Archive | Guest Post

The Dangers of Silence

Hod on Tank II

 

David Chrisinger

For the past year or so I’ve been trying to find out what happened to my grandfather in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.

I’ve read everything I can about that battle and my grandfather’s tank battalion’s role in it. He was a driver in the 193rd Tank Battalion, which was attached to the 27th Infantry Division. It was long before I found that my grandfather had fought in a devastating battle on April 19th, 1945, that resulted in “the greatest one-day loss of U.S. armor in the Okinawa Campaign.”

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the battalion’s “Operational Report” had survived the destruction caused by a typhoon that hit Okinawa in the summer of 1945 and was being stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Here’s what the commander of the 193rd wrote in his report about that fateful day:

“As the first tanks neared TA 8176B, they were taken under fire by a 47mm AT gun from the left flank. Two (2) flamethrowers and three (3) tanks were hit by this gun before it was spotted and destroyed by the Assault Gun platoon. From approximately 0830, when the movement of all tanks across was completed, to 1200, the remaining tanks, assault guns and flamethrowers remained around the town of Kakazu, moving to various firing positions and firing on enemy installations and personnel on the South side of Kakazu ridge, to the flanks and along the base of the prominent ridge from TA 7976H to 8075B. During this time five (5) tanks, one (1) flamethrower and two (2) assault guns were disabled by mines of various types which were buried indiscriminately over the entire area. One (1) assault gun stuck in a bog and the crew was later forced to abandon it. They were also subjected to intense artillery fire and mortar fire, but with little damaging effect.”

Shortly after the war ended, a small group of Army historians set out to write the official battle history of Okinawa based on (1) manuscript histories of the units that fought there; (2) interviews with the combatants; and (3) official records, including Japanese records and prisoner of war interrogations.

Here’s what they had to say about the battle for Kakazu Ridge. Notice the differences, not only in terms of the particulars, but also in the depth of what was reported: “As the tanks moved down the road in column, a 47-mm antitank gun, firing from a covered position to the left on the edge of Nishibaru Ridge, destroyed four tanks with sixteen shots, without receiving a single shot in return.”

They continue:

“[The 193rd Tank Battalion arrived] in Kakazu shortly after 1000. They moved around and through the village, spreading fire and destruction; Kakazu was completely shot up and burned during the next three hours. Fourteen American tanks were destroyed in and around the village, many by mines and 47-mm antitank guns, others by suicide close-attack units, and more by artillery and mortar fire…. A majority of the tank crew members were still living after the tanks had been disabled, but many were killed by enemy squads that forced the turret lids open and threw in grenades.”

What did my grandfather have to say about this battle?

Nothing.

He never told anybody about what happened that day, or any other day while he was on Okinawa.

I wish he had.

I wish he had told his story. I wish he had let someone help him work through what he had experienced.

I wish that all veterans could find the courage to tell their stories. After all, if your life does not become a story, silence will become the story of your life.

David Chrisinger works to close the divide between veterans and civilians by helping post-9/11 veterans tell their stories of war. This past October, he ran a 50-mile ultramarathon to raise money for The Mission Continues.

Weekly Round-Up: Cabin Fever Edition

cabin fever

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Cabin Fever” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

It’s winter and if most of us haven’t lived through a polar vortex yet, then one’s surely headed our way. As much time as I spend outdoors in all manner of weather conditions, I still seem to get cabin fever by February. Common side effects include thinking in feedback loops (ex. 6mins14secs into this TED talk), excessive reading, and deeply metaphysical conversations with dogs (recommended). But everything in moderation, right? Or not. There’s an allure to obsession and it’s not unusual for it to feel like a writer’s best friend. As author Jeff Vandermeer puts it:

What is obsession but curiosity and passion taken to an extreme?…Obsession is an essential part of creating an enduring work of art.

And with that, 5 links in the name of cabin fever, with full permission to get completely lost down the rabbit hole of any of these links. Who knows, you just might stumble across something to obsess about:

1. Sketching Guantanamo by Janet Hamlin with a forward by Carol Rosenberg: I’m already on my second go-round with this ground-breaking, only-one-of-its-kind in recent history book that includes sketches and commentary by the sole courtroom artist allowed to document the military trials at Guantanamo for the past eight years. The link will take you to an 18-page excerpt as a free download.

