Monday, November 9, 2015

A Veterans' Day Challenge

November is always a busy month for my husband Colin. A former Army infantryman and Afghanistan vet, now a college professor, veteran advocate, and award-winning poet, he spends the weeks around Veterans’ Day engaging with veteran and non-veteran audiences to raise awareness, increase understanding, and encourage support—his efforts, to borrow a popular tagline, to “bridge the gap” between the communities.

Since I’m not as awesome or poetic as Colin and I’m not joining in on the whirlwind, I’d like to propose a Veterans’ Day challenge: 

The Halloran family collection of war literature
This week—or this month, or whenever you’re able—engage with three veterans’ stories. Choose any format: read, watch, listen, interview (some suggestions included below); with any veteran, of wars past or present.

Why three? Because no two veterans are the same; a single narrative can’t possibly capture a comprehensive portrait of what it’s like to be a veteran. Neither can three, but my hope is that your perspective will expand ever-so-slightly in different directions. Hopefully, too, you’ll like what you see/read/hear, and continue to seek different narratives far beyond Nov. 11.

In the next few days you’re bound to get word of local Veterans' Day readings, lectures and discussions; radio and TV features and interviews; and commentaries online or in your local paper. Take the time to check out one (or three!)

Here are a few other suggestions (this is by no means a comprehensive list—if you have a favorite veteran narrative or know of a good resource, please share in the comments):


  • Do you have a veteran friend or relative? Ask about his/her experiences. I could sit cross-legged on my grandparents’ floor all day (or at least until my legs fall asleep) listening to their World War II stories (they were married right before Grandpa shipped off with the Navy; their brothers shared a foxhole in the Battle of the Bulge!). Keep in mind, though, not everyone is comfortable sharing. Be respectful. Don’t pry.
  • There are nonprofit veteran organizations all across the country, many which rely on volunteer support. Here in Boston, for example, the New England Center for Homeless Veterans seeks volunteers for serving meals and job skills advising/mentoring. Spend a couple hours providing tangible assistance while also getting to know a local veteran.

  • As you can tell from the photo, Colin and I have a rather extensive collection of war literature. Whether your interests are fiction, biography, memoir or poetry, historical or contemporary, drama or satire, there’s something (or many somethings) for you. Have you been meaning to read Tim O’Brien’s classic The Things They Carried or Phil Klay’s National Book Award-winning short story collection Redeployment? What about books-turned-blockbusters like Unbroken or Black Hawk Down? Interested in female veteran stories? Check out memoirs by Kayla Williams, Tracy Crow, or Jane Blair; Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield; or the anthology Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq.  
  • Several other military anthologies feature a wide variety of writing by male and female veterans and family members: Fire & Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, and Red, White & True: Stories from Veterans and Families, World War II to Present.
  • SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: Sample poems from Colin’s books are available online here and here, and you should read his awesome interview in The Rumpus (in which he discusses war lit and veteran/military writers).


  • Hollywood loves war films—the combination of physical and emotional drama is ripe for the big screen. Though many obviously have a degree of Hollywoodization, they still provide a powerful, engrossing window to war. From classics like Apocalypse Now to contemporaries such as American Sniper and Fury, there are oodles to choose from. Colin and I just finished the absolutely stunning mini-series Band of Brothers, and I can't recommend it enough. Despite the different jobs, locations and eras, we both found elements we related to—that's the mark of a great war story! 
  • The Telling Project, an organization that brings veterans together to tell their stories for a live audience, just released a documentary. You can watch online or see a live production.
  • Carthage University is wrapping up performances of the Afghanistan/ Wisconsin Verbatim Theatre Project, a theatrical production created from word-for-word veteran narratives. You can view a recording of the performance here. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed as part of the production process.)


  • Historians, journalists and military families throughout history have made an effort to preserve veteran narratives through interviews, and many are publicly available. The Library of Congress Veterans’ History Project has an extensive searchable digital archive. Your local archives, libraries and veteran/war museums also likely have oral history collections available in-person and/or digitally (consult the Archives Library Information Center or use your good friend Mr. Google—there are resources everywhere!).
  • NPR has several great veteran interview broadcasts available, like this World War II collection. Be sure to browse through the Related Stories at the bottom of the page.
  • The Veteran Artist Program recently launched a podcast of interviews with male and female veterans from a variety of services and specialties working in all sorts of artistic fields. Learn about a Marine comic, an Army Special Operations musician (who played with Nirvana!), a Cultural Support Team soldier now working as an art therapist, an Apache pilot/author/singer, and many more! 


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