Saturday, November 07, 2015

Between the Lines: Writing Combat

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Dick Westerman and John Dean

Writing certain words can trigger memories. Words like helmet, boots, and shrapnel. Military veterans gather at the Portage District Library on the second and fourth Tuesday every month at 6:30 p.m. for the Combat Veterans Writing Group. They write down memories for ten minutes and then sharing them. The process bonds and heals.

The group was founded in 2009 by Margaret von Steinen, a marketing specialist at the Haenicke Institute for Global Education at Western Michigan University, to help veterans process memories of their war experiences. Dick Westerman, a veteran of World War Two, is one of the group's original members. John Dean, who served in Vietnam, is a new member. Different wars and different times, but the two have bonded with what they share, as have all of the group's members.
“Uncle Sam said I want you,” Westerman says, recalling his draft into the Second World War. He served for 30 months, including with the "Army of Occupation" in Germany after VE Day.
Dean's entry into uniform was different. “My older brother invited me to live with his family in California when I was 15 and go to school there,” he says. “Three days before I graduated, he asked me what I was going to do after graduation. He told me I could (only) stay there until I graduated.”
With no place to stay and no money, and no plans for the future, Dean enlisted with the U.S. Army and the Airborne Infantry to go to Vietnam. He ended up in the military for 20 years.
Dick Westerman and John Dean
Dean and Westerman say they had no previous writing experience, but joined to connect with other veterans. Other members of the Combat Veterans Writing Group served in Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
To commemorate Veterans Day and honor those who did not come home, the group and ...

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