2. Ben Fountain on Aspen’s First Draft radio show: As a fellow civilian war-lit author, I found Ben’s interview relatable, precise, and insightful. Wise words about writing the “other” and the slow-slog of the writing life from the ground up. Plus, he’s got a wicked sense of humor.

3. Outside Magazine reports on Marines and elite adventure racers who showed higher activation in the insular cortex of the brain just moments before being subjected to “aversive stimulus” (ex. restricted airflow).

4. Marines also logged stellar performances in mental resilience in another study, this one funded by a $1.7 million four-year grant from the Department of Defense to study the impact of meditation practice incorporated into training.

5. Jeff Vandermeer, quoted above, has written a book about writing that I can’t recommend enough. Genre fiction skeptics (and I used to be one) be damned, Wonderbook is for every writer and teacher of any kind of writing. Not your average how-to nor your schmarmy beat-the-block approach—this book stretches the limits of imagination in ways sometimes dark, other times corny, and always original. More importantly, it challenges parts of the creative writing canon with highly compelling, innovative alternatives. Vandermeer put it best when he wrote of the writing life, “So the question is: How can you position yourself to dream well?” And dream we do…

Stay warm out there.

Katey Schultz, Flashes of War

Bonus Links:

6. In Salon this week, you can read an excerpt from Kayla Williams’ upcoming memoir, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of WarShe writes movingly about her family’s struggle to care for her husband, who was severely wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

7. In the The Daily Beast, our good friend Brian Castner reviews the memoir, Afghan Post, by our other good friend, Adrian Bonenberger.

 

Wife and War: The Memoir

silver dollar

 

Words After War is pleased to present an excerpt from Wife and War: The Memoir by Amalie Flynn.

December 2006

We rent out our house in Maine. And I rent a condo in New Jersey, so I can be near my parents. And my husband moves us in, before he leaves, leaves for Afghanistan.

And I am upstairs and I come around this corner and I look down and I see him, my husband, standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding him, our sleeping son, ready to transfer him, from the car outside, to his bed upstairs. Our son, a two year old boy, whose only job, now, is to forget his father.

And I will never forget this.

I will never forget how my husband is holding him and cradling him. His hands underneath his tiny back and bent knees. Like an offering, I think, the offering he never wanted to make.

How my husband does not look up, does not see me watching. He just stands there, at the bottom of the stairs, holding him, his son, and sobbing. My husband is sobbing.

And it is in this moment, this moment, when I remember, because I had forgotten.

I had forgotten that he is the one who has to go.

Before he leaves, my husband talks about it. He talks about dying, about where I should live, about who will help me, and how I will get the life insurance money. My husband makes plans for me, postmortem plans.

And I have to accept it.

I have to accept that he may die.

January 2007

We lie in our bed together, lean against our kitchen counter together, and, now, we are standing together, here, in a parking lot, with the military barracks behind it, and a government issued bag at our feet.

Here, at boot camp, where my husband, who is an Officer in the Navy, will train to be an Army soldier, train to kill, train to be ready to go. And, then, he will go, go on a plane, and go to country where news stories are made.

Because there are not enough of them, not enough Army soldiers, he will go. Because there is no draft, he will go.

My husband will serve for the Army, on an Embedded Training Team, embedded in the heart of Afghanistan, working at a college in Kabul, and training Afghan soldiers.

And he says, I won’t be gone forever.

And I say, promise.

I want him to promise, my husband, promise, not because it is possible, to make this kind of promise, but because it isn’t. And because, this is what you do, what you do when your husband goes to war.

This is the moment we have to say goodbye.

Goodbye, goodbye for fifteen months.

And our son is only two years old, sitting in a car seat, in the backseat, in the car. And my husband is leaning over him, leaning in the car door, trying to give him a special coin, a silver dollar. And our son will not take it, putting his little hands, behind his back, no and no.

It is as if he knows, as if he knows what it means.

How I will take it, the silver dollar, take it home, and put it in a box, on a high shelf, in my closet.

Because if my husband dies, his father, if he dies in this war, it will be the last thing he ever gave him.

My husband is gone.

I walk around this condo, up stairs, through rooms, down a hallway. I check the front door and the back door. Turning locks, twisting knobs, saying out loud, to the darkness, and to no one, just to be sure. I watch my son sleep, his small chest rising and then falling, before I fall too, into our bed, but on my side, still.

There is a shirt stretched across his side of the bed, a shirt that my husband left behind, or maybe, just forgot, with a sleeve, one arm, hanging off the bed.

My husband will be gone for fifteen months.

