Yesterday we published an article about writing the Stories of the Children and Grandchildren of War. Today we’d like to explore the numerous ways you can write one story.
One thing we tell people when they come to us for research or have questions about military service or family stories is, consider the perspective. Stories told by veterans or heard by family members that get passed down, often resemble little of what originally happened once the story is retold through the generations. Or are they accurate? Based on whose perspective? Is it possible two veterans can tell the same story of battle and those stories conflict with each other? Absolutely! We also have to consider what a person is going through when they tell us a story. Also consider their background and experiences, including all the judgments, conclusions, decision, points of view, perceptions, resistance, and other emotions a person feels. All of these things can shape the kind of story we tell or how we perceive what is being said. Confused? I’ll give you some examples.
Family Story: Joseph and Libbie have three boys between the ages of 12-8. It is 1943 and Joseph, age 37, chooses to enlist in the Navy. He is assigned to the Naval Armed Guard. Joseph serves from late 1943 to July 1945 when he is removed from his ship for medical treatment. Joseph is treated and discharged from the service. He lives at home for a couple of years and then due to his war wounds, spends the rest of his life in the VA Hospital. The family said he wasn’t himself mentally, because of the war.
Approaches to writing this story:
- A man of honor enlisting to serve his country. Duty. Sacrifice.
- An older man with a wife and three kids at home dealing with the strain of duty to country versus duty to family.
- Libbie as a single mom during and after the war.
- Joseph’s hardships of early life – mother died early. Dad died early and Joseph married a week later (to take guardianship over his two younger siblings?)
- Shame or condition after the war. Shame and guilt felt by Libbie that her husband was gone physically and mentally?
- Libbie raising sons without a male role model in the home. What strain did that put on her?
- Granddaughter hearing pieces of stories about her grandfather without anyone really telling the truth of what happened. Some stories, as many families find, are still too difficult 50+ years after they happened to discuss. There is a lot of shame, guilt, sadness, and other emotions at play.
- Service history – what did Joseph’s military service consist of? What happened on his ships? What happened in the ports? How might have the total of his service affected him?
Shaping the Story Based on Factors the Person Writing it is Experiencing
As we look at the eight examples of how this story could be written, how do we explain the different angles that could be explored based on the writer’s life, perceptions, judgments, experiences, points of view, and everything else that factors into being human?
Writing from the perspective of the granddaughter:
- She grew up hearing bits and pieces of stories, but never getting the full truth of circumstances during or after the war, she could assume her grandfather went crazy and her poor grandmother had to pick up all the pieces.
- The granddaughter who became a single mom herself, what similarities can be found between her grandmother’s story and life and her own? How can she use this to see the grandmother and even herself in a new light? Perhaps one that is not so judgmental about whether she is doing a good job or not?
- What was her grandfather’s real diagnosis of his war wounds? Is there a way he could have been treated at home and lived a normal life after the war, surrounded by family and friends? How can what is known, heal the family?
Writing from the perspective of any family member:
- What shame, guilt, sadness, and other emotions were passed down through the family because the truth was hidden? How do those emotions affect the family today? How can we heal the past and move forward?
- What was Joseph’s military service? What did he experience in training, in port, on the ships? Were there any incidents or enemy engagements that would have caused his wounds? How can we explore that in historical context to better understand him and what was happening rather than judge him?
- Joseph’s early life had many hardships. His parents were immigrants. He grew up in a larger family without a lot of money. His mother died when he was a teenager leaving him, the oldest, with his father and four younger siblings. His father died when he was a bit older, during the Depression, leaving him responsible for two younger siblings. He married right away and soon after began his own family. How did this affect his life, mental state, Libbie, their children and how much of that strain and stress was passed through the DNA to their grandchildren and great grandchildren?
Writing the stories of war or the stories of our family, are not always easy and straightforward. Often we research our genealogy or the military service of someone and write a short, flat, unemotional biography and move on. What if our family members are calling for us to dig deeper and provide healing for them and us? For the world?
What stops us from digging deeper? Our own pain and memories? Speaking from experience I can say yes, that is part of it. However, when we dig deep and confront the ghosts of the past, great healing and peace can emerge. It isn’t easy or fun, but when done, new life experiences are possible.
Are you digging deeper into your family’s stories? Please share your experiences with our readers.
© World War II Research and Writing Center