With Pen in Hand, Young GIs Find Their Voice

By Blankenship, Janie | VFW Magazine, October 2004 | Go to article overview

With Pen in Hand, Young GIs Find Their Voice


Blankenship, Janie, VFW Magazine


GIs have a clean slate for writing. Stories as simple as getting caught in an Afghanistan sandstorm or befriending the foreign children who hang out near the base are things most Americans will never experience, but want to know about.

A new arts initiative encourages returning troops to express their experiences through the written word.

Since U.S. warriors went in search of the elusive Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and later entered Iraq, great stories have been made. There are accounts of common people doing extraordinary things in foreign lands. These are stories that, until now, would surely go untold.

In April, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched a program to encourage troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to write about their wartime experiences.

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience involves 16 wellknown writers (Tom Clancy and Mark Bowden among them) who visit military bases to conduct workshops and lectures intended to educate GIs in the art of expression by using writing as therapy.

Funded almost entirely by the Boeing Company, the program also is a way to preserve history for future generations through the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

"I think the program is stupendous," Maj. Gen. Douglas O'Dell, the commanding general of the Marines' anti-terrorist brigade, told the New York Times. "It's extremely valuable for its cathartic possibilities, and I hope it will give a voice to what's going to be, in my opinion, a greater generation than the one Tom Brokaw wrote about."

During a workshop at Camp LeJeune, N.C., in July, many of the would-be writers expressed anger at news media and civilian authors for reporting events "inaccurately."

The program's coordinators hope to change all that.

"These are two parts of society that don't ordinarily talk to each other," endowment chairman Dana Gioia told the New York Times. …

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