Veterans gathered in front of an audience of nearly 100 Monday evening at the Community College of Vermont’s Winooski center to tell their stories of combat and of their homecoming.
The four panelists who chose to share their stories, Paul Hood, David Carlson, Chris Boutin, and Marie Milord, were participants in a writing workshop held over the summer known as Veterans Writing in Vermont, which was facilitated by former CCV Faculty Member Joe Ryan.
Throughout the hour-long presentation, each veteran read aloud the powerful accounts they had crafted during Ryan’s workshop to an attentive audience.
First to speak was 88-year-old Hood, who rarely referenced the prepared pages in his hands as he recalled his days serving as a Marine during World War II.
On his first night in Okinawa, Japan, Hood narrowly escaped death as a member of his fire team was shot just yards in front of him. The man bled to death in Hood’s arms.
Veterans Writing In Vermont
An interactive presentation of the stories written during the summer 2014 writing workshop. Read the stories.
“I cried uncontrollably,” he remembered. “If you don’t think Marines cry, I have news for you. We do cry.”
Hood explained how the days and weeks following the traumatic experience sent him into a blind, angry rage, inspiring him to kill all enemies in his path.
“The Marines trained me to be an accomplished killer, and I was,” Hood said, adding that, to this day, he remembers the feeling that took over his body when he shot three Japanese men in cold blood.
“I looked them in the eyes and I shot them,” Hood said, somberly explaining that since then, he has never been the same.
In an effort to heal from the trauma he experienced during combat, Hood has devoted his time and energy to promoting peace and advocating for veteran mental health care. He is also working on a series of memoirs relating to his experiences.
“With this work, I feel as though the clouds have been lifted for me,” he said. “I can only pray that people open their hearts to the men and women returning from war. They need our help.”
Milord spoke next, recalling her call to duty shortly after enlisting in the Army Reserves.
“I joined the military so my college tuition would be funded,” she said. “I never expected to be deployed.”
But she was.
In January 2004, Milord received her orders and was deployed to Iraq to work as a mental health specialist, helping soldiers suffering from anxiety and depression among other issues.
During her time in Iraq, Milord’s trailer community was attacked and she was almost killed. The memory of that night and her “close call,” as she referred to it, remained ingrained in her mind even after returning safely home to the United States.
“I found it hard to adjust. Certain things would trigger me,” she explained, noting that her newly acquired depression made her feel “disconnected” from her peers.
“I still experience [depression] now, but I manage it. I definitely do not regret joining [the Army Reserves],” Milord said. “The experience made me a stronger person. I take life more seriously now. It’s so fragile.”
Milord currently works as a counselor for veterans returning from war.
Carlson followed Milord, divulging much less information than his fellow panelists, explaining that he, “just wasn’t there yet.”
In lieu of a personal account of his experiences in combat, Carlson read a letter that he sent to his boss after being hired as the coordinator of veterans’ services at the University of Vermont (UVM).
In the letter, Carlson spoke of his transition from life as a Marine in Afghanistan to a student at CCV and then later at UVM and his gratitude for personnel at both institutions who helped him feel comfortable and confident in his decision to pursue a degree after returning from war.
“I was nothing short of grateful,” he recalled, explaining that his education, in addition to his experience serving his country, have helped him become successful in his career.
Boutin, the last veteran to speak, relayed a painful account of two “near-death” experiences during his deployment in the Middle East.
In one instance, Boutin was used as a human shield by his platoon sergeant. Only days later, while smoking a cigarette outside his camp, a bullet shot by a sniper narrowly missed Boutin’s head.
Although the experiences were terrifying, Boutin solemnly explained to the audience that he, “never felt more alive than when he was almost dead.”
Like Milord, Boutin also found his homecoming and re-acclimation to civilian life to be difficult, but he found solace in the company of his military peers.
“It was hard to function with civilians,” he said. “That’s why I enjoy being around other infantrymen. It’s calming. They understand what you’ve gone through.”
Boutin is now working towards a degree in human services at CCV. He said he wants to help prevent some of the 22 military-related suicides that occur each day and help veterans returning from war cope with substance abuse and depression.
Following the event, Ryan said that he was impressed with the group and their collective bravery.
“It’s powerful that they were able to connect and share their experiences, which isn’t an easy thing. I was both surprised and encouraged,” he said. “I think maybe this was healing in a way, or at least I hope it was.”
Enhanced services for military veterans at CCV are funded by the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation, Bari and Peter Dreissigacker, Dave Stiller, and the Vermont Community Foundation. Learn more about CCV’s veterans services.