'Warrior Words': Writers' Circle to host readings by veterans
Defending Heartbreak Ridge in Korea, patrols into the jungles of Vietnam, and experiencing the loneliness of an Iraqi compound on Christmas Eve fill the pages of stories written by veterans through a project titled “Warrior Words.”
The writing exercises were part of a five-week monologue writing workshop led by Dickinson State University assistant professor of language and literature Peter Grimes, and associate professor of English Karen Foster.
“It’s such an important part of our history,” Grimes said. “They’re bringing their memories to life.”
The DSU Heart River Writers’ Circle will host a “Warrior Words” reading at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 10, at Beck Auditorium in Klinefelter Hall. Six veterans will read excerpts about their combat experiences. They include Cal Lundberg, Melissa Pavlicek, Lee Rebsom, Dave Logosz, Roxanne Evans and Tom Dietz.
“Warrior Words” is free and refreshments will be served.
“It will give the audience a new perspective of what it’s like to be in war, Grimes said.
The workshop and readings were funded by a grant provided by the Greater Grand Forks Community Theater. Similar workshops were held in Minot, Bismarck and Grand Forks. The job of the workshop leaders was to recruit participants, find a meeting place and encourage the writing.
“The classroom dynamic tended to be a balance of casual discussion and spontaneous memories and talk about writing,” Grimes said.
The challenge was to balance their bonding time, while keeping the group on track, he said.
He encouraged the veterans to focus on significant details to pull the reader into their experiences.
“I asked them to jot down specific memories and to select a few of the memories to build longer stories,” he said.
Being an outsider, he didn’t know what to expect.
“It turned out they were eager to talk,” he said. “Several people shared some pretty personal stories. It turned out wonderfully. They were very accepting of me and quickly opened up.”
Grimes described writing as a special form of communication that can’t be accomplished any other way.
“When you say something out loud one time, it’s gone, but with writing, you can come back and revisit the moment,” he said. “It’s a magical process.”
Grimes said the participants were rewarded for their efforts beyond the documentation of their memories.
“It’s a way of healing — a very important way of healing,” he said. “The participants mentioned possibly starting up their own writing group.”
Korean War veteran Cal Lundberg was initially reluctant to participate in the group.
“It’s something I’ve never really talked about,” he said. “It stirred up a lot of memories. I tried to push the memories under the rug for many, many years, but recently, I can relate to them a little bit better.”
He served with the Army infantry during the Korean War.
“I spent 14 months on the lines in combat,” he said. “I took a piece of shrapnel from friendly fire, but they don’t give Purple Hearts for friendly fire.”
Lundberg focused his experiences on Heartbreak Ridge.
“It was a very costly venture for the United States and United Nations forces,” he said.
Sitting down in front of his computer, he started writing down his experiences for the first time.
“Peter gave us guidelines as to what to write,” he said.
After the war, Lundberg enrolled at Dickinson State University to finish his degree. He taught for 39 years before he retired.
Melissa Pavlicek served with the U.S. Marine Corps during Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Calm.
A native of upstate New York, she met her husband at Camp Le June, N.C. She served as a military postal clerk while stationed in the Gulf.
“We took turns running mail up to Kuwait — it was very difficult,” she said. “I remember driving into Khafji, a little town on the way to Kuwait City. I remember the little children running alongside the trucks. They were hungry and didn’t have anything to eat. We’d throw them MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and we’d see them tear into them.”
She also remembers leaving her infant daughter back home during one deployment.
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “I missed her first birthday, I missed her everything. It was horrible.”
Returning to Dickinson, she didn’t feel like she fit into society.
“The Marines were my life,” she said. “I had so many Marines under me and they could relate to me and I relate to them. Finally, with these guys here, I can relate to them and I just fit in.”
Roxanne Evans served in the Army from 1974 to 1977 at Fort Greeley, Alaska. She later joined the National Guard at Hettinger, driving a 20-ton dump truck. She married a North Dakota farmer and they live south of New England.
“I’m considered a Vietnam-era veteran, but I didn’t see war time,” she said.
She writes about being raised by a dad who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from experiencing the Korean War.
“That’s the angle I’m coming from, rather than my military past,” she said.
She appreciated her experiences with the writing group.
“It’s a camaraderie you’ll never understand if you’ve never served in the military,” she said. “You can meet a veteran you’ve never known and become a friend immediately.”
David Logos was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in Vietnam.
“I was a sniper — I saw a lot of combat,” he said. “I have several Purple Hearts.”
Logosz was encouraged to write a book about his experiences, so he started jotting down memories.
Through the writing group, he is learning to organize the memories and elaborate on the details.
“By reading other people’s stories, you can see different styles,” he said. “From Peter’s advice, I’ve learned to add sights and smells of what it actually felt like.”
The writing group is helping him with the healing process.
“I’m writing for myself and for other people to find out what war is like,” he said.
After his military experiences, Logosz returned to Dickinson where he worked for the Dickinson Briquetting Plant for 25 years and North Dakota Highway Department for another 20 years. He is an active member of the Stark County Veterans Memorial Association.
A collective reading of work from all the participants is scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT on May 22 at the Fire Hall Theatre in Grand Forks.
The “Warrior Words” workshops are sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council, Walmart, Heart River Writers’ Circle, Hawks Point and DSU.