Tomorrow, some American service members and their families will get to have their say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s when Operation Homecoming, a unique anthology of eyewitness accounts, private journals, short stories, letters, e-mails and poems about their wartime experiences, hits booksellers across the country and the Internet.

Organized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the anthology provides “precious little cheerleading for the war, or rants against it,” but instead contains “only frank accounts of lived experience,” according to the Washington Post.

Here are a few excerpts of the book borrowed from the article. The first is an e-mail written by Army Sgt. John McCary :

“We are dying,” he began.

“Not in some philosophical, chronological, ‘the end comes for all of us sooner or later’ sense. Just dying. Sure, it’s an occupational hazard, and yeah, you can get killed walking down the street in Anytown, USA. But not like this. Not car bombs that leave craters in the road, not jeering crowds that celebrate your destruction. …

“What do you say to your men after you’ve scraped up the scalps of an entire Iraqi family off the road, right next to the shattered bodies of your soldiers, held together only by their shoelaces, body armor or helmets? …

“I’m ok, Mom. I’m just a little … shaken, a little sad. I know this isn’t any Divine mission. No God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha or other divinity ever decreed ‘Go get your body ripped to shreds, it’s for the better.’ This is Man’s doing. This is Man’s War. And War it is. It is not fair, nor right, nor simple … nor is it over. … With all, we will be harsh, and strict, but not unjust, not indiscriminate. And we will not give up. We cannot. Our lives are forever tied to those lost, and we cannot leave them now.”

Here’s another poem about a mine field written by Green Beret Capt. Robert W. Schaefer:

Yellow
or were they
blue? White, red
ribbon everywhere –
Stay out.
But they were so small, plastic, barely three
inches across. They didn’t look deadly. Two
soldiers wandered in curious. One
said: “I wonder what would happen if …”
and gingerly tapped one
with the toe of his boot
which then evaporated in a pink frothy cloud,
a bubble gum pop , then cotton candy chunks
arcing lazily through the air
landing with little wet thumps
muffled by sand ….
One moment he was alive and curious
and the next, he was just a scattering.

The Encinitas Community Center is scheduled to host the Operation Homing book tour with troop contributors and Andrew Carroll, the collections editor, on Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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