Veterans Day: With deep gratitude and respect for those who have served

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Below, as it is traditional for WitnessLA, we gathered some literary thoughts and also some music for this day:

*First, here is a small clip from Sebastian Junger’s combat narrative, War, which has been widely praised by veterans. Junger is not himself a veteran, but he embedded for 14 months with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne brigade in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.” 

It’s also worth checking out Junger’s follow-up book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, which explores what veterans experience when they come home.

* In his timeless, gorgeous, and soul-searing book The Things They Carried, Vietnam war veteran Tim O’Brien, examines the alternate truths embedded in different soldiers’ experiences of war—the violence of battle, the deaths of friends and comrades, the causing of death oneself.   At a deeper level, O’Brien uses his interweave of fictional narratives to probe the contradictory nature of war itself. 

Here’s a clip. (By the way, if you’ve not read it, consider trying the Audible version read by actor Bryan Cranston.)

In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth.  You can’t tease it out.  You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning.  And in the end, really there’s nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe ‘Oh.’

True war stories do not generalize.  They do not indulge in abstraction or analysis…..War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love.  War is nasty; war is fun.  War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.

The truths are contradictory…

3. And, switching over to music, here is Emmylou Harris singing a song she wrote for her veteran father in an effort to say the things she always meant to say to him. The great American singer songwriter, Guy Clark, who knew her dad, helped her complete the song.

* The late, great John Prine wrote the beautiful and painful song, “Sam Stone,” in the late 1960s after he returned from serving in the U.S. Army in Germany. This composition about the struggles that a veteran experiences when back on stateside, was released when Prine was 24 on his 1971 self-titled debut album. It remained among his most requested songs until his death from COVID on April 7, 2020.

The version below was recorded live in Prine’s 2001 appearance on the PBS concert series Sessions at West 54th.

*And finally, apart from songs and literature, if you want to contribute to an organization that helps veterans, the group Impactful Ninja has put together an excellent 2022 list of 9 highly rated charities and foundations that work with homeless veterans or those veterans who are at risk of becoming houseless.

Leave a Comment