The Deadly Writer's Patrol began innocently enough. A master's degree student at the University of Chicago living in Madison needed a project to fulfill the requirement of a writing class. Lisa called the Vet Center seeking permission to assemble a group of veterans to instruct them in a particular method of creative writing. The Vet Center staff batted the concept around before giving Lisa tacit approval.
Since its inception in 1981, one of the primary objectives of the Madison, Wisconsin Vet Center has been to assist veterans to express themselves coherently and concisely and effectively. Generally we rely on psychotherapy, particularly group psychotherapy, as the modality to allow meaningful self-expression.
Our experience as counselors tells us that even a veteran's "combat voice" may predate military service. We learn the rules and methods of self-expression at home, in school, from peers, cultural and religious background, television, song, and movies and the military. We adopt a style that works to accomplish our goals in each of those settings.
Like every other institution, the military relies heavily on language and proper use of and understanding of that language. However, in the military, only a few people are allowed to speak. Debate is stifled Silent respect is promoted. Mostly the soldier is at a loss how and where to describe war and his/her role. The war remains under wraps and thus seemingly under control.
After Tet of 1968 and the presidential elections of the same year, the military lost its ballast that the cause was just, essential and obtainable. As disheartened veterans began returning in numbers to "the world" and began to speak from their soldier's voices, that world, the government, churches and schools discovered that veterans had a message to convey. Groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War spoke critically. Medals were hurled back into the political face of America. Veterans grew their hair long. Grass roots veterans groups popped up across the country not rallying to the flag but to a belief that the government that induced the war and the military brass that led the war did not share the intensity and destruction of the war.
Of equal strength were those veterans who felt our folly was in not winning the war. We failed to wage war properly.
Yet perhaps an even more numerous group who thought that the war was part of duty and obligation to country existed but stayed out of the fray. Theirs was not to reason why, theirs was but to do or die and later cry.
America went on business as usual while many veterans' lives were stuck in the mountains and rice paddies of Vietnam.
Lisa offered to help veterans purge their disheveled, unvoiced feelings using the constructive and creative techniques of writing. She mentored our writing careers for a semester. Then without a trace she disappeared. We wrote on. One of the original members, Howard Sherpe, dubbed the group the "Deadly Writer's Patrol." We have been meeting for eight years. The current members are: Tom Deits, Jean Duesler, Tom Helgeson, Lisa Photos, Steve Piotrowski, Howard Sherpe, and Craig Werner.
Not all members are veterans but to each the single word "Vietnam" holds deep and deadly meaning. What you are about to read are members' and other invited writers' stories. Vietnam may not be directly mentioned in a story but it is the backdrop, the curtain that rises and falls, the chord that pulls the string.
This is a grassroots project, open to everyone. If you are a Vietnam veteran, I hope you will check it out. If you know a Vietnam veteran, please pass this link along to them and encourage them to subscribe to The Deadly Writers Patrol and, more importantly, to contribute their own thoughts, memories, photos and words to the project. And, even if you are not a Vietnam vet, but are interested in Vietnam and the 1960s, again, please subscribe and consider contributing. Finally, spread the word far and wide. This is a worthy endeavor which deserves wide support... it is good people doing a good thing. I hope you might make the effort to get behind it and help make it a success.