This interview is just one of the channels by which I have tried to give additional exposure to Ken Jones, or @akvet as he is known on Twitter. Find out more about him here.
Ken, thanks for your service, and for enduring the subsequent decades of agony you were burdened with as a result of your service on behalf of your at times indifferent, often unfeeling, and sometimes even hostile fellow citizens.
I've been connected with you over the past year on Twitter, and your stream of consciousness posts have at times reduced me to tears of compassion. I accord you honor, sympathy and respect, sir.
Question for you: The disconnect between life back in 'the World' and life in combat---do you think that disconnect has changed for the current generation of vets, compared to Vietnam Era vets?
Yes, the disconnect is different for our current generation of warriors, and their families, than for those of us who served in Viet Nam.
The differences are numerous, some subtle some not. There are two differences that are particularly poignant for this generation.
First and foremost are the multiple deployments. I understand the need, and the effects are serious.
Multiple deployments combined with instant communications technology (email, SMS, Skype, etc.) mean that some warriors stay in contact with their people who are still in combat. In terms of PTSD and the ability to reconnect with their families, these warriors are never really “home.”
Second, as a result of multiple deployments the spouses remaining at home begin to create their own protective emotional walls. It takes time for families to readjust to a warrior’s return.
When spouses know that they are going to lose their husband or wife to yet another deployment, the spouse’s own protective walls do not come down during short redeployments. The result is what one military wife described as she and her husband becoming “really good room mates.”
During the Viet Nam era many of those who served in the army were draftees. They served for two years and were separated from military service soon after their return to the states. Except for career military members, multiple deployments were not an issue during Viet Nam.
Ken, I have read your searing and vivid accounts of the landscape of the battlefield and the internal landscape of those who suffer PTSD and otherwise have trouble reconciling the terrible energy and vicious exhiliration of the battlefield with the routine of the relatively placid life back home. Your words are so often poetic, making them even more powerful. Tell me, are these polished phrases and that imagery the result of your years of contemplation and group work on your experience, or are you naturally gifted? Did you have such talent prior to your entry into military service?
Thank you for your very kind remarks about my writing, Bill.
I considered your question about being a naturally gifted writer. As far as I can tell I am not one of those, if such actually exist.
My experience is that poetry is the natural syntax of survivors. What are now chapters two, three, and four of "When Our Troops Come Home" were originally written on 3X5 cards as “poetry.” Spontaneous free verse might be a better descriptor.
At the time I wrote the words I was not trying to write poetry. I simply wrote the words that “came.” As I have told a number of people, I do not consider myself a writer. If anything, I am a scribe. I just say what I see.
The polished phrases you refer to are not really polished, as in edited and re-edited. There are, for better or worse, very few editing changes between the original and the final version of "When Our Troops Come Home".
The one thing I did change was to move chapter one to its current position. I believe it was chapter seven in the original version.
The images and descriptions are either from my personal experience, or synthesized from my “internal experience.”
Here is an example. We are currently doing a series of recorded phone conversations with two active duty military wives. Both of their husbands have been on multiple combat tours.
The questions they have about their husbands’ PTSD, their marriages, and their children are real and immediate. I listen and respond to their questions, usually for about 90 minutes. When the conversations are completed I literally do not remember what we talked about or what I said.
The same thing happens when I write. I write words that coincide with the energy of the moment. I have to re-read the transcript to see what I have written. I don’t know how else to explain this process. I do know that this is why I consider myself a scribe, rather than a writer.
The scribe has a time honored place in civilization, as the scribe in turn honors the revelations, pains and lessons of those whom he serves in that capacity. And maybe poetry is the only way to give appropriate multidimensionality to the experiences conveyed in those terse, tearing phrases. Regarding the 'energy of the moment' notion, I have been there, thankfully, when the words just flowed, but out of much more innocuous wellsprings than yours, sir. In my understanding, the experience of serving as a channel of inspired or otherwise powerful wordstreams is a recognized phenomenon, and something that humans may experience.
Maybe it's like a petcock for the universe, as there is something, something important, that must see the light of day, and touch human ears.
The comedian Gallagher observed that “My comedy is based on real life. My problem is that real life ain’t that damn funny.”
Thinking about this question I realized that the military humor in Viet Nam, at least among the grunts, was very different than what I had experienced back in the states. In the states the risqué jokes were typically about women and sex.
In state-side units, before I went to Viet Nam, jokes were a way of learning about a new guy. What did they laugh at? What kind of jokes did a person tell? The humor was a way of fitting in and being accepted. Humor tended to be inclusive.
Among combat troops in Viet Nam the humor was dark. The stories often recounted hard won lessons. Humor was used for the “initiation” of FNGs (F*@king New Guys) to the culture of the grunts.
In the mid-1960s, Julie Andrews starred in the firm version of The Sound of Music. It was a huge hit. People went back to theaters over and over again to see the movie. As a result virtually everyone was aware of the popularity of The Sound of Music.
In our unit The Sound of Music was used as part of one of the first initiation rituals that replacements were exposed to.
Humor reaffirmed the bond among the grunts, and created a boundary that excluded the new guy.
I remember reading something to the same effect during WWII, the 'repo depot/repple depple' mechanism mixing newbies with war-weary survivors, with the frequent result that out of self-defense the old hands, exhausted and numbed, did little or anything to help the newbie adjust and hopefully survive. Who can imagine this type of environment who has not been there? I wonder. How uneven the burden borne by our fellow citizens; some are scarred for life, most oblivious.
Ken tells us more about the FNG, but it's NSFW (Not Safe For Work/Language Advisory). Click HERE to read the saucy language.