We've heard from the politicians and the pundits.
Now it's time to hear from the troops and their loved ones.
The first book of its kind, OPERATION HOMECOMING (Random House; September 12, 2006) is the result of a major initiative launched by the National Endowment for the Arts to inspire U.S. Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen and their families to share their personal wartime experiences. Never before has the U.S. government asked troops and their loved ones to write candidly about war, as well as life in the military, from their perspective.
Encouraged by such authors as Tom Clancy, Mark Bowden, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Jeff Shaara, and Marilyn Nelson, who visited military bases throughout the U.S. as part of the larger "Operation Homecoming" initiative, American troops and their loved ones wrote openly about what they saw, heard, and felt while in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as on the home front.
Almost 100 uncensored and never-before-published eyewitness accounts, private journals, short stories, letters, e-mails, poems, and other personal writings are featured in the book, and they show an extremely intimate and human side of war, including:
- the fear and exhilaration of heading into battle
- interactions between U.S. forces and Afghans and Iraqis, both as friends and foes
- boredom, gripes, and humorous incidents of day-to-day life in a war zone
- the anxiety and heartache of worried loved ones on the home front
- the brutality of warfare and the physical and emotional toll it takes on combatants
- tearful homecomings and somber ceremonies for those who returned to the States alive - and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
From riveting combat accounts to profound reflections on warfare and the pride these troops feel for one another, OPERATION HOMECOMING offers an unflinching and intensely revealing look into the lives of extraordinary men and women. Their words represent the stories that have yet to be told and the voices that have yet to be heard.
Andrew Carroll will embark on a more than 30-city book tour throughout the U.S. and overseas. Right after Veterans Day (November 11), Andrew will travel to military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Germany to hand-deliver copies of Operation Homecoming to troops who have writings in the book. U.S. cities include (and more are likely to be added as the tour continues):
Colorado Springs, CO
Los Angeles, CA
New Orleans, LA
New York, NY
San Diego, CA
|San Francisco, CA
St. Louis, MO
West Point, NY
For specific dates and details, please visit: www.OperationHomecoming.gov
To request an interview with Andrew Carroll, Chairman Gioia,
and/or writers featured in the book, please contact Jynne Martin at 212-572-2476
ANDREW CARROLL, editor of Operation Homecoming, is the editor of several bestselling books, including Letters of a Nation, Behind the Lines, and War Letters, which was also a PBS film. Carroll is the founder of the Legacy Project (www.WarLetters.com), a national, all-volunteer effort that works to honor veterans and active-duty troops by seeking out and preserving their letters and e-mails. Carroll has been profiled on Oprah, Nightline, and CBS Sunday Morning, among many other programs, and he currently lives in Washington, D.C. He edited Operation Homecoming entirely on a pro bono basis.
DANA GIOIA, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, authored the preface to Operation Homecoming and came up with the idea for the larger "Operation Homecoming" initiative. A poet, critic, and bestselling anthologist, he is one of America's leading contemporary men of letters.
PROCEEDS FROM OPERATION HOMECOMING WILL BE USED TO PROVIDE ARTS AND CULTURAL PROGRAMMING TO U.S. MILITARY COMMUNITIES.
OPERATION HOMECOMING - On sale: September 12, 2006 - $26.95 - ISBN: 1-4000-6562-3
September 11, 2001: Just a few feet inside I almost stumble over a lady crawling towards the door. She can't stand up, and I try to lift her, but I'm having trouble because sheets of her skin are coming off in my hands. I call for help, and two Army officers respond immediately. Then, as we hear -and feel- a series of secondary explosions just a few yards away, the three of us half-carry, half-drag the woman to the top of the hill, where we place her by the maintenance worker as a second ambulance arrives.
- William J. Toti, U.S. Navy, who survived the terrorist attack on the Pentagon (p. 4).
