The Korean Veterans Book-writing Project continues to unfold. Thirteen high school juniors, each partnered with a veteran, meet weekly. Veterans tell about their war experiences, students ask questions, and the stories grow. We’ll soon be formatting the narrative and photographs into a collaborative book for publication. A reception/celebration is scheduled for May 6.
What these students are discovering, mostly, is shapshots of their veteran-partner’s personal life during a time of war. What they ate. Where they slept. How they bathed. Ways they entertained themselves. How they dealt with homesickness, especially during holidays. What mail meant to them. How they handled a buddy’s death. What homecoming was like. How they coped with the ongoing politics of war after they returned. Comparisons with the teen partners’ lives are stark.
FOOD: Veterans often survived on C-rations and K-rations. They opened a tin and ate, no matter the taste. Our partnering teens mostly eat what they want and when they want. If they don’t like something, they know where to find replacements.
SLEEP: Veterans often slept in fox holes, under protective brush, in one or two-person tents, and in thin-walled unheated barracks, freezing or heat-smothering weather. One blanket per soldier. Teens are able to create their own sleep environments. Music, white noise, soft comforters, blankets and sheets bunched up and crunched to their liking.
BATHING: Veterans, especially on bivouac, took “baths” with as much cold water as their helmets would hold. Or perhaps they jumped into a nearby river or stream, whereas teens often have access to endless showers or bubbly jacuzzis in warm bathrooms.
HOMESICKNESS: Veterans, even years later, recall the pain of being thousands of miles from home and family, the helplessness of existing under the government’s thumb. Teens may recall twinges of homesickness when they attended summer camp or visited Grandma and Grandpa in another state, often short-lived, but not for years at a time.
Perhaps hardest for the teen-partners to grasp is the trauma of senseless deaths of troop-buddies. One day the veteran and his companion are living a hard life side by side, sharing the discomforts of being so far from home, and the next day, one of them is dead. No wonder the veterans often hesitate to become part of this writing group. The pain has been put away for fifty years, and now we’re asking them to revisit it.
Teens sitting across the table from veterans makes the Korean War real as compared to reading about it in a history book, studying dates and statistics about casualties and damage. Teens see and hear actual experiences, with the awareness that the veterans were their age when the war began. The intergenerational benefits expand every week.
Thank you, veterans and students (and their dedicated teacher) for your part in implementing a valuable, unique experience of learning about the price of war. I hope the memories of being in this group stay with you forever.