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Review: Tracy Crow's 'Red, White, & True' is a thoughtful collection of essays on military life

Published Sep. 24, 2014

With the U.S. military yet again stepping into new roles around the globe, Red, White, & True is a timely collection. Subtitled Stories From Veterans and Families, World War II to Present, it gathers 32 personal essays by veterans, military spouses and now-grown children.

Tracy Crow, a veteran herself, edited the collection. A former Eckerd College instructor and the author of the memoir Eyes Right: Confessions From a Woman Marine, Crow writes in her introduction that she received many submissions for the book from veterans and included many of their stories. But she also chose essays by family members, because, she writes, "we are just beginning to understand and comprehend how children and grandchildren of veterans have been affected by military life — by military customs and traditions, the long absences, the tragic combat deaths, and a survivor's guilt."

One such essay is the moving Panel 30W, Row 15 by Tampa Bay Times correspondent and Eckerd adjunct instructor Lorrie Lykins. Her father served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and she evokes vividly the positive side of growing up in a military family, part of a larger "rowdy traveling tribe" of kids who moved almost every year and, at each new base, found old friends and new as their parents formed lively social circles.

But when she was in third grade, a middle-of-the-night phone call brought the devastating news that one of her father's dear friends had died in combat — and suddenly, irrevocably, she understood her father could meet the same fate.

Veteran and Saint Leo University graduate Brooke King also writes about the impact of military experience on family in Breathe Through Your Mouth. After becoming pregnant with twins while she was deployed in Iraq, she returns home to struggle with both a difficult pregnancy and post-traumatic stress disorder. She denies having the latter because, she reasons, she doesn't remember anything traumatic — while she's awake. Her dreams are another matter.

Several years later, she is cooking dinner one night. "When I heard loud suppressive gunfire from the living room, I instinctively slammed my body to the floor." It turns out her 3-year-olds are watching Iron Man; her outburst at one of them makes her think, "I'm a monster." But it's not that simple.

Hulls in the Water is an account of a very different kind of military experience by Jeffery Hess, who is the editor of two anthologies, Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform and Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand, and teaches writing workshops for veterans.

Hess served in the Navy during the Cold War, from 1983 to 1989. He enlisted right after graduating from high school in Florida, mainly out of a young man's sense of adventure. "World War III always felt imminent to me. I sort of wanted it, back then. If it didn't kill me, I'd likely get some medals out of the ordeal. If it did kill me, so what?"

He never saw combat; indeed, he writes, the "one night I really thought I was going to die came during a typhoon evasion aboard the Proteus in '86." But he writes eloquently of the bonds among his fellow sailors, the joys of high-tech equipment and world travel, and his pride when the Berlin Wall falls: "I was part of the Navy that was partly responsible for closing out a win in a forty-four-year conflict with the Soviets. … I, myself, was one of the Navy's weapons."

Donald Morrill, a poet, nonfiction writer and associate dean of graduate studies at the University of Tampa, contributes the thoughtful essay The Intimate. He contrasts his own avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War with his father's service in the Navy Air Corps during World War II — drafted two weeks before he finished high school, he went without hesitation.

But this essay is not just another inspirational Greatest Generation story. After his father's death, among photographs and letters sent from Brazil, where he had served, Morrill finds a far more mysterious and personal tale. It illuminates for him what he thinks of as the "alien" nature of the military — something that all the essays in Red, White, & True seek to do.

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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