For veterans, the preserving of their military memories, especially of war-time or battlefield, often isn’t easy. It’s not like preserving memories of meeting the girl that would be “the one” or the innocent hi-jinx of childhood. Even talking about their memories can be difficult. What many veterans are finding, however, is that writing their stories and documenting their military memories and service can be therapeutic. It can also be easier than talking about them.
For most Americans, the sight of our flag evokes pride and patriotism. For veterans, it can also evoke wartime memories.
Why Military Memories and Stories Matter
- Writing is truly therapeutic. “Secrets lose their power when you share them,” explains Mike Novotny, a writing instructor at the Bellingham (WA) Vet Center. This not only helps the veteran, but the family members who have had difficulties understanding their loved one’s reticence. When written, these military memories can bridge communication gaps.
- In our society, despite the fact that we have been at war, military service is not a universal experience. For many of us, our understanding and our visual images of battlefields comes from Hollywood and video game producers. Ron Capps explains, “We write to bear witness.”
- Veterans’ memories teach patriotism. A decade ago, our church was debating the appropriateness of the American flag on the pulpit in our sanctuary. A group of WWII veterans spoke about how, as a result of their wartime experiences, the US flag came to embody not just freedom, but their faith as well. Many of us were struck by how meaningful it would be for these veterans to tell their stories to school kids. We enjoy hearing older generations tell about their military memories, whether they were deployed stateside or overseas.
Resources for Veteran’s Writing about Their Stories
Increasingly, the recognition of the importance of veterans’ memories is accompanied with help for them to tell them.
- Since 1952, Veteran’s Voices has recognized the value of veteran’s stories and have helped vets write about their military memories. In fact, if you’re a writing expert, you can volunteer to help. If you’re a veteran who is already writing, you can submit your pieces for publication or to win recognition. 
- National Intrepid Center of Excellence, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, is finding that writing about battlefield memories may help many veterans suffering from PTSD. Particularly those patients that haven’t responded to traditional therapies seem to improve with therapeutic writing. The Center of Excellence is conducting a clinical trial on the therapeutic effects of writing.
- Ron Capps, a 22 year veteran, tapped into the healing power of writing about experiences that he was loathe to even share with his wife. After getting his MFA in creative writing, he started the Veterans Writing Project that provides “no-cost writing seminars and workshops for veterans, active and reserve service members, and military family members. This program is helping many to put their military memories to paper. He explains, “We give veterans the skills they need to capture their stories …in an environment of mutual trust and respect. “ A sister site, O-Dark-Thirty publishes a quarterly review of veterans’ and military family members’ writings.
- Similar military writing communities exist in both small and major cities throughout the US. Often, classes take place at local veteran’s centers.
Pro Tip: As with every story, look for mementos and artifacts—insignias, snap-shots, portraits, medals, certificates, and the like.
 Sabri Ben-Achour, “Veterans Write To Cope With Battlefield Memories,” wamu.org, March 2, 2012, http://wamu.org/programs/metro_connection/12/03/02/veterans_write_to_cope_with_battlefield_memories.
 Cecilia Capuzzi Simon, “Warrior Voices,” www.NYTimes.com, February 1, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/education/edlife/veterans-learn-to-write-and-heal.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
 Dean Kahn, “Bellingham Vet Center offers class for veterans who want to write about their time in the service,” www.thenewstribune.com, April 6, 2013, http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/04/06/2543517/bellingham-vet-center-offers-class.html.