Written by John H Davis
Writer, veteran, and “the most tattooed person with a Harvard degree,” John H. Davis, stumbled upon the Veterans Breakfast Club and sent us this endorsement of our storytelling mission. John was an infantry squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division and has multiple combat tours behind him. He’s author of a new book, Combat to College, and can be reached through JohnHDaviswriter.com. We’re grateful to John and look forward to having him on our programs!
If veterans don’t tell our stories, they don’t get told. We live our military careers in far off lands away from our friends and families. We serve around the world on teams working to make the world a better and safer place. We forge deep bonds with the people in our units, often deeper than our blood relatives. Sometimes, we never see these people again. But military service is a temporary thing, everyone who doesn’t give their life for the country gets out sooner or later. Your service as well as your story, are bigger than just you.
Every military career is full of tragic, hilarious, and unbelievable events. The messy moments make the best stories. We live intensely in our military careers and every military career is a roller coaster. Military years are like dog years, they age you faster. It’s hard sometimes to make sense of the things we went through to civilians, but we can’t just shake our heads and say, “you wouldn’t get it.” Because our stories are the stories of America and for the population to know us, they have to understand us. I’m not sure how the military drifted further away from our civilian population fighting twenty years of war, but it happened. Telling our stories is how we reconnect with our communities, friends, and families after service. Sharing our stories can heal us and help us move on and make sense ourselves of the things that happened. When I started talking and writing about my stories, it felt like a weight off my chest. It wasn’t always easy, but good things are supposed to be difficult. Telling your story will help you, even the things you’d prefer to forget.
Veterans want to be quiet professionals, unless you were a Navy Seal, then you might need everyone to know how cool you are. We can’t escape our military pasts, because the person that went into the military is never the same person that came out. Whoever I was before the military is a stranger to me now, I wouldn’t even recognize that person. The military is that transformative and in those transformation are our stories. We shouldn’t continue to let Hollywood tell our stories, they never get it right and that’s why sometimes I hate watching military movies. We’re portrayed as broken, alcoholics, or PTSD filled. Picture Lt. Dan in Forest Gump, half the country thinks of him in the wheelchair drunk and yelling when they think of veterans. To some civilians, you might be the only veteran they know.
For my generation of veterans, sometimes telling our stories feels complicated. We were sent to the Middle East, to fight and die and come back to kill ourselves for reasons never fully explained to us. We want the world to be black and white, good vs evil, but after twenty years of war veterans learned life isn’t that simple. The ending of Afghanistan makes it even harder, I’m not sure how the war should have ended but I know veterans deserved better.
When you talk to civilians about the military, tell them our stories. Tell them about your experiences, the people you served with, the places you saw, and the things you accomplished. Veteran stories are the stories of this nation, all the way back to the founding. Even the painful moments deserve to be told, and the most ridiculous. People in this country have an odd perception of veterans sometimes, I’ve felt somehow on a pedestal and yet beneath civilians. It’s hard to articulate but if you’re a veteran, you probably get it. Our stories humanize us to civilians, so they don’t keep viewing us as different than them. I’d be willing to bet even the people closest to you, your spouse, family, and friends don’t know all your military stories. Tell them.
Storytelling is how people connected throughout human history. Stories were passed down generation to generation long before pen and paper came into existence. In stories, there are lessons, and we have a lot to teach our country. We can teach our country about teamwork, community, and the power of shared purpose. Our values shouldn’t just stay in the military, we should bring them into the world. If you know of someone who served but isn’t here anymore, you have a responsibility to share their story as well as your own. Shout your veteran story.
Telling Your Story
If telling your story feels awkward or you aren’t sure where to start. Start here. We have the VBC Veterans History Project because your story deserves to be told. We don’t charge anything for the interview and the story is yours to keep and share. The lessons, experiences, and stories of our nation’s military need to get out there to help bridge the gap between us and civilians. I’m not only talking about the big stories, the ones that get turned into headlines, I’m talking about the everyday, unforgettable, and amazing things the military does all over the world. You were a part of that, and you always will be. Whatever you do, don’t go to the grave with your story. Tell it here.
John H Davis is a combat veteran, author of Combat To College and the most tattooed person with a Harvard degree. Check out his work and blog at www.johnhdaviswriter.com