Veterans Book Group: A Journey

The mostly blue cover features a an illustration of people gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Wall, drawn in the primitive style.

by Rohini G.

Last year we embarked on a powerful journey of connection through reading and discussion among veterans in Howard County. This journey continues in 2021. Our facilitator, David Owens, USNA Class of ‘94, shares his thoughts in a candid interview.    

David, you are a former Naval officer and an entrepreneur with your own media production company. You are also the facilitator of a Veterans Book Group (VBG) at the library. Tell us more about all these different hats that you don so effortlessly.  

I do indeed juggle a lot, but I love it! I want to be someone who makes communities better, and thus volunteering (Veterans Reading Group, etc.) makes me feel more satisfied. I’m a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and spent six years active duty stationed at Naval Station San Diego. I was also a news reporter for 15 years after leaving the service. 

Running a small business has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, and much of the success of the company centers on human connecting and teambuilding. I learned many of those skills in the military and try to bring those abilities to the reading group as well.  

The Veterans Book Group was a first for Howard County Library System and a first for you. What prompted you to take on this role? 

First of all, I love this reading group, and I hope it continues! I wanted to be involved in the group because I love to read, and I like listening to other people’s opinions on things. This has been the best of both worlds for me! We all read the same book, yet we sometimes have different perspectives, which helps us all grow. Additionally, it is awesome to meet new people and connect with them. 

What makes a Veterans Book Group different from other book groups? 

Just by the nature of the job, military members tend to have experience working in high intense environments with diverse groups of people. I believe those experiences facilitate deeper discussions in our group. I also believe there is increased sensitivity and empathy among the members because we understand some have had life-altering experiences during their service/lives. As for the readings, we are a relaxed group that gives members plenty of time to read all the books. 

Would you like to share any special memories or experiences from last year’s VBG? 

Last year we were honored to have author Madeline Mysko (Bringing Vincent Home) join us for a session. She was so gracious, and having her talk about how the book was really a reflection of her own experiences brought a realness factor to our discussion.  

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Covid-19. Our group initially met in person, then held our final few meetings virtually. Howard County Library and Maryland Humanities were great at adjusting on the fly. Being able to remain connected to people brought positive energy for me, and provided a bit of normal human interaction during such a difficult time. 

I understand that participants at VBG read novels, short stories, articles, and just about every format. What was your favorite story, book or excerpt from what you read last year? 

Again, I have to give a lot of kudos to Howard County Library and Maryland Humanities because they work hard to assist the facilitators in selecting a good cross-section of books. Bringing Vincent Home was my favorite. The characters in her story were so identifiable and really hit home for me. I honestly had to remind myself on several occasions that it was actually a novel.  

You are embarking on another journey with VBG in 2021. What are your plans for this year? How are you feeling about it? 

I am really excited about the diversity of subjects in this year’s books. We will explore issues with the VA (Dead Soldier by Carmelo Rodriguez), as well as a few eras that might not get read as much (Korean War and Civil War). We are also planning to invite authors to our discussions; in fact, Carmelo Rodriguez has expressed a desire to speak with us. I’m looking forward to the journey, and I know the group is going to have a lot of great discussions and connections! 

The Veterans Book Group 2021 starts on February 2. For more information and to register, click HERE.

Veterans Day and Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five arches in a tombstone shape above the subtitle, Or the Children's Crusade, and the author's name.

By Eric L.

We celebrate Veterans Day today, November 11, and it’s not just an extra day off each year. As a young person, I didn’t realize the significance of the date and why it doesn’t float like similar holidays. Veterans Day was not explained to me in school; in fact, the significance of the First World War wasn’t very clear until I took a college-level class. However, I won’t blame my teachers; there is a high probability that I was not paying attention.

I have always liked history because it seems like a big story, and I love those. I still, fortuitously, fill the gaps of my historical knowledge through books, very often through fictional stories as a gateway to the actual events. So please read them, you can borrow them for free

Kurt Vonnegut is arguably one of my favorite writers for his indefatigable humanism and wit. Sadly, I’m a huge fan of what people call gallows humor. He served in combat for the U.S. Army during the Second World War. In short, he was captured, detained as a prisoner of war, survived the fire-bombing of Dresden as a POW, and experienced horrifying things. His work Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Death addresses this experience. The title refers to the former slaughterhouse where he and other POWS were held, and the fact that they were really children when they fought the war. Many of his works are about war and post-traumatic stress it causes. Strangely, Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, what would become Veterans Day.

In my opinion, the prefaces of his books, as well as his memoir Man Without a Country (also in audio) are nearly as good as the novels. I find them hilarious. In the preface to Breakfast of Champions (available in ebook, eAudio, or this collection), he describes how Armistice Day marked the end of the First World War. The cease-fire was declared on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Vonnegut poetically said,  

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me
in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we
still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke
clearly to mankind (504-5, Novels and Stories 1962-1973).

I can only imagine that, to a battlefield veteran, the silence of a cease-fire must indeed have sounded like providence. Vonnegut said that Armistice Day was “sacred,” I assume because it meant an end to fighting in the War to End All Wars. I’m fairly confident he supported veterans of all types, but I too hope the idea of a cease-fire is still “sacred.”  

I very much appreciate the veterans of the military. I admire their courage, and I especially admire my late Grandmother who served as a combat nurse during the Second World War. 

Check out HCLS’s list of titles to remember and celebrate our nation’s military heroes this Veterans Day.

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.