In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that, of the 16 million World War II veterans that served, 620,000 remain alive. A high number of veteran suicides “…were nearly 60 years old,” reports taskandpurpose.com, who did a commentary on this article.
Meanwhile, a chasm is widening between the older generation and those under 40 years of age. A church will see more committed Senior Adults in Bible studies than people under 40. Stories are becoming lost in the fog of old age as Senior Adults who are unwilling to share their stories, unwilling or unable to learn the technology, or find the memories too painful, become lost in this digital age of communication. Valuable legacies and faith stories open an opportunity for under-40 adults and youth to help record veterans’ experiences and faith stories in blogs and social media. Writing is a proven way to help those with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome).
“As part of his counselling program, Matt was asked to write notes about memories, dreams and incidents he had been involved in – ultimately, the counsellor commented that they were the basis of a good book. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave his experiences into a novel. ‘Wicked Game‘ was the result,” stated ptsduk.org.
With that being said, one inspirational example of recording a veteran’s story for future generations comes from Stephen L. Wilson. He wrote Advising Chiang’s Army: An American Soldier’s World War II Experience in China. This was written about his Uncle Phil, a World War II soldier sent to China to help the Chinese Army who were facing many defeats from the Japanese.
I asked Stephen how his family felt after he had written his Uncle’s life story:
“The book seemed to have the biggest emotional impact on Debra and Jane [two of Phil’s children], who both told me they openly cried when they first read it and learned what their dad had gone through during the war. Phillip and John [Phil’s other two children] were also very interested to learn the details of their dad’s Army service. It was a subject they had never discussed in any detail with him when they were kids or young adults. All four cousins also enjoyed reading about their mother Lois’s early relationship with Phil, which began when the two started writing to each other in early 1944.”
Advising Chiang’s Army recorded Uncle Phil’s letters and day-to-day experiences that his son, John, described as, “Reading the book I flashed on the movies Catch 22 and MASH with thoughts of how operations and the stories in those movies had some similarity to my Dad’s experience.”
Stephen wrote the book due to his fascination of World War II, but he is more interested in the individual soldier’s experience. “Phil’s letters, together with original Army records found at the National Archives, some key books on America’s role in WW II China, and several old newspaper articles and online materials provided excellent sources for the book.”
When I asked Stephen how he would advise a Senior Adult veteran to connect with those under 40 with his war stories, he said,
“I guess my advice to a Senior Adult veteran desiring to connect with the next generation would be to simply tell the story of their service as it happened, without embellishment or exaggeration. I would also encourage veterans to begin their account by providing some general, very basic background information on the “Big Picture” behind their service (e.g. what war, what was the conflict about, who were the main adversaries, how did the conflict end, etc.). In my experience as an adjunct college professor, many in the younger generation do not have this basic knowledge.”
The internet is filled with stories of millennials not coming to church, and the culture reflects the sad lack of the positive influence of grandparents and great-aunts and uncles—the older generation whose upbringing in many ways was not much different than today’s adults (they dated, they divorced, they were married for years, and they experienced sorrow and heartbreak and loss). With so many veterans returning with PTSD, those under 40, your teenagers and young adults, can partner with a veteran, help him or her with the technology, and help them flesh out their experiences in a live journal.
Likewise, veteran groups can seek out youth groups to obtain their volunteer assistance in recording war experiences in a blog or teach these veterans how to use social media so veterans can share their legacy and influence the next generation.
We are quickly losing our window of opportunity with those who lived through World War II. Don’t let those stories disappear like the monuments that are taken down in our country.
To flesh out a painful story:
- Be patient.
- Don’t let generalized statements go. Be specific. “It was a bad day,” is not enough. What made it bad? What does bad look, smell, and feel like?
- Know how far to push for detail and know when to stop and give the veteran “emotional rest” before finishing a post.
- Emotions are important. Encourage them to pour their emotions out online. They can also write under a pen name to keep their privacy.
*E-Book given by author to review.