Write our story as we lived it.

This particular moment in the year is hard on me.  I, and many others in my profession whom I consider my closest friends, are drawn up in remembrance of those whom no longer dine with us, save in spirit.  This period of reflection (with its accompanying vigils held), is never easy, but it is our responsibility.

Such events are why we see the American President visiting Normandy Beach this week, where 9,388 Americans lie in silent repose; a place where 1557 names are recorded on a memorial wall for those who could not be found; where 307 unidentified remains are marked with simple white crosses bearing the inscription “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A COMRADE IN ARMS KNOWN BUT TO GOD”.   We call these ‘The Greatest Generation’ and it is an earned title.

I grew up listening to the stories of the men who went ashore at Omaha and Utah.  I wondered how they could summon the very wherewithal to commit such acts of heroism.  I had those, the stories of those American boys drafted in Korea; my first Cub Scout Master was a brown water sailor named Rusty Gill with a bullfrog voice, tattoos on either arm, and the calm confidence of a man who had been there and done that times beyond counting.  Chief Gill taught me how to tie hooks when fishing, how to cast a line and how to patiently reel in a fish when hooked so it would stay.

“You sure this won’t break sir?”
“Son, I caught fish off the back end of destroyers like this.  It’ll hold.”
“Yes sir.”

I remember going in uniform to the local cemetery, Memorial Day in 1999 with his wife to place flags on the headstones of service members buried there.  I remember it because Chief Gill wasn’t there and I asked her why.

“Papa has a lot of friends who never came home from Vietnam.  Some things are just too hard for him to handle.”

I wondered about her statement, until the day came when I learned the value of a brother’s life, and what it means to me.  I understand now why Chief Gill felt that way. If he were still alive, I suspect that I’d spend Memorial Day driving to his house so we could sit and drink our way through a couple sixers of something cold.

My generation is split.  There are the millennials who started Occupy Wall Street, worship Obama, swear by Bernie and form the basis for a whole lot of caricatures about modern adults.  I saw them in high school learning of Marx and praising his “brilliance”. I despised most of them, and they despised me in turn.

Time has not changed that disdain.  They went off to study Marxism and how it will lead us to Utopia (hello Venezuela), I graduated from St. Chesty Puller’s Academy for Recalcitrant Boys.  Others from my graduating year (2005) went off to the Fort Benning School for Boys, the Fort Bragg School of Hard Chargers. They wear maroon and tan berets, Manchu buckles, Cav spurs, Tridents, the caduceus of Corpsmen, even the Eagle Globe and Anchors of my Marine Corps.  We saw 9/11 occur, and determined in our minds that such should never again occur on American soil, that we would not carry signs at protests- we would carry rifles.

I have spent the majority of my life, both in childhood and adulthood, around fighting men.  I understand them far better than I understand many other segments of the population. As I watch and read the current crop of authors, I see a genuine disparity between those who understand men like me, and those who do not.  

Horace, in his famed Ars Poetica (the Epistle to the Pisos) explains what he sees as the conventions of writing in his day and age.  Speaking of characters which the people of that day would be familiar with, he declares:

“You, that write, either follow tradition, or invent such fables as are congruous to themselves. If as poet you have to represent the renowned Achilles; let him be indefatigable, wrathful, inexorable, courageous, let him deny that laws were made for him, let him arrogate every thing to force of arms.”

The counsel seen in this is a demand for truth, not simply of physical actions but of emotional and mental state.  Write that man as he genuinely was- valorous and flawed all at once. Write the disciplined hoplite soldier as much as you write the man who wept over the loss of his friends.

In recent decades, this has come to be a problematic thing.  The mistakes and crimes committed by US troops in Vietnam in places such as My Lai gave rise to leftist beliefs that we were all crazy psychopaths unfit to be seen in public.  They chose to portray American GIs as maddened animals unift to do more than fight and die. Rambo and Platoon come to mind as perfect examples of this.

It took the efforts of writers for shows such as Magnum PI to show something different something far closer to reality, something that wasn’t shrieking leftist propaganda and maintain popularity in a day when Jane Fonda still had a job and Hollywood was receiving funding through the Soviets (as it had been since the 1930s.  I also invite you to watch Razorfist’s analysis of the whole mess at this link).  There have been other films and TV shows since (Bluebloods is a great choice) which have helped to change the portrayal of the American GI as something else besides a mad man.  These changes are good, but they cannot be the only occurrence. In literature we must change.

Kameron Hurley’s “The Light Brigade” showed this lack of knowledge.  I read the first 30 pages, curious to see what Hurley had done. I was… bored by how she presented even something as engrossing as basic training.  There were the stereotypes and tropes one usually finds in space opera, but this was done with a genuine lack of emotion. It lacked the vernacular, the humor, the sense of being which is found in a martial setting.  

