The Voices Of Veterans, And Why They Fight

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Karl Marlantes. (Photo: Devon Marlantes)
Karl Marlantes. (Photo: Devon Marlantes)

By: Alex Ashlock

One of the areas I try to focus on as a Here and Now producer is the military and the wars, and I've had the good fortune to encounter some incredible people along the way. I'd like to send them a shoutout on this Veterans Day.

Karl Marlantes wrote a best-selling novel about serving as a Marine second lieutenant in the jungles of Vietnam. "Matterhorn" was called by some reviewers the best novel ever written about that war.

I spoke to Karl in September when he was in Boston to read from his latest book, "What It Is Like To Go To War."

It's a non-fiction book about the consequences of combat. Marlantes said:

"We are raised, if we're decent people, and 99.99 percent of the military are decent people...  that it's bad to kill people and then all of a sudden it's good to kill people. And then it was bad to kill people and it's an extreme adjustment and dealing with that is something that nobody really ever talked to me about in terms of the effects on the soul... That's what get's damaged when you kill other people."

Army Captain Dan Kearney was featured in Sebastian Junger's book "War," and also in the documentary Junger made with the late photographer Tim Hetherington, "Restrepo."

The book and the film deal with the experiences of a single platoon fighting in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in 2007 and 2008. When he came to our studio, Captain Kearney had this to say about why soldiers fight:

"It's about the man to the left and the right. They don't fight for the red white and blue. They don't fight for America's values.They didn't sign up for all those reasons. They're fighting to make sure that the guy on the left makes it home on his mid-tour leave.  So the guy on his right, he's going to turn 21 tomorrow. They want to make sure that he sees his 21st birthday so that he can go back home and drink a beer with them. It's so that the kid behind 'em can go back and see his daughter. They've been bonded together by the blast furnace of combat," he said.

Father Paul Monti. (Courtesy Anna Miller)
Father Paul Monti. (Courtesy Anna Miller)

On a recent Saturday, Paul Monti of Raynham, Massachusetts gathered volunteers at the Massachusetts National Cemetery on Cape Cod to place flags on the graves of more than 50,000 veterans.

Paul launched Operation Flags for Vets after his son Sgt. First Class Jared Monti was buried there. Jared was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, while trying to save a buddy who was seriously wounded.

Sgt. Monti was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.

I spoke to Paul Monti before this past Memorial Day when hundreds of volunteers were placing the flags for the first time. He said:

"It's fantastic to see people willing to honor those who sacrifice so much for our freedom. And that's what it's all about. It's not about Jared. It's about my coming down here and seeing all these veterans who weren't being honored with a flag on their grave. Including my son, but it was all these veterans. Because all of them sacrificed-- they were away from their homes, away from their families, many of them were killed in action, and they deserve the respect and honor of having a flag on their grave."

Veteran Brian Turner (Photo Tom Bosch)
Veteran Brian Turner (Photo Tom Bosch)

Volunteers will return to the cemetery again on Sunday to remove the flags.

In 2003 and 2004, Brian Turner was the leader of an infantry unit with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Iraq. He has turned his experiences into some award-winning poetry, with his books "Here Bullet," and "Phantom Noise."

We first spoke to Brian when he was traveling the world on the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. More recently, he was on the show to talk about his return to Baghdad for a story he wrote in National Geographic.

The parents of Here & Now producer Alex Ashlock. (Courtesy of Alex Ashlock)
Margaret and Raymond Ashlock, parents of Here & Now producer Alex Ashlock. Raymond fought in World War II and Korea. (Alex Ashlock)

I'd also like to make a nod to those who serve on the home front. Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife and a mother who started a blog called "Operation Marriage," to detail the experiences of a military family. She's also worked to reduce military suicides and right now she's involved in an event in her town, Fayetteville, North Carolina, that's designed to give Vietnam Vets the welcome home many never got. It's called Heroes Homecoming.

And finally, Here and Now's very own Chris Ballman, the only veteran on our staff, and my father, Raymond Allen Ashlock.

He fought in World War II and Korea. Dad's not around anymore but I am proud to say he served.

To all our veterans, enjoy your day, and thanks.

This segment aired on November 11, 2011.


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