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Local veterans share war experiences through prose

BY MADISON BENNETT | SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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The buzz of conversation immediately died down as Scott Smith, a veteran of the war in Iraq, started to speak to his daughter about Iraq.

“This is a City of Literature,” Smith said. “And we’re lucky to have these resources.”

More than 50 people gathered on Monday night as the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., hosted “Veterans Voices Readings,” a special event dedicated to getting veterans talking about their war experiences through prose.

Smith, a student in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, MC’d and organized the event.

“If you like expressing yourself, why not get together?” said Smith, 29. “Writing proves we can feel great about ourselves.”

A microphone placed at the front of a bare stage featured five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who expressed their frustration with the wars in the dim, quiet room.

The veterans read original pieces of literature they wrote after being deployed. Pieces ranged from emotional to cynical and touched upon such issues as combat, death, life after war, and cowardice.

Jon Kerstetter, who served in Iraq, spoke about being in the field thinking under combat conditions and got steady attention from the audience.

“You realize that what you’ve really been doing when you’re praying is asking God to help you kill them all,” he said. “These men on the other side of the road — these men with a different skin, and a different language, and a different religion.”

Numerous VA physicians also attended the event, which allowed the veterans to direct their comments about war toward a larger community.

“If you have beef with the VA, don’t hold back.” Smith said. “I didn’t want some dog-and-pony show. We want to communicate with them.”

When soldiers leave the military, they become very isolated, Smith said.

“On one hand, you’re proud of what you did, but you can still pass judgment — because you did it,” he said. “There’s so much you’re not taught about coming home.”

Roman Skaskiw, a 35-year-old veteran and the first reader at Monday’s event, talked about his disillusionment with the American military.

“My cynicism also shows in this one. So … sorry, believers,” he said before he began reading his second piece.

But even Skaskiw, a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop in 2007, agreed that Monday’s event was effective.

“Wars are important events regardless of what you think about them,” he said.


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