The following is a post from Tracy Crow, author of Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine (Nebraska, 2012) and Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families, World War II to Present (Potomac Books, 2014), and editor of On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story (Potomac Books, 2015) and It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan (Potomac Books, July 2017). Crow is a former Marine Corps officer and an award-winning military journalist. Her essays and short stories have been published widely and been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes.
For this Marine Corps veteran, mid-November involves a flurry of Marine Corps birthday ball celebrations, Veterans Day parades, and writing workshops that I lead for veterans and their families, attempting to impress upon them that they have stories, too, that matter.
Everyone has a story.
Last year I was on a book tour in Asheville, North Carolina, for my new release, On Point: A Guide for Writing the Military Story, when I met a ninety-four-year-old veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He proudly talked about the recent release of his first chapbook of poetry, all war poems about the infamous battle and led me through the bookstore to his book. While holding the store’s single copy, he shared that his wife had died a decade earlier and his son in Vietnam. Then he shared that the suicide of his only grandchild had rattled him most, driving him inward toward poetry as a way of making sense of his Battle of the Bulge war experiences.
He didn’t have to explain why. That his grandson, an Army major and veteran of the Iraq war, had chosen one day to park his vehicle across a railroad track in the very country in which his grandfather had fought and killed countless young Germans nearly caused my knees to buckle in front of this now frail, quiet spoken poet-warrior who had in his ninety-fourth year finally turned inward for self-reflection and forgiveness.
I don’t believe in accidents. I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe we are so much more than we think we are, and that sometimes we have to be cracked wide open to allow self-forgiveness a clear pathway to the heart—and in the case of my new friend, allow one’s innate creativity to chauffeur that pathway.
No one recalls the day heroism, or military service to one’s country, showed up as repressed martyrdom. You see, in ancient Greece when warriors returned from battle, they gathered before their communities to share their stories and to pay respect to the fallen. Even then, the Greeks understood the challenge of reintegration for its warriors. They understood how easy it was for ordinary citizens to undermine the depth and breadth of sacrifice that comes with military service, and so the purpose of sharing the warrior’s story was two-fold: the warrior emptied the enormous weight still pressing upon his heart and mind; the citizen absorbed the gravity, and extended both gratitude and forgiveness.
So it’s no coincidence that I’ve been invited back to Asheville this Veterans Day. Besides leading a writing workshop, I’ve been scheduled to speak—so the organizers believe—at a shelter for homeless women veterans.
Truthfully, I’ll be there to listen and learn.