I’m a member of a military veteran’s forum; many of them are combat vets, and many of those are from the Special Operations Community. I went there to do some research several years ago and found it to be a cool place to hang out. So many of the people there are much better read than I could ever hope to be. Discussions cover a ridiculous variety of topics, from music to movies to foreign affairs analysis, and the guys who speak on the latter are usually subject matter experts.
At any rate, a couple of months ago, a member who had cancer, and whom we knew was on his last legs, started telling some of his Vietnam stories. He’d been deeply involved in some of the Vietnamization programs and worked side by side with South Vietnamese Rangers. It was fascinating reading.
Lefty was posting almost every day for a bit; there seemed to be an almost frantic energy behind his postings, as though he knew how little time he had left, so he was desperate to get his stories told.
And then he missed a day. Most of us weren’t too concerned right away. We knew he’d withdrawn treatment, and you could tell he was getting tired, though his storytelling didn’t suffer for it. But he missed the next day, and the next, and then the forum staff made the announcement we’d all dreaded.
One of the forum members was able to attend the funeral. The family mentioned that Lefty had appreciated the chance and encouragement to share his war stories.
I wish I’d been able to get to the funeral. The memorial video showed a family full of love and joy and pride, and it would have been neat to meet them. But even more than meeting Lefty’s family, I would have enjoyed hearing all for the stories.
“Hey, remember that one time that Dad…”
“That reminds me…”
“Did he ever tell you about…”
I remember a few funeral home visitations that I’ve attended where the family set out sheets of paper and asked friends and family to share a story about the deceased. I like the thought behind that, because I’m all about hearing the stories. But I wonder if there’s a better way to do it? Lots of people don’t think they can write well, or don’t like their handwriting, or the paper’s too small, or they aren’t thinking clearly enough to share something just then. I wonder about the idea of a small private area where someone could record a few minutes of video or audio in response to a few prompts. I know that people at my dad’s funeral and visitations had some great things to say, and I can’t remember any of them twenty-seven years later. Maybe there’s a franchise opportunity here?
But you don’t have to wait for a funeral to share your stories.
You can do it right now.
And I’ll let you in on a secret.
Lots of people want to hear your stories.
Lefty didn’t think he was anyone special. But he was a Ranger officer in the first months and years of the modern Ranger battalions. He had an interesting insight into those early days.
“But I wasn’t anyone special. I was just a cook/mechanic/medic/boiler snipe/admin/whatever.” But you’ve still got stories to tell. It doesn’t have to be particularly elegant. You don’t have to use the biggest and bestest words around. But you need to share them. Especially if you’ve left them bottled up for years or decades, thinking no one wants to hear them.
Your kids may not want to hear them right now, but they will later. Same with your grandkids.
“But I wasn’t a veteran. I don’t have anything cool to talk about.”
Cool, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My dad may not have thought some of his stories were all that interesting, but I know I’ve missed out on so much since he died. He and his brothers and cousins had what I still think is a much richer life growing up than I did. He and all of his first cousins formed a band! My first cousins lived over 1,000 miles away. In my younger days, I saw them every couple of years if I was lucky.
Dad’s family had camping trips and weekly family dinners in a young and growing Austin. I’ve got a few photos from those times, but I missed learning most of the stories behind those photos.
I’d give almost anything to hear more from him. I love finding things he wrote, and I think I’d kill to hear his voice again. He had this ridiculously rich and distinctive baritone. I remember the priest at his funeral talking about how he’d just moved to town and was skimming the radio one Sunday afternoon, and he heard, “that voice” as he caught my dad’s Sunday afternoon radio program on the college station.
So how do you tell your stories? Just start talking.
You can write them down by hand and have someone else transcribe them.
You can open up Word or Notepad on your computer and just start typing. The beauty of doing it that way is that it’s easy to organize the story later.
You can get an inexpensive digital recorder and record some of your stories. Most smartphones have a digital recorder app available, too. I can almost picture the excitement on the faces of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren when they hear the voice of mom’s mom or dad.
Video works just fine, too. There are low-cost tripods for your smartphone that’ll let you sit back in your favorite chair and just start talking.
What should you talk about? That’s probably a topic for its own post. But you can talk about anything, really. If you’re a veteran, you can talk about your buddy who didn’t make it home. It’s almost guaranteed you know stuff about your brothers in arms that their family never found out about. Most of those stories will help their hearts. It might help yours, too.
Talk about what you thought was no big deal, the stuff you dealt with every day on deployment, on patrol, whatever. Don’t sit there thinking, “My story wasn’t that big a deal. My service wasn’t all that special.” It was special to you and your family. It made you who you are today.
Not a vet? You’ve still got stories to tell. Pick a time period, like your teens. Talk about some of the things you did in high school. Talk about your folks. What did they do for a living? What was dinnertime like? Did you have siblings? Are they still around? One of my dad’s older brothers died at 18 from appendicitis. I never learned much about Louis. I wish I had.
An old English author once said, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” Could it be said then that as long as people tell stories about us, we’ll live forever?
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