New Hampshire veterans came together in March to explore questions of service and homecoming through a writing and photography workshop presented by New Hampshire Humanities with support from the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the Pulitzer Prizes, and The Mellon Foundation. Veterans worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent David Wood and international photo journalist Andrea Bruce to learn about using words and photos to tell their often untold stories. Here are a few examples, shared with their permission:
The Little Girl at My Door
by Jack Mallory
She doesn’t knock. She comes through the door uninvited. I’ve read hundreds of books about Vietnam—history, analysis, memoir. They don’t explain the little girl.
I was going from Landing Zone Andy into the Vietnamese army base in An Loc. Right outside the defensive wire, I noticed several children. Something wasn’t right. I told my jeep driver to head over there. Half a dozen kids were gathered around a young girl, 10-12 years old, lying under a tree. She wasn’t visibly injured, but pale, motionless, and dead.
Through my interpreter, her friends told me she’d been up in the tree gathering dead branches for firewood. She had triggered a booby trap set up by the local Viet Cong. A grenade, without pin, had been placed in a tin can with a wire strung across the road. They had hoped that the antenna on an American vehicle would hit the wire, yank the grenade from the can, detonate it over the vehicle. A few minutes earlier, the little girl had dislodged the grenade herself. She was apparently untouched, except for a small hole, not much bigger than my thumb nail, right in the center of her chest. She had bled out internally. Not my fault. Not, directly, our fault.
During my year in Vietnam and the years after, as the futility of the war became increasingly apparent, she was a reminder of it all, a refutation of any attempt to justify the war with geopolitical bullshit or the trivia of whose fault it was. She was a dead little girl, in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed in a war that didn’t have to happen. And because I played a tiny part in the making of that war, she came to my door. I had friends who died in the war, I may have killed North Vietnamese soldiers in the war, but she’s the one at the door.
Read the full story HERE.
The Wheels Coming Off the Wagon
by Ginger Munson
It’s 5pm the night before George leaves for a year to serve in the Middle East. He’s not yet packed.
A month ago he sent ahead a footlocker full of extra uniforms, cold weather gear and the required set of civilian clothes. Now it’s down to the every day and the essentials; flight suits, undershirts, personal items, pictures, bluetooth speaker and the odd assortment of crossword puzzles, books and electronic distractors. There is laundry to do. And the seemingly endless gathering of unimportant but useful items he will need but can’t easily get over there: pens, paper clips, stamps, headlight, and maybe a universal power adaptor.
This is not the first time he has packed for a long absence. He knows what he needs and about how long it will take. Somehow avoiding til the last moment gives him both the illusion that maybe it isn’t really happening and the comfort that it won’t be as hard or as long as the last one.
Our oldest son left for college a month ago. He is the lucky one. He escapes the weirdness and resistance which surround George’s last few days at home.
My oldest daughter comes to me just as I am starting to cook dinner. Her close friend has made cookies for George. She wants to come say goodbye and wish him well. I hesitate and try to figure out the timing. Maybe she can come later because I hope for a family dinner. Her curfew gets earlier, our dinner keeps getting later. Several frustrating conversations with my daughter and we still can’t figure out a good time. Eventually it’s too late and the friend doesn’t come over at all.
I don’t know where my younger son is. I am pretty sure he is hidden away in his room, immersed in computer games. It is easier to stick with the everyday habits then to acknowledge his dad’s departure. A gaping hole is about to open up in the fabric of our family. We are never quite ready for it. Denial and avoidance become blessed coping techniques.
My youngest daughter is having a meltdown regarding her Halloween costume. She set it weeks ago. Now, the day before, she is completely changing her mind. She doesn’t say anything about her dad leaving, yet I know her turmoil is the outward expression of the unsettledness within. She wants to go shopping to find a new costume. I am NOT going out shopping the night before my soldier leaves.
