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War story authors gather for city-hosted Big Read event

OCEANSIDE — The How to Write a War Story discussion held at City Council chambers on May 22 brought together a panel of four authors who wrote about four different wars.
Panel author Eric Blehm wrote “The Only Thing Worth Dying For,” Gail Chatfield wrote “By Dammit We’re Marines,” J. Stryker Meyer wrote “On the Ground: The Secret War in Vietnam,” and Neil Levin wrote “An Angel Rode My Wing.” The authors explained the thinking process behind writing a war story and provided some tips for aspiring authors.
Stryker Meyer and Levin are military veterans who wrote about the wars they served in.
Blehm and Chatfield are authors who interviewed active and retired troops to build their stories.
Chatfield said memories of World War II remain vivid for veterans. “Experiences of war are so horrific they get imprinted on your mind,” Chatfield said.
The authors said harsh language is often needed to tell war stories. There are also unexpected comical moments in their books.
While the authors’ accounts are based on real incidents, not everything is included in the stories. The authors said there are some incidents that are better left out. Blehm and Chatfield said they kept in mind that the soldiers’ children and grandchildren will be reading the books.
“There are some things you just can’t write about,” Levin said. “War is not nice.”
The four authors talked about the writing process. Some said they wrote their initial draft from memory in a random stream of consciousness, others penned a chronological sequence of events.
The panel also reflected on the importance of telling war stories, as a cathartic experience for soldiers and a bridge for civilian understanding.
“Some people ask me, if I killed someone how do I live with it,” Levin said. “I was a Marine, it was my job. The mission comes first. I did my own therapy by writing this book.”
“How to Write a War Story” is part of the Oceanside Public Library’s “The Big Read” funded by the National Endowment of the Arts. “The Big Read” aims to involve the community in reading through a series of events that center around themes from the focus book “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien.
“Having Camp Pendleton as our neighbor is the main reason we chose this book,” CJ DiMento, adult services librarian, said.
A good number of veterans attended the event.
“I came to see how the authors put their books together,” Miguel Velazquez, an Army veteran, said. Velazquez plans to write the story of his military experiences.
“Pride and Protest,” a collection of photos from the Vietnam War era, will wrap up “The Big Read” on May 29.