A few weeks ago I attended a showing of an 85-year-old WWII veteran’s home movies of sorts. Actually, he had put together a film documenting his war experiences. His photos, along with a helpful map or two, were strung together and he then narrated his story and turned it into a movie. He flew transport planes and fortunately didn’t see combat, but he still had plenty of stories. Like being frightened by what turned out to be little wallabys making a huge noise stomping through grasses at night, and coffee tasting like the iodine tablets put into rainwater collected in lister bags and used for drinking. Of being taken for a ride by a buddy who told him to take over the plane’s controls while he leaned out the window with an Al Capone-type submachine gun to strafe a nearby Japanese base, just for fun. The former military men in the audience were disappointed not to see his 25 photos of plane artwork, but he said they were not fit for women and children to see . . . something about “oversexed guys.”
Perhaps this veteran’s big claim to fame was that he was sent to Seoul to fetch the Japanese government officials there back to Tokyo—they came peacefully because they were afraid the Koreans would kill them. Meanwhile his buddy flew the first Americans to Hiroshima to study the damage. While the veteran said he always felt safe, others in the audience piped up to remind us he had to fly without proper maps and even in bad weather. The veteran was in the first group of American planes to fly into Tokyo after the war, but was the only one to make it as he noted a landmark and altered course while the others depended on their improper maps and crashed.
I don’t know what kind of program the veteran used to make his film. He divided his story into three parts and showed us Part II. Part I was about his training and Part III was the notorious nose art—I think he sent a copy to a museum somewhere. A few years ago, I made a set of family-story movies using the free Windows Movie Maker; Macs have their own version. The movie I made is the flipside of this veteran’s story, that of a Japanese-American internment experience followed by what it was like to live in bombed-out Hiroshima right after the war. I edited a lengthy videotaped interview, broke it into sections, and incorporated photos and added a little bit of music during the titles and the ending credits. Windows Movie Maker is a pretty amazing program for being free. See my old blogpost Windows Movie Maker Makes You Look Professional. I should write an updated version.
Veterans Day is tomorrow, and November is National Life Writing Month. Maybe it’s time to capture your favorite veteran’s stories. Be sensitive to post-traumatic stress, though. Me, I’m putting together a Korean War memoir for a new friend. In July I submitted what I had done with Chapter 2 so far to the Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Vol 2, anthology and it was accepted! My friend is excited and will read an excerpt this Friday at one of the book release events. If you’re in St. Louis, stop in and listen to some powerful stories – see the Warrior Arts Alliance Facebook page for info. There will be a Volume 3 next fall, so if you know a veteran, warm up your typing fingers or let him or her know to get writing! See Lifewriting Questions for Veterans under the Resources tab above to get started.
Salute to all veterans! Thank you for your service.