Cheyanne Smith, a student of Stacy Frazier at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, “Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country,” by Dr. Edward Tick, a story about the many veterans he sees physically and emotionally wounded from serving in the war, and how we, as community members, can help these warriors heal.
Writing prompt: Imagine what it’s like to serve in a war. Write a letter to a veteran—fictitious or someone you know. Whether or not you agree with U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how might you welcome this soldier home, and express your support for the transition this soldier faces as he or she returns to civilian life?
An imagined letter to be sent to a friend and hero.
I don’t know how to start this letter other than to say, “Dear Friend,” or perhaps I should say, “Dear Hero,” for without you, I would not be here today. Without any soldiers, I would not be here. I owe you an apology. Like many other Americans (most all), I have forgotten why I am allowed to live a “normal American life.” Why I have my freedoms, my rights, and the privilege to live life without fear. I know it comes with a cost—nothing is free. My freedom in exchange for yours. Dear Hero…How are you now that you’re back?
Do you mind if I ask a personal question? What do you do on the Fourth of July? Do you sit in the commissary and remember the hot dogs and hamburgers your dad used to make? Do you recall the vibrant colors of the exploding fireworks? Do you and your fellow soldiers miss it? Do you wish you could be a child again so you could forget the images left in your mind from the hell you just walked through? Dear Hero…How are you now?
My grandfather was a soldier, just like you. He was brave and strong, yet quiet and unattached. He had fought in the worst battles in Vietnam. He rarely spoke, but I recall his deep voice asking me as a young child if I wanted an ice cream cone. Growing up, I never knew what he had endured: the horrors he saw, the things he could not forget, the nightmares he had that woke my grandma. He was always just Grandpa. I never knew he had PTSD until after he was gone. It makes me wonder, honestly wonder, What could he not forgive himself for? What thoughts crossed his mind as he condemned himself guilty and created his own hanging? What regrets made him want to leave his family, his children, grandchildren, and wife forever? Did he think of me before it was over? Did he not know that he was a hero? Please, do not let this be you. Dear Hero…How are you now?
Dear Hero, do you miss school? You probably hated tests, just like I do. Will you come back to school? Perhaps you can join me at my college. We have a nice, small campus nestled in a small town. I work in the library. Four times a week, I watch students scramble in and out of our little library; they carry packs slung over one shoulder and clank away at the keyboard like a million metal hammers. School makes you forget the troubles of the world. This is what we must get you back to. This is where you belong—home in America. Dear Hero…How are you now?
Can I ask another personal question? What did you want to be when you grew up? Was it a soldier? Or, was it a different career? Did you want to be a chef, accountant, stylist, or lawyer? Maybe a technician, model, actor, or politician? Was it this, and not school that you missed while you were away serving us? This is where you belong—with your dreams ,becoming what you wanted to be when you grew up. Dear Hero…How are you now?
I read an article about you and other heroes like you. It said you struggled, it said you hurt. It said you felt bad for your actions. Dear Hero, is this true? How could you, when none of this was your fault? Why feel guilty for the actions of the government and for the evils of the world which none of us can control? You are a soldier, not a killer. You are not the enemy, you are the hero. Dear Hero…How are you now?
Dear Hero, never give up. Come back home. Come back to what you have always wanted. Come back to your dreams. Remember who you are. You are a hero. Dear Hero, welcome back.
Oh, and before I go: Dear Hero…Thank you.