War stories get personal.
"It is 1991. I am sitting in a classroom, English literature. It is my senior year. I am writing a letter to a soldier who is fighting in the Gulf War. I am asking him, 'What is it like to kill?'
It is 1993 and I have been given the opportunity to answer my very own question. I am on a rooftop in downtown Mogadishu. I am security today. My weapon is a .50 caliber sniper rifle, capable of destroying a target effectively at 1,800 meters. Eighteen-hundred
meters equates to 5,905 feet, or just over one mile. The size of the bullet is roughly the size of my thumb. To make matters worse, I have loaded armor piercing incendiary rounds into the magazine. Not only will it rip a hole in a body, it will also burn."
Thus begins John Healy's account of serving more than a decade as a soldier in Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq. Healy's monologue relates vivid slices of his face-to-face encounters with civilians in those countries in jump-cut blasts. Remarkably, Healy's spiritual self-discovery concludes the monologue seamlessly.
Healy and others appear at
, under the auspices of Project Life Stories. The evening promises autobiographical monologues resulting from a process of self-examination and truth telling. Participants, largely veterans, agreed to a collaborative experience of writing and sharing their stories in preparation for the event.
"I had never done this kind of free writing before," Daniel Craig, one of the monologists, says. "It takes one to a deeper level than the conscious level. My own monologue centers around the way I was brought up-playing soldier, becoming a soldier-the story I was told about 'duty, honor, country.' I had to look at, 'Why did I go to the
Gulf and kill people?' My son died as a result of exposure to toxins from the Gulf War. A lot of what I believed was a lie."
Craig served from 1981 to 1993 and left the military as a first lieutenant. "I don't speak for other veterans, only for myself. But many veterans who are speaking out are taking a look at their foundation and beliefs. 'Duty, honor, country' is actually about capitalism. It's always been this way; they're just taking off the covers more now."
Joan Duffy's perspective is seldom aired. Duffy served as a nurse for field hospital units in Vietnam. She suspects her several cancers, recently returned after a period of remission, are the result of Agent Orange exposure. Ironically, the Veteran's Administration only acknowledges a variety of soft tissue cancers in men, offering the rationale that not enough women were exposed to have a valid sample. It was when she found out that her cancer had returned that Duffy agreed to participate in
"We did a series of free writing exercises. When it was over I was asking myself, 'Why in hell did I agree to do this?' My stomach was killing me. I felt like I had eaten nails. It's been an extremely painful process. But now I feel there is a reason I'm doing this. The purpose of it is so important."
Duffy worries that some of her experiences will be unbearable for the audience to hear. "Some of what happened, these are things I have never said to anyone, things people do not want to hear. If I tell my whole story, I could be reviled. But my hope is, there's such a disconnect between the average person's idea of war-glory, heroism-they absolutely do not know that war is a failure and an obscenity. I hope my story gets people to become active. A lot of people in Santa Fe are anti-war, but they don't do anything about it."