It’s nothing new for warriors to write about their experiences in battle. Soldiers have done this for thousands of years. David wrote poetically about his battles with the Philistines, Homer wrote of Troy and Sparta, Dick Winters wrote of his Band of Brothers in WWII, and on and on. We know about these because the experience has been written, documented and passed on for generations.
In my generation’s war, those in Afghanistan and Iraq, the experience is no different. When those wars began, the National Endowment for the Arts brought to the desert writing workshops, encouraging young servicemen and women to tell their stories. They did. And those experiences were compiled in a book titled, “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience”.
Like many books, it was subsequently made into a film. Last night, I had the chance to view the Oscar nominated documentary and spent an hour and twenty minutes glued to the screen, and on the verge of tears. These guys were not only telling their story, they were telling my story, and the story of so many others, too.
The film is powerful. It features select essays and poems written by the guys who were there. These stories are narrated by notable actors including Aaron Eckhart, Robert Duvall and John Krasinski. In some you will laugh, because laughing at the madness and monotony is what we do in war, others you will cringe, because war is disgusting, and in some you will cry, because if you know anyone who has been there, you will know how much grief comes out of it.
Most importantly, the film does not Hollywood-ize war. It’s not glorified here. Do you want to know what it’s like in the deserts of Iraq or in the mountains of the Hindu Kush? Watch this film. These guys know, and their stories are powerful. The film also features notable authors who are also combat vets including Tobias Wolfe, Anthony Swofford and James Salter. As each describes their wartime experiences, in different wars and in different times, you realize that their experience is not unlike your own.
Operation Homecoming is a must see for those who want to know what it’s like “over there” without the filter of the news. It’s powerful, riveting and most of all genuine. You can get it on Netflix.