Brothers Like These: A Staged Reading of Writing by Vietnam Veterans
Sponsored by the Appalachian Veterans Arts & Humanities Collective
Brothers Like These, stories and poems, written by Vietnam combat veterans, is an unforgettable testimony of courage, brotherhood, and the transformative power of language.
How Brothers Like These Came to Be
In the spring of 2014, I received an email from Dr. Bruce Kelly, a primary care physician at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville. In it, he discussed his work pioneering Medical Humanities at the VA and a community-based Arts in Medicine program—programs that have, since, transformed the face of what healing looks like for wounded veterans. Bruce wondered out loud if there were a way for the two of us to work together to perpetuate his initiatives and launch a writing program among Vietnam combat veterans in his care. That initial email gave way to others, then phone calls, and fairly soon—though I’m greatly oversimplifying the complexities—Bruce and I began meeting with cohorts of Vietnam veterans in Classroom B, an out of the way room in the basement of the VA, where they gathered to write; and, in January of 2016—through the generosity of the North Carolina Arts Council and the North Carolina Humanities Council—I assumed the role of Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence.
Those sessions, over the past nearly two years, yielded extraordinary, breathtaking writing. In that room they committed to paper the stories that have been banging around inside of them, often deviling them, since their service in Vietnam—the same stories that have empowered and lifted them and for which they’ve discovered language. As one of the Vietnam veteran writers, in Brothers Like These, states, with blunt eloquence, that still makes me laugh: “When asked to participate in this pilot program, we all had the same reservations and doubts about what we were getting ourselves into. Introducing arts and humanities through poetry to help wounded vets initially sounded like a cockamamie idea. This journey has been a catharsis for many of us. It provided us the opportunity through writing and discussion in a safe nonjudgmental environment; we shared as brothers our most intimate feelings, fears, recollections and thoughts. We found a voice we didn’t know we had and that we weren’t alone or different. We have all gained something from this experience and know it has helped in our understanding and healing.”
Though Brothers Like These—a staged reading of those veteran authors reading their own work produced in classroom B—is a culmination of sorts, it is decidedly not the end of the work that the men have engaged in, week in and out. There’s so much more of it, and so much more to come.
Brothers Like These weaves the remarkable voices of unimaginably brave soldiers who gave their all during the Vietnam War. It’s an enduring testimony to their shared sacred sense of community, love, and brotherhood. These are stories and poems, large and small, funny and heartbreaking, that only these men can relate in their own inimitable styles—stories and poems not just invaluable to succeeding generations of soldiers, but to every citizen of our country, and beyond. Stories I’ll never forget, stories that will travel with me always.
Brothers Like These premiered on August 31, 2016, at the Asheville Community Theater to a packed house. The Appalachian Veterans Arts & Humanities Collective is honored to host its reprise as well as its authors and their families.
What’s more, the book, Brothers Like These, forthcoming from St. Andrews University Press, will be on sale after the April 19th performance.
- Joseph Bathanti
Brothers Like These
- Glenn Beane, Hudson. United States Army Americal Division (23rd Infantry). Vietnam 1968-69, 1970-71.
- David Cole, Asheville. United States Army 61th Transportation. Vietnam, 1965-66.
- Lester Davis, Old Fort. United States Army B Company, 1st Battalion 27th Infantry, 25th Division. Vietnam, 1966-67,1970-71.
- George Durden, Sylva. United States Army 362nd Aviation Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st CAV. Vietnam 1971-72.
- Robert Earwood, Fairview. United States Army B Company, 2nd and 7th Battalions, 1st CAV. Vietnam 1968.
- Charles Erskine, Morganton. United States Army F Troop, 8th CAV. Vietnam 1970-71.
- Troy "Butch" Gudger, Weaverville. United States Marine Corp 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Vietnam 1969-70.
- John E. Hallimore, Brevard. United States Army 7th Squadron, 1st Air Cavalry. Vietnam, 1969-70
- Paul Wayne Heflin, Asheville. United States Army First Field Forces Artillery/173 Airborne. Vietnam, 1969.
- Stephen Henderson, Asheville. United States Marine Corp India Company 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Vietnam 1969-70.
- John T. Hoffman, Asheville. United States Army F/8 Air Cavalry Troop, 1st Aviation Brigade. Vietnam 1971-72.
- Michael Ireland, Nebo. United States Army 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group. Vietnam 1968-70.
- Edward Gene Norris, Hendersonville. United States Marine Corp C Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. Vietnam 1967.
- Allan Perkal, Weaverville. United States Air Force. 26th Casualty Staging Flight. Vietnam 1967-68.
- David Rozzell, Old Fort. United States Army C Company 15th Medical. 1st Cavalry Division. Vietnam 1969-70.
- David Robinson, Burnsville. United States Army Americal Division, Charlie Co. 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198 Brigade. Vietnam 1970-71.
- Charles "Ed" Spangler, Horse Shoe. United States Marine Corp Delta Company 1st Battalion 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. Vietnam 1968-69.
- Ron Toler, Asheville. United States Air Force 9th Special Ops Squadron. Vietnam 1971-72.
- Robert E. West, Asheville. United States Army RA 128 08 554. 25th Infantry Division. Vietnam 1968-69.
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Special thanks to the following whose generous contributions and support, along the way, made tonight's performance possible:
Appalachian State University Office of Academic Affairs; Appalachian State University College of Arts and Sciences; Appalachian State University Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance; Appalachian State University Bookstore; Appalachian State University Military Affairs Council; Asheville Community Theater; Kate Birgel; George Brudzinski; Amy Carson; Charles George VA Medical Center; Dr. Cynthia Gaw; Susan Harper; Holiday Inn Express Boone; Dr. Bruce Kelly; Susan King; Dr. Darrell Kruger; Daniel Lightfoot; Sonya Long; Dr. Clark Maddux; Dr. Mike Mayfield; Pete Montaldi; North Carolina Arts Council; North Carolina Humanities Council; Mary Ellen Phillips; Dr. Lynn Searfoss; Troy Tuttle; Vicki Vitiello; Paula Watkins; Dr. Bruce Weigl