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Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Familiesby Andrew Carroll
Synopses & Reviews
“Here is what you will not find in the news–the personal cost of war written as clear and beautiful as literature worthy of the name is. These stories are the real thing, passionate, imaginative, searing.”
–Richard Bausch, author of Wives & Lovers
The first book of its kind, Operation Homecoming is the result of a major initiative launched by the National Endowment for the Arts to bring distinguished writers to military bases and inspire U.S. Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen and their families to record their wartime experiences. Encouraged by such authors as Tom Clancy, Mark Bowden, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Jeff Shaara, and Marilyn Nelson, American military personnel and their loved ones wrote candidly about what they saw, heard, and felt while in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as on the home front. Taken together, these almost one hundred never-before-published eyewitness accounts, private journals, short stories, letters, and other personal writings become a dramatic narrative that shows the human side of warfare.
• the fear and exhilaration of heading into battle;
• the interactions between U.S. forces and Afghans and Iraqis, both as enemies and friends;
• the boredom, gripes, and humorous incidents of day-to-day life on the front lines;
• the anxiety and heartache of worried spouses, parents, and other loved ones on the home front;
• the sheer brutality of warfare and the physical and emotional toll it takes on those who fight;
• the tearful homecomings for those who returned to the States alive– and the somber ceremonies for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
From riveting combat accounts to profound reflections on warfare and the pride these troops feel for one another, Operation Homecoming offers an unflinching and intensely revealing look into the lives of extraordinary men and women. What they have written is without question some of the greatest wartime literature ever published.
“Andrew Carroll has given America a priceless treasure.”
–Tom Brokaw, on War Letters
Proceeds from this book will be used to provide arts and cultural programming to U.S. military communities. For more information, please go to www.OperationHomecoming.gov.
"This beautifully edited compilation of writings from modern warriors and their loved ones contains a wonderful range of voices and experience. Culled from an NEA call for the personal stories of service members and their families-a call that resulted in some ten thousand pages of material-the writing on display might make one think war transformed these untrained writers into fearless poets, ready and able to tackle the big topics: heartbreak, courage, sheer pluck and God-awful horror. Divided into six sections, including 'Heading into Combat,' the 'Daily Grind' and 'Life on the Home Front,' Carroll has pulled together dozens of unique voices to achieve the 'integrity and authenticity ... of a full spectrum of viewpoints and experiences.' The results, a series of short, charged narratives that generally range from one to ten pages, are heartening and heartbreaking. In 'Reclamation,' a seasoned marine is ordered to clean a cemetery, 'little more than a sunken acre of rotting garbage and donkey carcasses... a nasty task that seemed to have no direct benefit to the Iraqi people,' which would become for him a pivotal experience in building hope and honoring sacrifice. In 'Shallow Hands,' a 27-year-old Marine attempts to explain the bitter divide between those who've fought and those who have not, while confessing, 'I've been drinking steadily since coming back from the war.' In the remarkable 'Dover,' readers go into the enormous military mortuary in Deleware that receives home-bound bodies, learning how one of the war's 'politically sanitized phrases' like 'the fallen hero' can reclaim its meaning. This collection provides a truly multi-faceted and agenda-free look at the ongoing conflict from the Americans who lived it, and deserves a large audience." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If history is any guide, at least a few of tomorrow's great American literary voices are on patrol today near Ramadi or Jalalabad. Ambrose Bierce, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer all drew from their combat experience, and the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan will likely shape the talent of a new generation of writers. In April 2004, as Marines were attacking Iraqi insurgents... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) in Fallujah, the National Endowment for the Arts, in cooperation with the Department of Defense, brought nearly three dozen novelists, historians, poets, dramatists and journalists — including such writers as Tom Clancy, Mark Bowden, Bobbie Ann Mason and Jeff Shaara — to 25 military bases at home and around the world. The writers hosted workshops, inviting troops and their families to record memories of their wartime experiences since 2001. More than 1,200 submissions poured in, and the best of them are collected in this resonant and beautiful anthology. Army Sgt. Brian Turner wrote poems in Iraq but kept them to himself because he didn't want his men to think he was writing about 'flowers and stuff.' One of his pieces is called 'Ashbah,' Arabic for 'ghosts.' The ghosts of American soldiers wander the streets of Balad by night, unsure of their way home, exhausted, the desert wind blowing trash down the narrow alleys as a voice sounds from the minaret, a soulful call reminding them how alone they are, how lost. And the Iraqi dead, they watch in silence from the rooftops as date palms line the shore in silhouette, leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows. The circumstances that bring this poem into our hands bear repeating: The federal government, with a war underway, invited active-duty combatants and their families to write about their most intense and private hopes, fears and losses. Then a hundred of these stories and poems, without bias or varnish or ulterior motive, were selected by an independent board, with the war still raging. Andrew Carroll, editor of several collections of letters, edited this anthology on a pro bono basis, and its proceeds will fund arts and cultural programs for U.S. military communities. Combat veterans are a famously taciturn group. Writing, however, can be just indirect enough to convey ideas too painful for the spoken word. 'Operation Homecoming' brims with these personal anecdotes, showing us the human beings behind the headlines and beneath the body armor. A hardened Marine captain, in a letter to the mother of one of his troops, writes, 'His death brought tears to my eyes, tears that fell in front of my Marines. I am unashamed of that fact.' The troops aren't the only ones who sacrifice. In this book, we hear from their families, those who wait at home and are too often forgotten. Myrna E. Bein is the mother of Charles, a 26-year-old Army infantryman who 'barely survived an ambush' in Kirkuk; as he recuperates, she brings her wounded son's clothes home from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and washes them. She searches the dryer for a missing sock, then searches the washer, and the floor, and the dryer again. Finally, she realizes that there's only one sock. Her son has only one foot, one lower leg, one knee. 'I stood there in my bedroom and clutched that one clean sock to my breast and an involuntary moan came from my throat; but it originated in my heart.' This collection rings with truth, the sort of truth that mere observers of war find hard to capture. Generals and journalists and politicians — even the best of them — simply have a different point of view. 'Operation Homecoming' relives five tumultuous years through the eyes of the men and women who've done the fighting. When asked why he chose to participate in the project, a Special Forces soldier replied, 'This is the first time anyone's asked us to write about what we think of all that's going on.' Let's hope it's not the last. Nathaniel Fick served as an infantry officer in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is the author of 'One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.'" Reviewed by Nathaniel Fick, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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This landmark volume of wartime writings from the front lines grew out of the N.E.A.'s Operation homecoming project in partnership with the Southern Arts Federation. It is a rich historical document that preserves firsthand stories from troops.
About the Author
Andrew Carroll is the editor of several critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling books, including Letters of a Nation, Behind the Lines, and War Letters, which was also a PBS documentary. Carroll is the founder of the Legacy Project (www.warletters.com), a national, all-volunteer effort to honor veterans and active-duty troops by seeking out and preserving their letters and e-mails. Carroll lives in Washington, D.C. He edited Operation Homecoming on a pro bono basis.
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