Soldiers' Stories
July 10, 2006 9:38 PM   Subscribe

For the past three years the National Endowment for the Arts has sponsored a writing project called Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, inviting U.S. troops and their families to share letters, e-mails, poems, stories, and memoirs to be collected in a national archive. An anthology of the work, edited by the historian Andrew Carroll, will be published this fall by Random House. Here, in an audio slide show [Flash required], five servicemen read from their work, accompanied by photographs. [more inside]
posted by ericb (5 comments total)
In The New Yorker’s June 12, 2006 (not available online) they publish a selection of letters, journal entries, and personal essays by soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines who served in the current war in Iraq.

As stated in the magazine article: “The centerpiece of Operation Homecoming was a series of fifty writing workshops, conducted by distinguished American writers, and held at twenty-five military installations here and overseas. Most of the six thousand troops who participated in the workshops had just rotated out of front-line combat. They were told to write freely, without fear of official constraints or oversight. Since Operation Homecoming began, on April 20, 2004, more than ten thousand pages of writing – non-fiction, fiction, and poetry – have been sent to the N.E.A.”

In addition to the anthology which will be published this fall, “a TV documentary based on the material will air in 2007; and the entire collection will eventually be housed in an open government archive.”

In addition to Operation Homecoming, the NEA has launched a tour of the one-man play Beyond Glory, theatrical adaptation (trailer) of Larry Smith's book, Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words.

I highly recommend getting a copy of the New Yorker magazine to read many powerful and poignant accounts of life as a solider in Iraq.
posted by ericb at 9:42 PM on July 10, 2006

Thanks for this. That New Yorker issue had me in tears. I couldn't believe that they were permitted to get many of those stories past military censors.

The story about the homeless man called up for reserve duty, in particular, was devastating. There was more heroism in those few pages than in any of the six years' worth of rhetoric from our 'war president'.

It left me amazed at the fundamental decency of Americans...and at the profound disorder of our moment.
posted by felix betachat at 10:29 PM on July 10, 2006

My show did an interview with Andrew Carroll, titled "God in the midst of war" back in November 2005. It can be found here. Carroll's books are fascinating, I loved to read my grandfather's and great-grandfather's letters from WW1 and WW2. We have a very special letter my great-grandpa sent to his wife on Hitler's stationary in Hitler's own envelopes from the Reichstag in 1945.
posted by parmanparman at 7:04 AM on July 11, 2006

After a war end, war records are usually discarded. However, on the rare occassion they are preserved in detail, their value to history is staggering.

The greatest example of this comes from US Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, during the Civil War. Working from the assumption that when the war was over, there was going to be a century of litigation about it, Stanton ordered that *every* war record be preserved.

And then, after the defeat of the Confederacy, he ordered that every captured Confederate document be included. This resulted in an encyclopedia collection of documents that represents an explosion of knowledge about America in that period.

Both armies kept detailed records of soldiers, records which now are of immeasureable value to geneologists, and cover the period just prior to the massive demographic shift which happened to America with industrialization. It also predated several massive waves of immigrants.
posted by kablam at 9:53 AM on July 11, 2006

I came across this today -- Yahoo! News to veterans of Vietnam and Korea: Send Your Pictures and Videos:
"If you served in or lived through the Korean or Vietnam war, we'd like to see the pictures and video behind your stories — particularly about what life was like 'on the ground.'"
posted by ericb at 6:27 PM on July 11, 2006

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