Video: Writing about war

By Bob Faw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/3/2005 7:52:50 PM ET 2005-03-04T00:52:50

In country, they served and sacrificed. And each has a story to tell.

Flight engineer Christian Mackenzie's helicopter was shot down in Iraq.

"The enemy shot an RPG that actually hit us right in the nose of the aircraft and blew up in my face," recalls Mackenzie. "I really need to get some of this stuff down on paper."

Cindy Kaleta is one of the few women who hauled ammo in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Stefanie Kollar is still shaken by what she saw there. Their everyday experiences are extraordinary.

Around the country, soldiers like Mackenzie, Kollar and Kaleta are attending workshops organized by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), where they learn — from successful authors — how to tell their stories better.

"This ain't baby stuff," author Barry Hannah tells the veterans. "What is exceptional in life: That's what you're writing about. As writers, we depend on you to tell us the truth that nobody else will."

It's a unique program enthusiastically endorsed by the military, where soldiers who aspire to write can pick the brains of celebrated storytellers.

"Maybe you worry too much about writing. I'm not telling you how to fly," Hannah advises.

Later this year the NEA plans to publish some of the soldiers' tales. But publication is almost secondary.

"We tell them the story matters," says the NEA's Jon Peede. "That's an important achievement just for them to hear it said, and to demystify writing. Let them know it's something they can do."

Hopefully some of the demons they're wrestling with can be slain on paper.

"I have a desire to write, but it's almost a fear to do it," says Cindy Kaleta. "With the inspiration the writers gave me, I can."

"It got me thinking," says Kollar. "It got me thinking a lot. Maybe there are small short stories in one of those days I lived."

They are stories which need to be heard.

"They're due their own literature," says Hannah. "We don't respect folks like that enough."

They are stories just waiting to be written.

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