Boot camp is not simply a factory churning out myrmidons conditioned to take life.  Contrary to such notions, boot camp is a place to pare away such attitudes and behaviors which are prejudicial to good order and discipline.  Boot camp is a place where the lore and history of a branch of service are first laid down. Especially in the USMC. There are justifiable reasons to call us cult members.  And we revel in such behavior. Ask us who the 2 Marines are to receive the Medal of Honor more than once; famous battles, famous individuals, famous events. All of this and the traditions which help define us are first applied here.  In many, this passing of knowledge encourages the lifelong pursuit of learning and knowledge.

Without these items though, you will not have an army worth a damn.  Not at all. A man must have pride in his symbols before he’ll fight for them, must love the color of the banners which he follows before he will lay down his life to protect them.  It is an item too few fail to understand. Hurley’s work shows this lack far too much for me to read past page 30. Had I purchased the book on a whim and taken it home, I would’ve returned it to the store that same day, even if only for store credit.

Write the soldier as he (or she) is, not as you wish to caricature them, not as your narrative demands.  Haven’t served in the military? Start looking through your list of friends for somebody who has. Sit down and ask them questions (bring drinks), listen and be respectful.  See, contrary to popular belief, we will talk. If you show yourself to be trustworthy, we’ll tell you the unvarnished truth about life in the service. What hurt, what sucked, what made us laugh, made us cry, made us mad, made us happy, what made it home for us.  

Write our good points and bad.  Write about the devil-may-cares’, the ne’er-do-wells, the slackers, the fighters, the cheerful warriors, the cynical old men trying to train young boots all the finer points of their profession.  Write us, write the truth of us, and what made us great. If we don’t regret taking the lives of our enemies, don’t lie and say otherwise. It is not the only facet which defines our character, nor our personality.   

Write us, as we are, were, and shall be, not your assumptions.  Write the events we lived through, as we really did it.  Write our humor and what made us laugh in our darkest hours.  Seek the truth, write the truth, without embellishment, and in so doing, you’ll have your story.

24 thoughts on “Write our story as we lived it.

    1. Thank you ma’am.

      Most days I don’t feel that I deserve the praise or thanks. But I appreciate the spirit in which they are given.

  1. Thank you for your service, and for taking the hit on Hurley’s latest. I glanced through it at the store and chuckled at bit much later in the book than you got to where the Evil Military Type (pardon the redundancy) sounding exactly like the leftie stereotype of Evil Conservative Types (again, pardon the redundancy).

    1. And I forgot: her Evil Military has a “final solution initiative”.

      Real subtle there, Hurley.

  2. I agree with your observation about our generation. USN Corpsman OEF 2010 3/1 1stMarDiv here. I’m not a I can be as romantic as you about the whole thing. I’m leaning towards becoming a Coriolanus more and more.

    Also, Hurley sucks. Not even rabid leftists read her garbage, so she begs on patreon.

    1. I understand the feelings of Coriolanus. And there are good points made in that piece of work about how a nation treats it’s soldiery.

      1. Not to mention. A lot of our generation went to college, absorbed the Marxism, and became officers. I’ve been at commands where the majority of the wardroom were rabidly against the President.

  3. Thanks, Jonathon. Memorials…I remember the one and only time my father went to the Vietnam memorial in DC. He walked down, stopped. Looked for a moment and then touched two or three names. He stood there for a couple of minutes and then came back up. My mom, brother and I stood at the end of the walk next to it. My mom had asked us to give him space. Dad looked at us, and said. OK, let’s move on. Last couple of times I’ve been there I’ve tried to figure out which names he found, but it’s almost impossible.

  4. It’s okay for it to be too hard. Or maybe it’s just me. Some things I can do, some I can’t. I thought that visiting the tomb of the unknown soldier was one of the most profound moments of my life. But I’ve always sort of resented the attitude that one ought to watch “realistic” war movies. I won’t do it. I’ve never lost someone close to me in my life yet. (Not beyond grandparents.) I recognize how unusual that is. But when I write that someone did not bother to know the names of security personnel while they lived and now glad not to have that connection now that they’re dead, I’m remembering a war reporter who said that he was glad that he didn’t know names and he didn’t want to know and didn’t want to go to the ceremony with the boots because he couldn’t handle those deaths without distance and how the military people who talked about his report despised him for it. I remember how viscerally angry my fellow airmen were when the Stars and Stripes published the picture of a dead American soldier on the sidewalk in Angeles City, a young man there TDY from Korea and shot by terrorists on the street. They understood that journalists were vultures and it was expected but the Stars and Stripes doing this was a personal betrayal in a way that people couldn’t even really express. I remember US solders in Iraq forming an impenetrable circle around a dead comrade so that the only picture the vultures could take (and did take) was a picture of that wall of men. All of my fake, fictional, militaries have customs and ceremonies even the ones who have to have them secretly. They all have intimate cultures, which may not be secret, but are often ignored or when someone from outside discovers they exist, they’re surprised. Anything else would be a lie.

