“Brothers Like These”: Vietnam Veterans Who Wrote Their Stories and Healed
We join in conversation with four remarkable Vietnam veterans from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina who wrote their stories in prose and poems and healed from the trauma of war. John T. Hoffman, Army helicopter pilot, Ed Norris, Marine, Robert West, 25th Infantry Division, and Carl Ziperer, Army helicopter pilot, all served in Vietnam and met weekly to share stories at the VA in Asheville, NC.
There, they met Joseph Bathanti, Creative Writing Professor at Appalachian State University and then North Carolina Poet Laureate, and Dr. Bruce Kelly, a primary care physician at Charles George VA.
Those weekly sessions yielded extraordinary, breathtaking writing. These Vietnam Veterans – none of whom would have ever called themselves writers, but boy could they write – committed to paper stories that had been banging around inside of them, often deviling them, since their service in Vietnam – the same stories that empowered and lifted them, and for which they discovered language and voices. Each time one of the men read his story aloud to the others, there were nods of recognition.
Those men gave one another the strength and permission to tell their stories – and it’s crucial to mention that these men had not known one another before crossing the risky threshold at the VA. Nevertheless, they had been brothers, of course, long before they had ever met. They understood one another perfectly and understood as well their respective stories of the war they had each kept secret for fifty years – and then those stories came out, first in trickles, then in torrents, and it hasn’t stopped, nor will it. Brothers Like These weaves the remarkable voices of unimaginably brave soldiers who gave their all during the Vietnam War.
These are stories and poems, large and small, funny and heartbreaking — not just invaluable to succeeding generations of soldiers, but to every citizen of our country, and beyond.
In April of 2017, the book, Brothers Like These, was published by St. Andrews University Press, and remains the Press’s best-seller. A number of the original group of men from Bathanti’s and Kelly’s workshops have since launched the foundation, North Carolina Veterans Writing Alliance, also known as Brothers and Sisters Like These, which includes women veterans, and veterans of all stripe, from all wars .
They are now going forth like evangelists to continue the work of harvesting veterans’ stories.