Catherine Lieb – Listening to Stories of War

Veteran’s Day Nov 11, 2023


What It’s Like to Go to War

During a recent visit, my brother Jim shared a story about coming home from Vietnam, restarting college, falling in love, and deciding to get married.  Our dad had died just before he shipped out to Cam Rah Bay, so the family advisor role fell to our older brother who advised him to get more life experience before he made the leap into marriage.  

Jim’s voice was a mixture of frustration and sadness when he told me this story, an example of the gulf between him and others when he came home from war. Jim felt he had plenty of life experience, married as planned and out of seven siblings from a Catholic family, he is one of two who are still in their first marriages.  As one of the divorced ones, I told him I was happy it worked out for him.  He broke into a chuckle and said, “It wasn’t always easy.”

I recently re-read Karl Marlantes’ book, What It’s Like to Go to War.  Marlantes and my brother were very different people when they went to war.  Marlantes was a gung-ho Marine who led warriors into battle; my brother was a reluctant Air Force enlistee who made life and death decisions every day he was in the tower directing planes to land and take off during the Tet Offensive, the bloodiest period of the Vietnam War.  

What Marlantes and my brother have in common is that both took an oath to the ideals of our democracy, they served their country, experienced great sadness, and had challenges reintegrating into civilian life.  Inviting veterans to tell their stories with humility and respect, without assumptions or prying for details, will honor those who have served on Veterans Day.

Marlantes, Karl, What It Is Like to Go to War, New York: Grove Press, 2011


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