Brothers (and Sisters) in Arms: A quick look around my tent will show you who is fighting this war.... There's Melissa and Mike, two sergeants who got married inside the Ft. Dix chapel a month before we deployed-so in love, yet forbidden, because of fraternization policies, even to hold hands in front of other soldiers. But if you watch them closely, you can catch them stealing secret glances at each other. Sometimes I'll see them sitting together on a box of bottled water tenderly sharing a lunch.... If they were on a picnic in Central Park, instead of here, surrounded by sand and war machines, it would be the same. War's a hell of a way to spend your honeymoon.
- Ryan Kelly, U.S. Army, writing to his mother from Kuwait (p. 23).
Sacrifice: Next to the Humvee is a silver metal trash can with the smoldering remains of the rags and bloodied equipment that couldn't be cleaned, such as the dead soldier's boonie cap and his used compression bandages.... A fragment from the bomb hit him in the back of the neck, severing his spinal cord. I can't imagine how scared he must have been in those final moments as he saw his life slowly slipping away, bleeding to death and beginning to lose motor function. He was a private, twenty-two, and had only joined the unit about eight days earlier. It was his first mission out into the city.
- Robert Swope, U.S. Army, chronicling the aftermath of an IED attack (p. 255).
Friends and Foes: Now I had never in my pitiful life knowingly exchanged pleasantries over lunch, or any other meal for that matter, with a man who was regularly trying to kill me. But when Bill invited me to escort him to the castle for his first meeting with Audin, I jumped at the opportunity. The idea seemed so elegant, like the medieval Spaniards and Moors retiring to each other's tents to play chess and exchange bon mots after a bloody day of battle and slaughter.... We were literally making a kind of feudal social call. Although this situation was less straightforward, as Zia Audin was technically on our side. And anyway, I really wanted to see the inside of that castle.
- Clint Douglas, U.S. Army, describing a surreal lunch that he and another soldier had with an Afghan warlord who was working with both the Taliban and the Americans (p. 73).
Meeting the Enemy: Before the war, the U.S. military handed out decks of playing cards to the troops that had the faces of these “most wanted” Iraqis, which is why the facility that keeps them is called the House of Cards.... I spoke with a guard who worked in the Face Card section from its inception. The guard's impressions of the prisoners were that they were all extremely intelligent and well-educated individuals who had studied at the finer Western universities in the United States and Britain. The guard noted that there was a pecking order within the deck of face cards and that some of the prisoners were genuinely upset that their likeness did not rate a higher card than other inmates.
- Terry Moorer, U.S. Army, who served as a JAG in Iraq (p. 109).
Humor: We work with a lot of Turks and Iraqis, especially Kurds... One of our guys brought his guitar around to the guard shacks and played some American music for them. Sometimes they'd try to join in. You haven't lived until you've seen a bunch of Iraqi soldiers, complete with AK-47s, sitting around and singing with gusto as they mangle the Beatles' "Let It Be."
In times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom... Little Pea.
They really got into it.
Little Pea, Little PEA! Little Pea, yeah Little Pea... Whisper words of wisdom, Little Pea.
That was a good day.
- Sharon D. Allen, U.S. Army (p. 155).
I used to say
"You are cutting down an entire forest with your snoring."
Now without it
Bedtime seems boring
I recorded you
The last time you were here
Call me crazy
But I play it from time to time
Just to keep you near
- Billie Hill-Hunt, wife of a U.S. soldier deployed in Iraq (p. 198).
Military Husbands: Over time, I learned how to be a father and a mother. It does not always go well. Sociologists and psychologists would have an absolute blast in my home. I could write a book about what not to say to young children. I've said them all in just a few weeks. The good news is that I don't think that I have scarred them permanently. I start each day with "I love you" and end it the same way. At night they sneak into my bed, kiss me quietly, and whisper, "I love you, Daddy." This is a new world where our mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives go to war. Gentlemen, we had better get prepared.
- Peter Madsen, husband of a U.S. soldier deployed to Iraq (p. 219).
