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Our Stories To Tell: Veterans Tell Their Own Stories at NYPL Panel

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Captain Kristin Rouse describes several news headlines that are problematic in their depiction of veterans and military life.Captain Kristin Rouse describes several news headlines that are problematic in their depiction of veterans and military life.Last Tuesday, October 15th, several generations of American war veterans spoke at the Our Stories to Tell panel at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building's South Court Auditorium, the first panel in the New York Veteran History Series. The panel was produced in collaboration with StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative and was an opportunity for veterans to share their personal military experiences and discuss how veterans and military life are represented in our popular culture depictions.

Bob Cohen, a WWII Veteran, shared a clip from the film See Here, Private Hargrove which he said turned the experience of being in the military into an idealized "summer camp." Mr. Cohen felt "conned" when he saw the film before entering the service. His experience was certainly different than the way this movie and many other films during the WWII era depicted military life.

Captain Kristen Rouse served in the US Army for 19 years with several deployments to Afghanistan. She responded to headlines that are all too common in the news media. One headline Captain Rouse responded to was about a People magazine Tribute for Heroes Campaign. "The idea of the veteran as hero is considered to be a universal, but not all veterans are heroes," Captain Rouse said. Captain Rouse and the other panelists continued to discuss how even positive stereotypes such as the "war hero" tend to bury personal accomplishments, stories and experiences.

The importance of the personal story to transcend these mainstream depictions is invaluable, but how are the personal stories of veterans and their families being shared and listened to? Maurice Decaul shared one example of a project from fellow Iraq War veteran Scott Ostrom who won a Pulitzer Prize for the photographic documentation of his daily life with PTSD. Mr. Decaul commented specifically on how "relatable" the photographs in this collection were when he first saw them. Jack Mclean, a Vietnam Veteran, told a personal story about reconnecting with the family of a fellow Marine who was killed in Vietnam. Mr. Mclean wrote a book (Loon: A Marine Story) describing his own experience in Vietnam and also telling the story of this family and their loss.

WWII Veteran Bob Cohen shares a clip from the film See Here, Private Hargrove that he says turns the military into an idealized "kind of summer camp."WWII Veteran Bob Cohen shares a clip from the film See Here, Private Hargrove that he says turns the military into an idealized "kind of summer camp."

The New York Veteran History Series will continue on November 5th with a Vietnam Veterans panel moderated by Philip Napoli, author of Bringing it All Back Home: An Oral History of New York City's Vietnam Veterans. Listen to Vietnam Veterans reflect on their personal stories as a way to confront the myths that surround their experiences.

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