July 9, 2015

Bridging The Military-Civilian Divide Through Books

By Tayla Burney

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Listening to today’s show on challenges and opportunities for local military members, veterans and their families was a bit nostalgic for me.

Kojo Show producer Tayla Burney with Navy mascot Bill The Goat at the 2002 Army-Navy game.

Kojo Show producer Tayla Burney with Navy mascot Bill The Goat at the 2002 Army-Navy game.

It reminded me of my own days as a Navy spouse (my husband left the service about five years ago) and that military-civilian divide that can seem insurmountable.

One way that I think civilians can gain a better understanding of what it means to serve in today’s military is through reading.

So here’s a still-growing list of some of my favorite books that focus on the military or were written by service members, veterans or their family:

‘Redeployment’ by Phil Klay – This winner of the 2014 National Book Award has gotten plenty of attention and praise, and rightly so. What I love about the short story collection is that it gives you a glimpse into a variety of jobs within the Marine Corps. Not everyone serves in combat roles, but everyone who serves carries their experience -whatever it is- with them. This collection is part of an emerging body of great writing about Iraq and Afghanistan that Klay discussed on the Diane Rehm Show earlier this year.

‘I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles’ by Lily Burana – When I was a military spouse I never quite felt like I fit in with my fellow spouses, as much as I liked many of them. Burana’s memoir made me feel like less of an outlier, since she was a former exotic dancer and punk rocker with anarchist tendencies who fell in love with a Marine. Her honest account of the challenges of figuring out where you fit into a world that’s foreign to you is raw, refreshing and occasionally hilarious.

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk’ by Ben Fountain – This is a simultaneously heart breaking and hysterical novel. It’s now commonplace for service members and veterans to be acknowledged at sporting events, but here they collide with Destiny’s Child and Jerry Jones at a halftime show. The story of Billy and the rest of Bravo Squad unfolds over one Thanksgiving day and could perhaps best be described as ‘Heller-esque.’

‘Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family During a Time of War’ by Alison Buckholtz – This book is a candid account of what it’s like for a family with young children during a deployment. Buckholtz recounts the seven months of her Navy pilot husband’s stretch in the Persian Gulf and the effect it had on her and their two young children back home. Patience, frustration, joy and heartache abound.

‘The Yellow Birds’ by Kevin Power – Here’s a novel from an Army veteran that focuses on the story of John Bartle and highlights the intense friendships and bonds that can develop during service. It’s a frenetic tale that highlights the visceral and psychological in equal measure.

‘In Love and War’ by Jim and Sybil Stockdale – A joint memoir from the Vietnam era, this is great for perspective. Jim, the eventual Admiral Stockdale, was held as a POW during the Vietnam War and his wife Sybil was tireless in her work with wives groups at home to advocate for the men being held and their families. No fictional work could capture a greater love story and it puts the shift in how we perceive our service members and veterans in stark relief.

This list just scratches the surface. In 2013 we talked about the ‘Literature of War’ on the show, and we’ve since talked with authors — most recently here — about veteran’s issues they’re writing about. And writing is a great way for veterans to cope, which we discussed with Ron Capps as well.

Have you read any of my favorites? What would you recommend?

For more on military issues in the D.C. area, reserve your free tickets to a live taping of The Kojo Nnamdi Show with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, at 7 p.m. at the Synetic Theater. 

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