This article appeared in The Effingham Daily News on November 10, 2016. You may access the original article here.
EFFINGHAM — Military veterans, especially those who served in combat, have found different ways of dealing with their memories. Some of those ways are less positive than others.
A group of local veterans, however, have found solace and validation through reading an anthology of essays and excerpts. “Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian” includes everything from excerpts from the ancient Greek Iliad to essays related to more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book was published by the Great Books Foundation for the specific purpose of gathering veterans to discuss various readings.
In Illinois, the Illinois Humanities Council has sponsored discussion groups in Aurora, Carbondale and Anna, as well as Effingham.
Lake Land College humanities instructor Tom Caldwell, a veteran himself, has been leading the group through various readings. The series concludes Monday with a visit by writer, poet and combat veteran Brian Turner, who spent seven years as an Army infantryman, including deployments to Iraq and Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Caldwell, a Gulf War veteran who spent eight years split between the U.S. Army and the Illinois Army National Guard, said the group has functioned well.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how this would go when we started.”
Caldwell said one drawback to the group is the absence of younger veterans.
“They would provide a whole different perspective,” he said. “They could talk about a new level of technology and weaponry.”
During a recent session, the group was analyzing a passage written by renowned Vietnam War memoirist Philip Caputo, best known for his best-selling “A Rumor of War.” At one point, the discussion centered upon the My Lai massacre and its aftermath, particularly the trial of Lt. William Calley for atrocities committed at My Lai.
“A lot of people thought Calley was a fall guy for the higher-ups,” said veteran Cliff Klein. Nobody else was ever convicted for atrocities at My Lai.
Caldwell quoted both newsman Walter Cronkite and Caputo toward the end of the discussion.
“Cronkite said this was a war we couldn’t win and Caputo said we didn’t know what we were doing,” he said.
Klein, who served in the Navy from 1961-65, said he liked reading about the differences in eras.
“I joined this group to find out the difference between the service then and what it is now,” he said.
Army veteran John Schimmelpfenning, who served in Alaska from 1954 to 1956, said he liked visiting with fellow veterans.
“I like to keep up my relationships with fellow comrades,” he said.
Bill Grimes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-347-7151, x132.