Anatomy of a Soldier – November 7th (note: change of date)

anatomy

There will be a change of venue for our next meeting!  On Tuesday evening at 5:30 we will be gathering in the 3rd floor conference room 301 at the IU South Bend Franklin D. Schurz Library.   

We will be discussing, Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker.  This novel takes a unique conceit of being told entirely from the perspective of 45 inanimate objects that play a role in the story of a soldier seriously injured by an IED.  The novelist, Harry Parker, is a British soldier who lost both his legs in Afghanistan.  He has since completed a postgraduate degree in fine art at the Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch.  An article about the author can be found at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/harry-parker-losing-my-legs-in-afghanistan-was-like-losing-a-lov/

Rodger Pinto, the campus President of the Student Veterans Organization will lead our discussion.  His insights will give us a deeper understanding of a more recent conflict.   

 

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“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.