George goes outside and begins to mow the lawn. One part of him holds on to the peace and comfort of household chores. The other part tries in vain to check off one more task on the impossible list of items to take care of before he leaves. Put gas in the generator. Write down all the critical passwords. Check the batteries in the fire alarm. Does Grant know how to use the tractor for plowing? No matter how many months there are to prepare, there are never enough days.
I busy myself as well. If I focus on everyone else I won’t have time to feel.
Saying goodbye to my husband for a whole year brings with it a very mixed bag of emotions. I want to hold on tight and not let go. Yet, I’ve begun to build a protective inner wall so I don’t feel the loss too deeply. I respect his dedication to our nation. I appreciate his commitment to his fellow brothers and sisters in arms. I want to be proud. Yet, I want it to be someone else’s turn. I want to be done. With the endless drill weekends, the every four year deployments, the 24/7 hold that Uncle Sam has on him. In a moment of weakness, I want to feel sorry for myself, being left at home to manage the house and keep the family afloat. Yet, he is the one headed to the danger zone and about to live out of a foot locker, sleep on an Army cot, and eat three meals a day in the chow hall for months on end.
An hour and a half later, George is still outside. The kids are starving. We end up eating in shifts as the evening marches on.
It is our last night together, yet we are not together. Each of us dealing with his departure in our own way.
At 9pm I am emotionally exhausted and can’t stay awake. I lie down in our bedroom amongst the t-shirts, boxers, socks and ziplock bags of batteries and charging cords. I beg him to wake me up in an hour so I can spend some time with him.
As the clock edges toward midnight he is finished packing. We spend time together but it is not quality time.
5:30am comes too early the next morning.
by Curtis J. Graham
I’d been out of the Marines for six months. I was twenty-one, and had begun my first semester of college. On my way to classes, I walked past the campus veterans lounge. It was an oversized closet with a computer desk, a plastic potted plant, and a silver mini-fridge with Capri Suns for the veterans to drink. The students inside laughed often. I never went inside. Most of them wore combat boots with blue jeans. They wore t-shirts from the units they’d been in, with pictures of skulls smoking cigarettes. Aces of spades, fanged dogs. I grew my hair long and wore flannel shirts. I was studying literature. I’d recently signed up for a course in war poetry.
In the classroom, students took turns reading stanzas from Brian Turner’s "At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center." The poem was about a veteran walking through aisles and seeing weaponry in household items. The students sat in a circle, reading aloud. They were careful to pause when appropriate, to read with continuity from one line to the next.
In the poem, a box tips over, and nails trickle out like shell casings from a machine gun. Paint spills and expands like a puddle of blood. A student with a comb over read a stanza about dead soldiers lying on the conveyor belt at the cash register. I listened to the description of the body. In the poem, none of the shoppers see what the narrator sees. I set my photocopied page on the table because my hand was shaking. I looked around the room and was conscious of my heart, beating in my ears. My neck sweat. The students kept reading and reading. I grabbed my bag and left the classroom before it was my turn.
I walked down the hall, touching it at intervals. The wall was cool beneath my fingertips.
by Ginger Munson
She is 17 years old. Old enough to be aware of her feelings. Not yet experienced enough to know what to do with them. This is her senior year and Dad will be deployed to the Middle East the entire year. He will miss every holiday, every family dinner, every birthday, every Sunday breakfast. The college visits, the college applications, the college acceptance, and the final college decision. Senior prom, senior project, and even graduation.
I am standing in the kitchen one morning getting ready for work. I hear someone enter the house. Odd to me as it is well past the first bell of school. I look up. I think she has forgotten something so I expect a mad dash to her bedroom. Instead, I see that look in her eyes. I try not to notice her smeared mascara, a casualty of the tears now escaping down her cheeks.
"I just couldn’t do it," she says.
This comes without warning. This comes without reason. It has happened several times since he left.
What else is there to do but reach out and pull her into a tight hug. "Oh, honey. I am so sorry." We hug. We cry. Eventually, we laugh.
I know it will come again. It won’t stop until he returns.