In the fall of 2009, Kalamazoo writer Margaret von Steinen started a Combat Veterans Writing Group that meets twice a month at the Portage District Library. The group will read from their work at the library Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in honor of Veteran’s Day.
Margaret Von Steinen says she knew for a long time that she wanted to lead a writing group. Experience told her that writing about traumatic experiences can help people process information and find peace and healing, or at least gain some understanding.
"And one day it just popped into my head: What about combat veterans? You've always wanted to know their stories, you've always been reluctant to ask, out of respect, a respecta that I was taught for veterans as a kid," says Von Steinen.
She contacted Marsha Meyer at the Portage District Library with her idea.
"We put the call out and I think my first meeting had five or six vets, and some of them are still with me," Von Steinen says.
Her writing group has been going strong ever since, giving combat veterans a place to share their memories.
"The WWII vets were taught 'go home and don't talk about it, get on with your life,'" says Von Steinen. "They fought in a war they could be proud of , but they come from a generation where you just keep these things internalized. And, from my understanding that's the military approach for how to segue out of war, is you go home and you don't talk about it."
Don Rice of Kalamazoo is WWII veteran and one of the first members of the writing group. one of his pieces tells of his experience at the raising of the United States flag at Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. Rice was a ground air liason with the Marines during WWII. He directed planes to shoot at ground targets. His job was to tell the pilots to fire at the base of color-coded smoke. He says it was a system that worked pretty well, but on some days there were problems.
"One that I never will forget is when he didn't fire," says Rice. "The wind was blowing. I kept saying 'Fire' at the base of the smoke, but the wind was blowing hard and sometimes that wouldn't work and we would kill our own troops."
Margaret Von Steinen says writing about these intense memories of war brings back a lot of feelings for the vets, both good and bad. Bob Short of Kalamazoo served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. he says one of the reasons he joing the Combat Veterans Writing Group was to leave his memories for his children and their children.
"Another reason is simply it has helped me sort out the wide range of feelings that I still carry about the war," Short says. "Very positive things and very negative things. And it's helped me sort that all out and figure out what I feel about certain things and why I feel that way."
The Combat Veterans Writing Group will hold a public reading Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Portage District Library.