“War is profane”

Wendell Affield, the author of tonight’s book club selection, Muddy Jungle Rivers will be leading our discussion.   Librarian Rhonda Culbertson interviewed Mr. Affield on the phone recently to learn more about him and his book.  Here is what she learned:

Mr. Affield is soft-spoken and articulate.  His voice has the distinctive cadence and faint accent that reminds me of his generation of the Minnesotans I grew up with.  He and his wife live near Bemidji, Minnesota, in a log cabin overlooking a small lake that flows into the nearby Mississippi River.  A pair of swans are summer residents, and great entertainment.

He had a difficult childhood on a small farm in Northern Minnesota.  Both his mother and stepfather struggled with mental illness.   At 17 he enlisted in the Navy, and while still a teenager he was deployed to Vietnam during the Tet offensive, as a member of the Mobile Riverine Force.  He piloted an armor troop carrier through the delta of the Mekong river and then on the Cua Viet River, just south of the DMZ.  He was seriously wounded in an ambush and was  medevaced off the river.  Later he was brought back to the United States for rehabilitation and therapy for his injuries.  The emotional and psychological wounds took longer to heal.  Not until retirement did he begin the process of writing his memoirs.  He started attending classes at Bemidji State University to learn the craft of writing.  Over a period of ten years he honed his collection of memories and stories into a book.  Considering the vividness and detail of his writing, it is surprising that Mr. Affield did not keep a diary during his time in Vietnam.

Mr. Affield and I also talked about some of the moral and ethical challenges faced by soldiers in combat situations.  Although he entered the navy with a fairly limited picture of the larger world, he felt that his childhood on a small farm and growing up near Red Lake Nation, an Ojibwe reservation north of Bemidji, gave him insight into the agrarian existence of the Vietnamese peasants.  He was able to empathize with their plight, and imagine how people in his own community might react to the violent intrusions of war.

He feels fortunate that he did not have to fight in a context where he had to be the first to fire, or where the difference between soldier and civilian was blurred.  He has a great deal of empathy for current soldiers who are fighting terrorists in an arena where the distinction is not always clear.  One of the most gratifying aspects of sharing his story has been the contacts he has made with other veterans, many through social media.  Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress are particularly drawn to his talks and workshops.  He makes sure to have information about local veteran resources at all of his appearances.

Mr. Affield feels that writing can be a powerful healing tool for anyone dealing with trauma; not just veterans.  Several times he mentioned that the act of writing the trauma down ‘puts boundaries’ around an event, and allows the writer to start making sense of the traumatic injuries and to approach them more dispassionately.  He recommends the book, Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story, by Ron Capps as an aid for those who would like to record their own experiences.

He hopes that accounts like his can help us, as a country, learn from the past.  While reading H.R. McMasters’ Dereliction of Duty, Affield was outraged at the hubris and lies made by national leaders in the early 1960s—deception that dragged this country into the Vietnam War. He hopes that Mr. McMasters remembers what he wrote while serving as National Security Advisor for the current administration. .

Mr. Affield closed our conversation with an anecdote.  He wanted to place copies of his book in his former business place. He felt he needed to warn the owner, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, that there was profanity in the book.  The owner took a long look at the author and said, “Wendell, war is profane.”


Next book: Muddy Jungle Rivers

Author Wendell Affield will be at our next meeting on Tuesday, April 18 at 5:00 pm to discuss his memoir, Muddy Jungle Rivers.  This event, which is free and open to the public, will be held  in the Bridge area on the 3rd floor of Wiekamp Hall.

Mr. Affield was 17 years old when he enlisted in the Navy, and was sent to Vietnam. His memoirs describe the harrowing experiences of a teenager in challenging and sometimemuddys overwhelming combat situations. He was wounded in an ambush while driving a river patrol boat.  Later in life, Mr. Affield enrolled as a university student and started the process of writing his memoirs. The resulting  book is an engrossing first-hand account that vividly portrays his experiences, and eloquently describes the moral and emotional effects of those experiences.

At this book club meeting, Mr. Affield will share and answer questions about his military experience, his writing process, and subsequent work with students and veterans.

Copies of the book (call number: DS558.7 .A34 2012) can be checked out at the IU South Bend Schurz Library, or by contacting Vicki Bloom at vdbloom@iusb.edu. For questions or to rsvp, please contact rculbert@iusb.edu.

Next meeting: Thurs, October 20

We are so excited that David Chrisinger, the editor of our next book selection will be coming to campus for our next book club meeting at 5pm, October 20th in the Fireside Grill.  He was instrumental in publishing  Sedavid-chrisingere Me For Who I Am, a collection of stories written by student veterans.

Email me at vdbloom@iusb.edu to get a free copy of the book.

Also check out Mr. Chrisinger’s website, Stronger at the Broken Places: Student Veterans and the Long Walk Home from War.



Discussion topics – Fire & Forget

We will be focusing on two stories in Fire & Forget:

 Tips for a Smooth Transition, by Siobhan Fallon  (chapter 2)

Unlike the other stories in Fire and Forget, the soldier is threatened by something other than war.  The author said in an interview, “I want the reader to wonder who is more unhinged by the deployment/marital separation: the guilt-ridden wife or the returning soldier?”  Both the soldier and his wife struggle with conflicting expectations of homecoming.  Will they maintain their marriage or go their separate ways?   We, as readers, are also unsure how this story will end.

  • How would you characterize Colin, the returning soldier?
  • What was your reaction when he jumped into a pod of Galapagos sharks during their Hawaiian vacation?
  • As for Evie, did you want her to succeed in hiding her infidelity from her husband?
  • Her reaction to being surrounding by sharks was strikingly different.  Why?
  • Do you think this couple will make it?

– Redeployment, by Phil Klay (chapter 3)

In an interview , the author said that, “Leaving the Marine Corps was more disorienting than returning home.”  He found difficulty being around civilians after being surrounded by Marines.

  • How does that compare to your experience, or to the experiences of veterans you know? How did you/they  “decompress”?
  • Through his main character, the author expresses a lot of frustration about civilian apathy.  In the story he notes that shopping is how America fights back against the terrorist.  How do you think civilian citizens view the war?
  • The narrator starts the story “we shot dogs” and ends with the shooting of his beloved family pet.  Even though he says that “something in me is going to break if I do this,” he does it anyway. Were you surprised by the ending?

Several copies are available at the Schurz Library – call number PS648.W34 F57 2013.   We also have a few to give away!

Pictures from 2nd Book Club meeting

It was great to have such a wide variety of attendees — student veterans, veteran and non-veteran faculty,  deans, and administrators, alumni, and veterans from the community, including Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend and  Brian Pawlowski, the mayor’s former Deputy Chief of Staff and now Assistant Executive Director of Community Investment/Director of Business Development. We had a wonderful discussion and are looking forward to our next meeting in April.

February Meeting scheduled

Join South Bend’s Mayor Peter Buttigieg and Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Pawlowski for the next Veterans Book Club!

Book:  Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families, edited by Andrew Carroll. This book is a collection of shared stories, letters and experiences that tell the story of America’s military through their eyes.

Copies will be available for checkout at the Franklin D. Schurz Library, call number (DS79.76 .O634 2006) and free copies are on order for key groups and individuals.

** For your convenience, several excerpts from Operation Homecoming are available online under the page, Operation Homecoming listed on the right.

Date:  Wednesday, February 10th

Time:  5:30-7:00 pm

Location:  IU South Bend – Administration Building, Fireside Rooms near the Campus Grille.

Snacks, hot drinks, and free parking provided

Veterans, current military and reservists, and family members are welcome.