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Soldiers’ Stories

One local group is helping heal America’s defenders through the written word

Pete McShane writes at home while his former self, a Green Beret medic, looks on.

Pete McShane writes at home while his former self, a Green Beret medic, looks on. Photo by Ami Olson.

— Their numbers are small but their words speak volumes on the challenges of life in uniform. The handful of members of the Syracuse Veterans Writers Group who meet once a month on the SU campus are part of a wider national movement that is redefining what the American military story is all about.

“We’re part of a movement that’s going on nationally,” said Eileen Schell, founder of the group and professor at Syracuse University. “There really is a movement afoot for soldiers and veterans to tell their own stories and to have a voice about their military experience.”

Schell said those stories do not need to be diluted by the influence of political leaders, the media or Hollywood.

“Hollywood tells the story of the angry vet...the worst possible story. Maybe there’s some truth to the portraits but the truth is actually more complicated than those images.”

Schell was inspired to get the group up and running after hearing a presentation by author Shannon Meehan at SU last year. Meehan, a retired Army captain whose tank platoon mistakenly fired on a building housing civilians in Iraq, was wounded by an improvised explosive device. He wrote about his experiences in a book called “Beyond Duty.”

After the encounter with Meehan, and in honor of an uncle whose life was irreparably altered after serving in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, Schell decided to start the group. She was aware of national efforts like the Warrior Writers Project and Operation Homecoming, but Schell wanted to do something local.

“We send people off to war in our name, and then we expect them to come back and integrate into society,” she said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility as a citizen in this society to try to do something to allow veterans to come back to society and have spaces where they can process what they’ve been through, write about it, make art from it.”

Matt Liptak is a contributing writer. Reach him at matthewgliptak@gmail.com.

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