Veterans Day: start a conversation

Thank you to all our military veterans! Our freedoms and those of others around the world ring because of you. Most of us only know about war from what we have read or seen in movies or documentaries, and they can never tell the whole story. We can learn more by asking veterans questions about their time in the military. Honor their lives and their service by caring enough to ask. Below are some generic, benign topics. Start asking and let your veteran friend lead wherever and however deep they want to go.

Entering the military:

  Were you drafted or did you enlist? What year? What branch of service?
  What were your feelings about enlisting or receiving a draft notice?
  What was the reaction of your parents and other family members?

Boot camp:

   Where did you go to boot camp?
   Were you allowed to bring much from home (clothing, books, etc.)?
   How far away from home was it? Were you homesick at all?
   Was the climate different from home; if so, how did you adjust?
   What was a typical day like?
   Was it as strict as the movies show?
   Did you ever get in trouble? What was the punishment?
   What did you do on your time off?

Special Training:

   If you were assigned to special training where were you sent for it?
  Why do you think you were chosen for that, or were you given a choice?
  Did you like it? Was it difficult?
  What did you do on your time off there?

Service assignments:

   Were you told where you’d be stationed, or shipped out without knowing?
   How did you get there and how long did it take? What was ship/plane travel like?
   What did you think of the location(s) of your assignment(s)?
   What were the local people like? Did you associate with them at all?
   What did you do during down time? Leave time?
   Did you get many letters from home? Did you write home often?
   Were you homesick much or did you enjoy the camaraderie or adventure a lot?
   Did you worry much about your girl- or boyfriend/spouse/family back home?
   What did you think about this war? Did you agree with it?

End of war/service:

   What year did you get out of service?
   How did you/others around you react to the end of the war? Where were you?
   What did you do after you got out of service?

These are just some questions I thought of based on my experience creating a family book from my husband’s grandfather’s letters home during WWII and from interviewing and creating a booklet about our elderly neighbor couple’s lives. You will have to alter questions depending on which war your veteran friend was in and his/her type of service. Hope you have a great time chatting!

PS:  If your veteran is interested in saving some of his stories in print or audio, here is a great article by Leila Levinson, “Can the Simple Act of Storytelling Help Them Heal?” (many vets have never told their stories), but look at the end of the article to find programs that support and encourage veteran writing. For veterans in Missouri there is the Missouri Veterans History Project and the Missouri Warrior Writers Project. And I am always happy to offer free consulting to any war veteran wanting do a bit of lifewriting. 

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About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), and cats
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3 Responses to Veterans Day: start a conversation

  1. kathleen says:

    Dear Linda,I know you from the Yahoo Lifewriter's Forum and have followed your comments. So I decided to check out your blog. It is lovely! Your post this week really struck a chord in me as the special veteran in my life, my "greatest generation" WWII father left us last 11/27/10. However, while he was with us, he shared many stories of his life on the USS Augusta. Additionally, his father wrote letters that my aunt compiled into journals to capture the essence of those times. They are treasures. Thank you so much for encouraging others in this post to preserve these memories from the veterans in their families. I echo your message!

  2. Linda Austin says:

    Hi Kathleen, thanks for stopping by and leaving compliments! I'm glad to hear what a storyteller you father was and thrilled to hear what your aunt has done with your father's letters. My next two blog posts will be about military veterans and their childrens' projects. Kathleen, your Memory Writer's Journey is on my blogroll here, and I follow you on Twitter, too.

  3. kathleen says:

    Hi Linda,Thanks so much for your comments. I have subscribed to your blog and will follow you on Twitter so I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts. I appreciate your follow too 🙂

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