Missouri Passages: Veterans Write to Recover

Veterans Write to Recover

Deborah Marshall, Missouri Warrior Writers Project/Warriors Arts Alliance

They come to tell their stories.

The ones they know are hidden inside them. The ones they do not reveal because they will be too painful. The stories they won’t tell their families or friends because they fear they will be unfairly judged. Some paint poetic portraits of a world where beauty and love reign. They seek hope, acceptance and understanding. Some write to save their lives.

They are the military veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Korea and Vietnam. They are veterans who have served in other places and are interested in storytelling.

We are the members of the writing community who provide these veterans the tools and encouragement they need to accomplish their goals, whatever they may be. We are not therapists, although we know that creativity, writing and art are all capable of healing. We are volunteers who share our love of the writing craft. We are not judges. We are observers. Sometimes we instruct and offer feedback. Together, we listen as everyone shares their writing, our stories sometimes tough to hear as they expose personal loss and suffering and our frailties as humans. Rawness and sensitivity. Tears and laughter. Acceptance and applause. Fellowship and trust.

During the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to accompany a group of soldiers from Ft. Leonard Wood’s Warriors Transition Unit on a fishing trip to the North Fork of the White River. All had volunteered to serve in Iraq. Three of the group had received physical injuries from which they had recovered. All but one of the nine had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Each had a story they wanted to tell, so as a journalist, I encouraged them to tell me their stories throughout those few days just before the Fourth of July.

It was difficult to hear the hellish, horrific stories coming from such young, inexperienced voices, many who are younger than my own children.

Our newest veterans, like the veterans before them, come from cities, small towns and farms. They are the kids down the street, the ones we go to school with, the ones we marry, the ones we do business with. Many return home to face challenges and difficulty coping outside the structure of the military. Hopes of reconnecting with families and becoming productive members of the community are difficult because families and communities change also. Spouses find new friends. Children grow. Parents suffer strokes and need to be cared for. Factories close and unemployment rises. Many of our newest veterans have not held jobs outside the military, so new goals are yet to be determined.

As a writer, I know journaling and writing prompts serve as guides for self-discovery and understanding. I know stories inform and educate, whether they are told through poetic images, narrative or through fictional characters. I know writing heals.

As a Missouri community member, I consider our creative writing workshops led by volunteers only one way to reciprocate to those who have served.


Veteran’s Excerpts

At the close of the most recent creative writing workshops at Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center, participants were asked to share what being in the workshop means to them. These remarks were shared by three of the veterans.

“I want to leave something tangible behind, the words of me beyond your recollections growing vague by the year. I want to record my victories, my learning, my loves, and the places I was broken, those healed and not. What I want to leave behind is the unknown truth of me, a human as human as any other. I want to leave behind hope with the stories of how close I came to dying, how I endured, how I prevailed in all the unvarnished, inelegant beauty of it. I want to reassure you about me.”  Jay Harden

“Writing helps me see the good, bad and ugly I am experiencing much clearer. It helps me to understand the intrusive thoughts, fears, anxieties, and flashbacks. Words can be whimsical, thought-provoking, inspiring, and beautiful, taking me to beautiful places which soothe my soul.” Velma Bess

“Words give us the strength to look at suffering objectively, so we may set it aside and out of us. Words become a focus and writing becomes something physical you can tear up and burn. Words help others to feel what you are feeling, so they can understand and be closer to you. They help you feel less alone.” Jonathan Dyer


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