The first public program in the 9/11 Tribute Museum’s new home at 92 Greenwich Street was Stories from the Front, an evening of veterans reading their writings about the experience of war. It was an honor to present a program that allowed the audience to hear the profound and very personal reflections of soldiers whose daily activities are so different from the lives we live every day at home. Just as Tribute’s volunteers share their stories of 9/11 with visitors every day, the veterans in this program gave the audience first-hand accounts of their experiences. The veteran’s expressions, however, were highly crafted because of their participation in the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop. This is the 8th year Tribute has collaborated with NYU to present this remarkable event.
The program was introduced by Tribute’s volunteer Jim Kazalis. Jim, a 9/11 survivor and Vietnam veteran, referred to Homer as being one of the first great authors of stories of war: “Homer gave us two epic stories, the Iliad and the Odyssey, one about the experience of battle, and the other about the challenges of returning home.”
The participants in the program, Jerad Alexander, Jas Easterly, Leo Farley, Dan Murphy, James Raczkowski, Tom Williams, Donna Zephrine, and Nebojsa “Vic” Zlatanovic, indeed addressed feelings of being deployed overseas in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait, at sea in the Gulf War, and in the jungles of Vietnam, and they also talked about the challenges of returning and being haunted by the memories of their military missions.
Helpless, watching friends in gurneys drift by. Being delivered to doctors who delegate…. Emergency room madness made easy. Practice, practice, practice…. In the darkness many lay motionless. Peering into void corners. Drunk on the pills made plenty and dealt over the counter. And with red eyes looking toward the duality of morning, the mission must go on.
– James Raczkowski, from his poem “One Day”
Before you heft your flak jacket on and become 70 pounds heavier and climb into the turret of a 6-ton bullet and bomb magnet and roll out into 130 degrees for hours on patrol …. Remind yourself that you volunteered for this.
– Dan Murphy, from the story “How To Spot an IED”
…War mispronounces accidental discharge
War sips distilled bottled water
War digests soldiers without warning
War speaks afterward with a big voice at midnight…
– Jas Easterly, from his untitled poem
I returned from active duty tour to find that my house is no longer my home. I opened the door to my house and there was another family living in it… I had a life when I left, I had friends when I left. They do not feel like friends anymore… I do not want to have the same questions about things I do not wish to speak of.
– Donna Zephrine, from her short essay “Homeward Bound”