This is the first night.

Guest Post: “Mandatory Fun” by John Ready

TOP-GUN-ICEMAN

The beatings will continue until morale improves.
-Standard Operating Procedure in most US Army units

So we’re sitting on our asses in Camp Doha, waiting impatiently for the word to get on a plane to go back to The World. By this time, I’m completely disenchanted with our brigade staff who’ve tagged along on the long haul from Baghdad to Kuwait City. These people can’t get out of their own way.

About three days after we arrive in Kuwait, someone in the Supply Section realizes they are missing approximately $725,000 worth of equipment. Most of the missing items are secure communications radios. Now, maybe they aren’t actually missing, but each piece of equipment in the military is supposed to be present; if not, then there had better be a piece of paper documenting its location or status. These bozos have neither. After that 360 mile drive south from Baghdad, after all that bullshit, the Headquarters Company Commander, who is personally responsible for the gear, has to go ALL the way back to Baghdad to locate the stuff. This is no simple task; it isn’t like turning around on your way to work to check if you’ve turned off the iron. Southern Iraq was now No Man’s Land, The Great Unknown; insurgents were sowing IEDs like dandelions all along MSR Tampa.

The new commander, Colonel Buzzkill, is irate about this and other incidents that have happened since he has taken command two months ago. His staff is clearly not working together. By now, he’s probably thinking a deployment under his belt and a Bronze Star on his chest may not be worth all of this horseshit. He comes up with a plan to build unit cohesion.

Colonel Buzzkill drops the bombshell that there is no camaraderie amongst his officers. So, he orders us to participate in a volleyball tournament. Now, my first reaction, besides shock, is that if you’re not able to build camaraderie and unit cohesion during 10 months in a combat zone, I really don’t think organized sports will fit the bill. But, of course, I’m a team player, so I figure that it will help pass the time before we finally get on the Freedom Bird.

I’m in the first match of the Mandatory Fun Invitational. I’m also the first to serve. I suck at volleyball; absolutely horrid at organized sports as a whole. The only thing in volleyball I don’t suck at is serving. The first couple of times I serve the ball, it actually makes it over the net, surprising everyone, including me.

Our team begins to practice and it’s painful to watch. Colonel Quickdraw is on my team and he’s positioned right in front of me. Even with his thick Birth Control Glasses, he’s blind as a bat. He’s also less athletic than me. The entire time we’re practicing, he’s never quite able to keep his eye on the ball. No matter where the ball goes, Quickdraw is out of synch; it’s like watching a tape delay inside a tape. He just keeps whirling around in his own little game. It’s then that I decide Quickdraw invented disco.

The first match: oh how exciting! I wind up and hit the ball over the net. To my dismay, it goes right to the bodybuilder, Adonis. He spikes-no-he launches the ball upward. It hits the gym ceiling with an audible WHAP! and streaks down toward me. I put my hands together to spike it in self-defense, but I’m just a little bit too slow. The volleyball hits my left thumb at full force.

Shit. That hurt.

My thumb smarts, my hand is numb, and my arm begins twitching of its own accord, but the match must go on. Now, I’m not even playing; I’m in a defensive posture, trying to hit the ball with my right hand while my left is doing Tourette’s.

“Use both hands to spike!” yells Colonel Quickdraw.

No shit! Didn’t you see me try that! On second thought, you probably didn’t…

By now, I’m begging for a substitute to take my place. I’m finally removed from the game, and seek out our PA, CPT Hammond, for medical attention. He tells me that my thumb is broken. Broken! I survive eleven months of dodging rockets and barely avoiding friendly fire, and my thumb gets broken in a volleyball match just before I return home. Forgetting that there’s an eight-hour time difference, I call my friend, Bob, who works in Officer Recruiting back at my old unit. It’s 3am back in the States as he awakens and asks me groggily why I’ve called. I tell him that the people I’m with are dirt stupid, and that I want to join the National Guard Witness Protection Program.

John Ready served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves for a total of 21 years. In 2003, he was deployed as a Civil Affairs Officer to Iraq, where he sat at a desk in an abandoned building equipped with air-conditioning. He lives in Oneida, New York, where he was a Mission Continues Fellow, and now, a published author. He was interviewed on CNN in 2010 about his experiences in Iraq, specifically about how humanitarian aid contributes to our national security.

Want to write for Words After War? Email MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.