  5. In my Luna City series, one of the quiet gathering places in a small Texas town is the VFW. I asked my daughter if we had made too many characters in town be veterans, but then we looked around at the neighborhood we live in (suburban San Antonio, where you cannot throw a brick in any direction without hitting half a dozen retired colonels and as many senior NCOs) and started tallying up the veterans … and no, Luna City is not out of the normal range for Texas and the South.
    I purely detested the way that Vietnam veterans were painted, and despise lazy writers and media idiots who tried to do the same to Gulf War veterans now.

  6. Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Mid-morning the Canadian Warplane Heritage was having a ceremony, and their flight path has a turn near me. I watched the Douglas DC-3, the B-25 Mitchel and the Avro Lancaster fly in formation past my house. All are painted in D-Day colours.

    I’m not ashamed to admit that the sight and sound of those aircraft made me cry, the symbolism is that strong. We do not forget.

  7. There was a time when just about every adult male anyone knew was a veteran, or family of a veteran. Now, not so much. Scarce on the ground is easy to demonize. One more thing that mandatory national service might help mitigate, especially if the program is run by veterans.

    BTW the Razorfist vid has lots of good info, but is there a source with a more ‘respectable’ delivery that won’t shock the mundanes?

    1. The only vet I ever met in my family was my great-aunt. She did — something in WWII. The last time we asked we were told “Don’t ask” so all we know is that her unit had riflemen to guard them and she had battlestars from when the battle moved faster than they could evacuate.

  8. Wars are still fought by humans; usually men, occasionally women. As noted many times in many other places, we’re all mostly mundane killer apes with a sprinkling of the Divine. The biggest difference between a soldier (any military person) and a civilian, is that the soldier, eagerly or reluctantly, voluntarily or perhaps coerced, placed him or herself between those who would do harm and those who could not effectively defend themselves.

    1. is that the soldier, eagerly or reluctantly, voluntarily or perhaps coerced, placed him or herself between those who would do harm and those who could not effectively defend themselves.

      This, I fear, it too romantic. Those soldiers who are placing themselves are usually facing other soldiers. Sometimes those other soldiers believe they are doing the same, and other times they neither have nor make any claim to placing themselves between harm and the innocent.

      { Note: I happen to believe that the American soldier (and sailor, marine, airman and coastie) have overwhelmingly been on the right side of that harm-ball. }


      1. Which is another thing that non-vets don’t often get. They don’t get the story about the defeated Iraqi officer left to walk home, cross-country, wearing the clothes on his back, who was saluted by US enlisted at the check points he passed. They don’t get that the Navy honors all ships lost at sea and the crews on them, no matter who’s ship it was. They don’t GET having a drink with your enemy during a cease fire. They certainly don’t get the veterans of the North eventually meeting with and working for reconciliation with those of the South. Too many people who are *not* vets, think that we should hate each other forever. Mostly because they can’t figure out that hate wasn’t what it was about.

  9. I’ve got something i need a few people like you to read to see if it sparks interest… my person to bounce ideas like this off of passed away a few years ago and the friend who is interested… doesnt understand how to be a beta reader much less an alpha reader

  10. I used to cry whenever people sang America the Beautiful, without quite understanding why. But my brother died in Vietnam when I was twelve (medic for the 5th Special Forces). Years later I found a commentary on his funeral and that song was used ( very unusual for a Catholic funeral at that time). I had simply blotted it out.

  11. As child, I was sent to one of the family farms to make myself useful for the summer and earn a bit of money for school clothes. I either ended up working with my Uncle L., who was a Korean vet or my Uncle M.’s family.

    Uncle M. was a crotchety, cantankerous soul who on many days left the work to his son’s and wife. I asked Uncle L. what was wrong with Uncle M.

    He replied, “He was hit at Omaha and nearly died. Still has shrapnel in him. Deal with it.”

    Even though I had read history books and seen documentaries, I had no idea what Uncle M. went through until decades later when I saw “Saving Private Ryan” and almost broke down.

  12. War changes a man. I never met him but my uncle Charles was another cantankerous old boy. My older siblings tell me stories of him like when they went to visit him my dad wouldn’t let them go in the house until he went in first. Apparently uncle Charles had a habit of rigging knives by the front door so they would fall when the door was opened. Uncle Charles had a small garden and planted some of the seed by loading them into a shotgun shell and firing them into the ground. Quite a character. That’s the image I had of him while growing up. Later on I read some of his letters home during WWII. He doted on his nieces and nephews, always asking them how they’re doing and to listen to their parents. He told the boys more than once to stay in school and not to enter the service. I guess he didnt want them to experience what he was experiencing at the time. The person that wrote those letters was not the same person who returned after 4 years over seas fighting. War changes a man.

  13. All of us come back different. Point of fact. And many times that is hard for the families to understand. It’s not always PTSD, but the fact that we have faced death and come away changed.

  14. Ask a veteran. That is how Stephen Crane wrote Red Badge oif Courage. He talked to veterans. Starting with his instructor, who introduced him to others. The result was so good other veterans presumed he was a combat veteran. Some even thought he served in the same unit as the.

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