As an author, I regularly do readings and presentations. I read from my published work, four novels and seventeen short stories, but also from manuscripts I’m working on. The venue varies. It ranges from community centers and libraries to schools and veteran organizations.
Sometimes, the day being commemorated dictates the content. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day I read on the National Mall and occasionally at other gatherings celebrating the day. But most often, it is the audience that determines what I’ll say.
My favorite audience is veterans and their spouses. These are folks who know whereof I speak. I see nods and smiles when I talk about time with combat units. These people know what it means to eat C-rations sitting in the dirt, they know what a kaibo (field bathroom) is, they understand terms like fatigue blouse, lock and load, and skivvies. If they’ve been in combat, they know the psychic wounds from watching your buddy die at your side. These are wounds that never heal.
When Vietnam veterans are among my listeners, the bond is palpable. These men—they’re nearly always men—know what it means to have fought in a failed war. They understand the anguish of coming home from combat, with all the soul-wounds that entails, only to be met by mobs who called them “butchers” and “baby killers” and spit on them.
These men are my brothers.