The Wounded: I had brought Charles' clothes home from Walter Reed to wash. Everything had gone through the wash and dry cycles and I had dumped the freshly laundered clothes onto the bed to fold them. It was late and I was quite weary, so I wanted to finish and get to bed to try for a better night's sleep than I've been having lately. I found one sock... just one. I folded all the rest of the clothes and still, just one sock. Without even thinking, I walked back to the laundry room and searched the dryer for the mate. Nothing was there. I looked between the washer and dryer and all around the floor, in case I'd dropped the other sock somewhere during the loading and unloading processes. Still, my tired and pre-occupied brain didn't get it. As I walked back to the bedroom with the one sock in hand, it hit me like a punch to the gut. There was no other sock. There was also no other foot, or lower leg, or knee. I stood there in my bedroom and clutched that one clean sock to my breast and an involuntary moan came from my throat; but it originated in my heart.
- Myrna Bein, mother of a U.S. soldier injured in Iraq - and who wants to return (p. 331).
Heroism: Your son was killed in action today. Despite intense enemy machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire, your son fought like a lion. He remained in his fighting position until all his wounded comrades could be evacuated from the rooftop they were defending. It was during his courageous defense of his comrades that Aaron was hit by enemy fire.... With the exception of the Marines on Security, every man in the company attended the service. Aaron was respected and admired by every Marine in his company. His death brought tears to my eyes, tears that fell in front of my Marines. I am unashamed of that fact.
- Douglas Zembiec, U.S. Marine Corps, writing to the mother of Aaron C. Austin (p. 243).
A Mother's Grief: Not a day goes by that I don't think of you. I never knew that love could hurt so much. There are so many things that spark a memory of you-a song, a boy in a baseball cap and baggy pants, a skateboarder. I wish I could spend another summer at the cabin with you. I know that when you were there you were in heaven. When I think of you now I know that you are on the lake fishing with your friends and I know that someday I can join you. Until then little man I love you and I hold you close to my heart. Love, Mom
- DeEtte Wood, writing a final letter to her son, Nathan, a U.S. Marine KIA (p. 365).
Coming Home: As I walked off the plane, I was taken aback; in the small, dimly lit airport, a group of elderly veterans were there waiting for us, lined up one by one to shake our hands. Some were standing, others were confined to wheelchairs, and all of them wore their uniform hats. Their now-feeble right hands stiffened in salutes, their left hands holding coffee, snacks, and cell phones for us. As I made my way through the line, each man thanking me for my service, I choked back tears. A few of them appeared to be veterans of the war in Vietnam, and I couldn't help but think of how they were treated when they came back to the U.S., and yet here they were to support us. These soldiers-many of whom who had lost limbs and comrades-shook our hands proudly, as if our service could somehow rival their own. We later learned that this VFW group had waited for more than a day in the airport for our arrival.
- Michael A. Thomas, U.S. Army, describing his return trip from Iraq (p. 322).
Coping: Until I came home and watched as other friends wrestled with their emotions, it was the first time I had seen how debilitating weeks of trauma and stress can be. I was fortunate because my wife supported me during my angry, confused, and sleepless times. I cannot thank her enough for this, and she has always been there for me and never stopped loving me.... This is perhaps the most important thing any loved one or friend can do. Those of us coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan are not looking for sympathy. We might be reluctant at first to talk about what we've been through, good or bad, and some troops might never be able to open up, which is certainly their right. There are also things about war that people will never comprehend unless they have experienced them firsthand. But I hope that those who need to will reach out, and it's helpful knowing that there are people who care about us and are at least making an effort to understand. Your support has made this journey an incredible one for me, and I couldn't have gone through it alone. Thanks for joining me and thanks, above all, for listening.
- Parker Gyokeres, U.S. Air Force, e-mailing friends and family after coming home (p. 369).
All material ©Copyright The Legacy Project, 2005