Lamin's letters from World War I, a blog on which letters from an English soldier are posted by his grandson exactly 90 years after they were written; now the son has died and the grandson has taken over, but there are also links to new blogs that this one inspired. Maybe it will be a model for someone you know!
Virtual Wall, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (look up Vietnam War casualties by name, place, date, and other details--get more info, add a photo, etc.)
African American history records (Ancestry.com). Slave narratives, troop records for U.S. colored troops in the Civil War, Freedman's Bank and Bureau records, World War I draft cards, etc.
After the Wars. Chicago Public Radio's weekly series of short radio stories and images of America's veterans--a Points of View Production by Paul and Ben Calhoun, ed. by Cate Cahan. Click on image to hear vet's story.
Lives During Wartime (Home Fires Readers, NYTimes, American Veterans on the Post-War Life, launched 11-10-09)
Mama Always Comes Home (Debbie Brodsky, Bethesda Magazine, 2-10, on creating a deployment video: a military mom's messages to her children)
My Son, My Soldier, My Sorrow.(Janet Burroway, St. Petersburg Press 6-13-04). Three essays written over 20 years by a liberal, pacifist mother struggling to understand her conservative son, a proud soldier and member of the NRA
World War 2: 'We All Had a Piece of Hitler's Desk'. Joy Hunter recalls a remarkable life, working in Churchill's War Rooms and attending the historic Potsdam conference in 1945. (Elizabeth Grice, Telegraph, 9-3-09)
Singing Away the Wounds of War (Niva Dorell Smith, Narratively) Chuck saw atrocities in the jungles of ‘Nam. Chris was attacked by America’s allies in Afghanistan. Anni was assaulted back at home. How a legion of traumatized vets are turning tragedy into song.
Memoirs of war and conflict: A reading list (Writers and Editors)
More War and Peace stories (Narratively)
Pasadena Veteran Collects War Stories For Posterity (Jenny Dumont, Pasadena Voice, 9-23-15). If you aren't a writer, find someone to record your story!


Organizations for veterans who write

Veterans Writing Project . Offers no-cost seminars and workshops for members of the armed forces, active and reserve, who want to learn about writing in order to tell their stories. Their core curriculum is Ron Capps's book Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story. Written by a veteran for veterans, it details the elements of craft involved in writing both fiction and non-fiction. The Veterans Writing Project publishes a blog and a literary journal O-Dark-Thirty .
Warrior Voices ( Cecilia Capuzzi Simon, NY Times Education Life, 2-1-13). Veterans learn to write the words they could not speak.
A Million Strong: Helping Them Through (James Dao, NY Times Education, 2-1-13). Serving the surge in military students puts colleges to the test. Teaching veterans to express their experiences helps them heal.
Veterans group, Maxine Hong Kingston together use writing to heal (Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle, 1-7-08)
Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD (Ron Capps, Health Affairs, July 2010)
Veterans Writing Project: Nation's Heroes Write of Pain, Personal Triumphs (John Bachman, Newsmax, 5-27-12)
Warrior Writers (based in Philadelphia)
Syracuse Veterans’ Writing Group
Veterans' Writing Group of San Diego County
Black Hills Veterans Writing Group
Military Veterans Writing Workshop (Writers Guild Foundation)
The Journal of Military Experience
The Veterans' PTSD Project , which also has a page linking to resources for veterans who want to write

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