Guest Post: Brass Bed, poetry from M. Sharon Frickey

Flickr

Flickr

 

A wrong turn into a Broadway antique row back-alley

temptation leans against a shop’s back-door

a sleigh of a bed, blackened from years

in someone else’s shed—fifty bucks make it

mine to lug into dad’s garage

where it waits against the wall.

I slip out of the sofa bed, into your old robe

the girls heads still deep in their pillows

the garage is in February’s deep freeze

I lean against the cold curved foot of the bed

and re-read your latest letter, I pray its not your last,

just days before you leave to come home, so close, so far

away with death still hanging in the air.

I will us into that bed.

I will myself content just to feel your warmth beside me

your thundering snore rippling along my lifeline,

pulling me in.

Tan Son Nhut air base, a targeted airfield in ‘68

as you came incountry, now a chartered plane flight away

from the rest of our life together.

You make a California unwelcome home landing,

and you make it home, to us,

life now crowded, overflowing the in-laws basement apartment,

we re-center our universe.

The bed awakes from dream into metaphor

gives itself up for therapy,

Brasso dug up from the bottom of your duffel

smeared on sheep’s wool pads

it fumes the garage, your old fatigues

until I prop the door open.

The sound of the drill, unsoftened, close, feels good on

your ears, pushes back the whop, whop, whop of

helicopter blades until no more blacked metal remains.

The wartime drama of dark tarnish gives way to shining brass.

Daylight until nightfall, three days from black to bright,

the spinning, spiraling, sweet reflection of

resurrection says, “welcome home.”

M. Sharon Frickey is a willing traveler in the quantum soup, a Virgo Earth-mother poet married to a Taurus Vietnam veteran (32 years active and ready reserve service) aligned to create S.T.O.R.Y. Up, a writing workshop inviting service members, family, vets and community to “come to the table” and drop a stone into the story pot. Sharon’s world experiences give her an eclectic background she shares in writing, poetry readings, and speaking. At duty stations in Japan and Turkey, she was honored with Army and Air Force Community Service awards. Her feature articles have appeared in Colorado County Life magazine. A Christa McAuliffe Fellow and retired teacher, she continues to seek out ways to be part of something in the arts bigger than her own interests.

Write for Words After War! Contact MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.

Guest Post: “Kill Anything that Moves”

Kill Anything that Moves

The blog will now feature guest posts from our talented community of writers. This week we feature David Chrisinger’s review of Kill Anything that Moves. We are excited to bring you these new and exciting voices.

“Let Veterans Say What They Need to Say”

The men of my grandfather’s generation, who fought the Second World War, are famous for their stoicism regarding the horrors of combat and the struggles of coming home. “The war was in the past. Nobody wanted to hear about those things,” my grandmother told me after my grandfather passed away in 2000.

This sort of silence was even more pronounced for the combat veterans of my father’s generation–those who fought in Vietnam. “In terms of a supportive community in which to digest their experiences,” Dr. Jonathan Shay writes, “the situation for them was worse than it had been for their fathers.”

The danger in not knowing the true costs of war is that, “A society ‘protected’ from the reality of war,” according to author Kevin Sites, “can rewrite the narrative, shaping and forming it into something less terrible and costly by emphasizing only the heroism and triumphs rather than the dark, ugly deeds that occur with much greater frequency than we care to imagine or discuss.”

My own understanding of the Vietnam War changed abruptly a few months ago, after I finished reading Kill Anything That Moves by Nick Turse.

Based on files of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, Turse argues that, “Murder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, and imprisonment without due process” were “virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of the American presence in Vietnam” and that they were “the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.”

Turse ultimately blames part of the problem on the fact that we as a country never really discussed the true nature of war when our troops came home from from the Second World War.

“Many had gone to Vietnam with their heads filled by visions of their fathers’ war,” Turse writes, “as seen through the prism of the John Wayne movies of their childhoods. The war they would fight, however, proved to be nothing like it had been on the silver screen.”

We do a great disservice if we prevent the sorts of stories Turse uncovered from being told. Not only does doing so unjustifiably absolve the country as a whole from its own responsibility for sending its young men to war, but it also prevents veterans from making peace with themselves.

After more than 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s make sure we give our veterans the chance to tell us what they need to say.

David Chrisinger works to close the divide between veterans and civilians by helping post-9/11 veterans tell their stories of war. This past October, he ran a 50-mile ultramarathon to raise money for The Mission Continues.

Want to write for Words After War? Send submissions (500 word maximum) to MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG. Thanks!