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The founder of my local veterans’ writing group, Lt. Col. Timothy Hansen, retired Army, invited Maj. Gen. Mari K. Eder, retired Army, to speak to the Rochester Veterans Writing Group during our ZOOM meeting on July 10. What an honor and privilege it was to share a conversation with her.
Tim read the following bio to introduce the General:
I had the privilege to meet her when she was the Deputy Chief of Army Public Affairs back in 2007. She has served in key public affairs positions in the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, theater media relations for NATO in Kosovo, and at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Eder published her first major work on communication, Leading the Narrative: The Case for Strategic Communication in 2011 and followed with American Cyberspace in 2020. Her articles in the communication series, Information Apocalypse, have been used from Appalachian State to the University of Tokyo. She has written several papers on leadership, military ethics, and strategic communications. She has even published two children’s books.
Her forthcoming book, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: The Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II, covers the lives of 15 exceptional women who served or supported WWII while purposely staying out of the limelight. This historical work is a break from her case studies and technical writing on communications.
Tim had told us she would give a 45-minute talk on her career and publications, then allow time for questions. To our surprise, she only talked about her new book due out in hardcover and Kindle at the beginning of August (pictured above) then asked us, as writers, what we wanted to talk about. We weren’t quite prepared.
In answer to our questions, she explained when she submitted the proposal, as you have to for a non-fiction book, the response was a “ho-hum, not another war book.” But, when the publisher looked at the content, they got excited and asked her to have it ready in two months. General Eder explained it was at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, so she was sequestered at home with her three dogs and was happy to have a project. The frustrating part was trying to do research with libraries closed and no one answering phones. She said she wrote the chapters she liked or could easily collect facts for first, then worked on the others. She also shared that she would read poetry to take herself out of the project when she needed a break and then returned to it with new and focused eyes.
Changing gears, we talked about reading for personal pleasure. She suggested making it a practice to delve deeper, search for what a piece has to offer that you can learn from, and thus change you as a person, even if only in a small way.
Before we finished the ZOOM call, we agreed we would reconvene after having had a chance to read The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line.
While on vacation in Richmond, Virginia, over the Fourth of July weekend, I enjoyed a tour of the historic St. John’s Church (https://www.historicstjohnschurch.org/) where I bought the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, The story of Phillis Wheatly, by Ann Rinaldi. It’s a historical fiction novel about how the first book of poetry by an African-American woman came to be published. I eagerly turned page after page to experience Phillis’s extraordinary life while still being a slave.
Ann Rinaldi has brought history alive for me by giving historical figures personalities and describing what might have been their day-to-day experiences. She is careful to note what is factual and what is not. I have to admit my weakness for reading YA books. They are often quick, easy reads that leave me thinking about the characters for many days.
I am looking forward to reading more of her novels, though not all war-related, which will give me a clearer picture of events I have heard about since my early school days.
It’s also interesting to become acquainted with the people who experienced a war on the other side of the earth. I have just finished reading A Ghost and His Gold by Roberta Eaton Cheadle, a regular contributor at Carrot Ranch. This historical fiction novel is about the Second Anglo Boer War in South Africa, where Robbie resides. She has come up with a unique way to tell the story by using ghosts as three of her key characters. Roberta masterfully shares the history of the war by having her main character Michelle unravel how the three ghosts were connected in the past, why they are haunting her home, and why they have been unable to move on to the afterlife.
I developed the same empathy for the people I had the privilege of getting to know in these books as I have with the veterans in my local writing group. War is war, no matter where it takes place or for what reason. Humans, animals, and the terrain suffer from the event, and it changes lives in diverse ways.
Do you have any books on the subject of war that you would recommend or futher advanced your understanding of a past event? Feel free to share in the comments section.
Sue Spitulnik is an ex-Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog, susansleggs.com
When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.
I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.
I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood” of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.
According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.
Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue. My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.
The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)
The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin.
We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)
There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.
Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever expanding.
In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.
You can contact me individually through my blog susansleggs.com