This month I published a creative nonfiction story titled “The Consecration” in Booth, the literary journal of Butler University. The story is taken from my recently-completed memoir, and recounts my teenage friendship with a Marine Gunnery Sergeant who had fought in Vietnam as a combat engineer.
This week I also published a book review in Full Stopwhere I looked at recent works by novelist Marilynne Robinson and French philosopher Pascal Bruckner in light of today’s disheartening culture wars.
When I was a young boy I saw the movie The Deer Hunter on television for the first time. Although I didn’t have the emotional maturity or the historical knowledge to put it all in perspective, I was deeply moved by the film and the actors (Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken). It spawned an enduring interest in the Vietnam War for me and also gave me a stellar template to judge films and acting against ever since.
The very idea of a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania coal town joining the Army together, fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, and then returning home to their friends and family as vastly different human beings is riveting drama. Yet It turns out that the story in The Deer Hunter is not too far from what is happening right now in Michigan.
A new documentary titled Where Soldiers Come Fromis now in limited release across the country and it tells the story of 9 boys (men) from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—a rural area along the Canadian border— who joined the Army National Guard as a group and ultimately served in Afghanistan together. What intrigues me about the film is that the director was able to spend four years following the men, including being with them before they joined the Army so we can see into what one critic called “the enclosed world of youth.”