Although he’s the son of a novelist, Benjamin Busch didn’t really find his voice as a writer until he was a marine sending letters home from Iraq.
Busch, an author and actor has been leading a series of workshops called “Talking Service” for veterans and their families at Western Michigan University. The final one of the fall is Wednesday November 9th. Busch came to WMUK in September when he was in town for the first workshop and spoke with WMUK’s Gordon Evans.
Busch attended Vassar and mostly studied the visual arts. He started in film and movies. During his first tour in Iraq Busch would write home. He says using words to describe his experiences made him truly appreciate his father Frederick Busch’s work. During his second tour in Ramadi, Busch says he wrote a letter once a month to friends and family. He says many times “I thought it would probably be the last they would ever hear from me.”
Busch says the arts and military service can live together, and for him they “were interconnected and at a certain point almost interdependent.” As a child Busch says he "wanted to be a knight." His parents were Vietnam war protestors, but Busch says they saw who he was. After three years at Vassar Busch went to officer candidate school, and became a marine.
Busch says his goal in the “Talking Service” workshops is try to show veterans a pathway to discussing their experiences. He says many veterans don’t think that their participation was significant. But Busch says even the most reticent and quiet among them have told stories. Busch says getting them to share can be a challenge. He says “Many of them are haunted ‘til their deaths by the things that they can’t say.” And Busch says many veterans are isolated from people with a shared experience.
Wounded in Iraq
During his second tour, Busch was wounded when an IED was set off as the vehicle he was riding in passed a corner. Busch says he was lucky because he had his back to blast, but still pieces of hot metal went in his arm. Busch says in combat there are both feelings of immortality and doom. When he was wounded, Busch says “I thought, Okay, well I’m definitely going to be killed this time.” Busch says that made getting home the hardest adjustment, “finding comfort in life I didn’t expect.”
Asked about misperceptions about Iraq, Busch calls it a very complicated nation, where he says democracy is “tricky.” Busch says for his second tour, he went back to Ramadi thinking he could fix it. He says “The biggest danger you have is feeling that you have something of value, becoming good at something to the point that you believe you’re necessary.” Busch says the military will always move on without you, but he thought he could change the course of history in a small place.
In between tours in Iraq, Busch’s acting career got a boost when auditioned for a show on HBO that he had not seen, but heard good things about. Busch was cast as Officer Anthony Colicchio in The Wire originally for one line in one episode, but ended up with a recurring role in 18 episodes. After season four, Busch returned to Iraq, then came back for the fifth and final season of The Wire. Busch describes the character as an uncompromising cop. He says being a “bastard on the streets of Baltimore” was the perfect role during and after serving in Iraq.
Living in Michigan
Busch and his family live near the small town of Reed City, it’s close to Big Rapids where his wife is a Russian historian at Ferris State University. Busch says he wanted a big piece of farm land after serving in Iraq. Among his projects has been planting 4,486 trees, one for every U.S. service member killed in Iraq. “I Looked at the list from the Department of Defense, and I planted a tree and I say a name.” Busch says he thought the best thing he could do was replace a life, with something alive “something that would live beyond me.”