American society continues to suffer from an emotional disconnection between its civilians and its veterans of military combat. Too often, veterans do not have the emotional license to articulate what they have witnessed and felt, and so a painful gap emerges that affects both communication and relationships. Veterans may relate their most intimate war stories to other veterans, but they are reluctant to tell them to people outside the military experience.
To bridge the gap of disconnection between civilians and warriors, thankfully there are veterans who have the literary skills necessary to document their war experiences in non-fiction accounts, fictions based on real events, and poetry. These forms as collected into an anthology provide authentic voices that connect to the deeply held personal experiences of war. In many ways, these artistic efforts are pleas for understanding.
Remembrances of Wars Past: A War Veterans Anthology edited by psychologist Henry F. Tonn, a man with his own literary credentials, is a bridge that connects us vividly to the men and women that we sent to war. My own story in this collection, Jody Got My Girl and Gone, lay dormant for 46 years. It was written while I was still in the Vietnam-era Army, and there seemed no market for it in the backlash of public resentment for that war.
There must be millions of artistic efforts in prose and poetry that go unpublished as our society has habitually turned its attention away from the realities and the consequences of war. I say “millions” because wars have been a consequence of American politics since our founding revolution. We seem always at war somewhere, and the casualties of those wars are always with us and among us while we generally have no appreciation for how they are different from us in the most profound ways.
If lack of understanding for the war veterans’ condition is the disease, then the vicarious experience of walking-in-their-boots via books like Remembrances of Wars Past is the cure. In reading these stories and poems I am struck by the power of these writers to bring us into their reality. The context may be grim or tragic, or lighthearted and humorous, but each creative expression resonates to the core of human endurance, and we may become awestruck on the reading of it.
I now bring myself to stand at attention and honor the editor and contributors of Remembrances of Wars Past with my most respectful military salute. Well done. You are a credit to the Armed Services and to the silent comrades in arms whom you represent.