There's No 'Right Time' To Share Your Personal War Story

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U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kim Browne

I don’t recommend living life out of fear, but fear is something we cannot seem to avoid. Whether we worry about climate change or something more immediate such as a personal ailment, the dangers to our well-being are real and should not be underestimated, which is why we should not wait to share our life experiences with others.


A feature documentary I watched recently highlights this point rather well. “Good Ol’ Freda” is a 2013 biopic about Beatles’ fan club secretary, Freda Kelly. In the doc, Kelly talks about staving off her son, Timothy, who wanted to know more about her past for years. It wasn’t until Timothy died and her grandson Niall was born that she agreed to talk. According to The Guardian, Kelly was persuaded in the end to tell her story by her daughter, who said, “Your memory box is going now – do it before the dementia sets in.”

When we’re younger, we think we’re invincible, and when we’re older, we suffer from a similar problem: We put things off, thinking that we’ll be able to attend to them at a later date, not realizing that we are lucky if we get the chance.

Related: The tragic truth about accidental deaths in the military »

Kelly was the Beatles’ secretary from 1962 to 1972. In other words, she was there for the music group’s rise and fall. But she herself didn’t think there was any value to it, saying, “Who wants to hear the secretary's story?" And this is part of the problem: Realizing one’s own value.

When I returned from Iraq in 2004, I didn’t think that there was much, if anything, to talk about. To this day, I still don’t think I went to war. On two separate occasions, my vehicle was hit with an IED, but I was never assaulted with sustained attacks such as small arms and RPG fire; and therefore, I never had to fire my weapon in self-defense. In other words, I had served in a combat zone, but I did not serve in combat. Despite this, it does not mean I do not have any stories to share.

It took me more than five years to realize this. Although I started attending free writing workshops for veterans beginning in 2009, I was initially in denial. My military experiences were not the most positive. So, I did my best to distance myself or disassociate myself from them. This is not uncommon for quite a few veterans I know. Unlike other veterans, however, I got lucky. Eventually, the stories I read in these workshops and elsewhere crept in. Although I was not a fan of the likes of Ernest Hemingway, for example, stories by him and others moved me and forced me to revisit the stories I had read in college or high school and did not necessarily appreciate then. These stories – as well as more contemporary ones – forced me to confront my own experiences.

Then finally, in January, I published my first piece of journalistic writing related to my experience as a grunt in Iraq. The piece received a good deal of praise from former members of my unit, and you could say that I wrote it in part for them. But the real reason I wrote about the death of Sgt. Garrison, and others, was for my daughter, who was born in late December.

I still have a lot of work to do as a veteran, as a writer and, now more importantly, as a parent. Most of us have a lot to do. My only hope is that we have enough time left.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

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