It came in the mail, a book from a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, The Journal of Military Experience. Most publications I get from universities are on topics that deal with academia, you know – ways to teach literacy, how the brain works, and other research topics. This book was different. It wasn’t written by a bunch of stuffy professors based on their special investigative studies. Nope, this book was written by a group of young veterans who had served overseas and were trying to reintegrate into civilian and academic life. Needless to say, many of the stories and poems were composed with emotions that were still raw from combat.
The authors were students in Professor Travis Martin’s writing class. The purpose of his unique course was to help with the initial assimilation phase of university life. “Some of the authors write about the unspeakable things that they have been asked to do, or more accurately, that have been done to them. But some focus solely on that work of translation, making sense of a warrior culture and the mentality of an individual who has been bred, trained, and conditioned by a society in desperate need of a few willing to sacrifice for the many (Introduction).”
The theme in many pieces confirmed how challenging returning from war was for these young warriors. They wrote about who they were before combat and how they had changed from the experience. How seeing friends die before their eyes, how being shot at on a regular basis, how tough it was to determine who would live or perish depending on their interpretation of an approaching car or a family on the side of the road, how these battle experiences made their time during and after conflict more demanding. One marine described “every day someone else would die or get seriously injured. One of my friends lost his legs from a roadside bomb right outside our front gate at 0200 in the morning (Guy Robert Lubin, p. 6-7)”.
Yet, in spite of all of the horror, all the wounds both physical and emotional, not one individual regretted serving his country. Not one person wished he/she did not complete a tour of duty overseas. What some did question, though, was when or if they would ever be free from the fiends of warfare. One author acknowledged “you truly stop caring. You don’t want to shoot, but you will. You won’t think about it, until you get home that is (Bradley Johnson, p. 53)”. He continued, “While you fight and suffer and struggle, you are also changing, becoming someone totally different. The harsh and violent realities of war forces you to change. Emotions are an inconvenience — they distract you — making you feel and think instead of react. A distracted soldier is a dead soldier. My evolution was a great thing on the battlefield, but it is just as much a bad thing when you get home (p. 53)”.
In this book, there are profound words and stories from those few who have given so much for freedom in our country and lands far away. They are “living stories” from real warriors. They ask nothing but a smidgen of understanding and a bit of healing when they return. For every vet past, present or future let us value the sacrifice and honor the service never failing to remember how all gave some, while some gave all.