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When War Becomes Personal

Soldiers' Accounts from the Civil War to Iraq

Donald Anderson

Publication Year: 2008

Donald Anderson, a former U.S. Air Force officer, has compiled a haunting anthology of personal essays and short memoirs that span more than 100 years of warfare.  Alvord White Clements—himself a veteran of the Second World War—introduces his grandfather Isaac N. Clements’s Civil War memoir; the novelist Paul West writes of his father, a British veteran of World War I, as well as of his own boyhood recollections of the London Blitz. John Wolfe details the life-changing and life-threatening injuries he sustained in Vietnam and the hallucinations he experienced afterward. Second Gulf War veteran Jason Armagost traces his journey to Iraq through the history of literature and the books he brought with him to the war zone.
     The thirteen essays in When War Becomes Personal tell the enduring truths of battle, stripping away much of the romance, myth, and fantasy.
Soldiers more than anyone know what they are capable of destroying; when they write about war, they are trying to preserve the world.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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War, Memory, Imagination: A Prologue

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pp. ix-xii

I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but my nation did. Because of my “memory” of what had happened— and was happening— to America and Vietnam, I made decisions. For one thing, I joined the air force to avoid the walking tour of Southeast Asia. I meant to beat the draft: it was not my imagination that more soldiers were being buried than airmen. I went on to serve for twenty-two...

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Visions of War, Dreams of Peace

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pp. 1-18

In 1991, a collection of poems titled Visions of War, Dreams of Peace: Writings of Women in the Vietnam War was published by Warner Books. This poetry was written by women who had served in Vietnam, most of them as battlefield nurses. In a foreword to the book, W. D. Ehrhart (an editor himself of two acclaimed collections of...

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A Civil War Memoir

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pp. 19-62

When I was four years old, I was with my maternal grandparents visiting my great-uncle, Thomas Sherman, in Gorham, Maine. He was a telegrapher in Washington during the Civil War. He was in his nineties at the time. I sat on his knee, and he related his being in Ford’s Theatre and witnessing the assassination of President Lincoln. At age four, this account meant little or nothing...

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My Chickamauga

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pp. 63-64

In 1863, northwest Georgia was desolate country— the westward expansion of the 1800s largely sidestepping this part of eastern America. In fact, even today its values are more similar to those of America’s old frontier than...

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My Father at War

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pp. 65-75

Having been taught in school about ancient alchemists who changed base metals into gold, or “mufkuzt,” or were supposed to have, I naturally thought of my father as an alchemist too. Part of his working day, he dealt in white-hot iron in white-hot ladles, but sometimes he also had to deal with brass...

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Hang the Enola Gay

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pp. 76-91

General Tibbets, the man who flew the airplane, surely is right. Exhibit the Enola Gay and say nothing. But then I’m a writer (mere crewman to Tibbets’s authentic moment) and argue that saying something constitutes duty. As one version of the recent story got played, the people arranging the Smithsonian’s exhibit of the Enola Gay had made some perfectly reasonable...

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A Boy’s Blitz

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pp. 92-96

There in the archaic light of a late fall afternoon, the field of dead searchlights glinted a little and awaited the switch. At midnight, or soon after, Nazi bombers that had fl own the forty-five minutes from their bases in northern France would arrive en route for the city and drop their so called eggs. Huge...

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Notes from Ban Me Thuot

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pp. 97-101

At 0910, I wandered into the operations section where Jess, Major Witherspoon, and assorted operations staff were silently listening through the static on the tactical radio. Over the buzz, a voice cracked, “Oscar six alpha...

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A Different Species of Time

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pp. 102-112

The paratroopers of the Second Battalion, 327th Infantry, sometimes fought in lowland areas; however, most of our time was spent stalking North Vietnamese on the ancient game trails that weave through the jungles of the Anamese Cordillera. Geographically, these mountains lie on the Laotian...

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pp. 113-142

For many, the term Vietnam evokes memories of rice paddy and jungle, of warm rain, of being surrounded by an alien culture far from home, but these are not my images. I remember the parched plains of northern Texas and Oklahoma, the cowboy culture of Wichita Falls, Texas, an unlikely locale for an...

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A Boatman’s Story

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pp. 143-165

I have finally committed to tell my story. I am naked and in pain when I remember the war; yet, like all men, I must make sense of my memories or risk going insane—as I was for a time. Mine is, first and last, a story of a father and his sons. My father was an infantryman in the European...

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Shadow Soldier

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pp. 166-178

In July 1970, Lance Corporal Torres was mortally wounded. I was not a member of that patrol. Torres had been my mentor, training me in the nuances of the lead position as point man. In my experience, point men are either foolhardy and reckless or extremely courageous. It can be said that the...

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Wandering Souls

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pp. 179-197

Family and friends wondered why we were so angry. What are you crying about? they would ask. . . . Our fathers and grandfathers had gone off to war, done their duty, come home and got on with it. What made our generation so different? As it turns out, nothing....

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pp. 198-203

Years ago, this rock quarry was a factory, producing rock and gravel for all towns around. I’m walking on a new road at Gibbs Army Airfield near Tirana, Albania, and I wonder if the towns which surround us take pride that this quarry is producing gravel again. The rust-black metal structures of the quarry loom like a foreclosed amusement park. This is Albania, and like the quarry, every aspect of the country’s infrastructure...

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Things to Pack When You’re Bound for Baghdad

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pp. 204-227

The clock is punched for war in Mesopotamia—six hours until midnight, the day before the sudden flourish of air combat. I am suited, armed, and briefed for a twenty-thousand-mile flight. The middle 208 seconds of the journey will be over Baghdad. Tomorrow’s strikes will compose the first salvos of “shock and awe.”...

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Canon Fodder: An Epilogue

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pp. 228-240

Aircraft scattered thousands of mines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other infiltration routes into South Vietnam. Dale Ritterbusch was an army officer responsible for coordinating shipments of those mines—a responsibility that detonated his innocence about war. Any residual naiveté about the human drive toward belligerence vanished during a lifetime of the...


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pp. 241-243

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297052
E-ISBN-10: 1587297051
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587296802
Print-ISBN-10: 1587296802

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Soldiers -- United States -- Biography -- Anecdotes.
  • United States -- History, Military -- Anecdotes.
  • United States -- Armed Forces -- Biography -- Anecdotes.
  • Soldiers' writings, American.
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