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Shining a light on vets experiences

Soldiers returning home face big obstacles, program points out


Courtesy photoAs far back as the Greek bard Homer’s tale of Odysseus returning from Troy, and as recent as documentary and newspaper accounts of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s been clear that home is a hard place for a soldier to go.

“We know the statistics,” writer and photographer Jim Lommasson said. “Eighteen vets kill themselves every day and 70,000 more are living on the streets. Our vets are fraught with all the same things Odysseus was. They’re just trying to deal with the effects of war.”

Since 2007, Lommasson has been interviewing and photographing soldiers returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He will present his “Life After War” collection Friday at the Cornelius Public Library. His goal is to open up the conversation about war between soldiers and the communities they return to.

“We did a terrible job bringing back soldiers from Vietnam,” he said. “When we went to war in 2003, I decided that if we did a better job welcoming them back and listening to their stories it would help them reintegrate.”

The conversations have been profound, he said. “The mother of one vet said when he came home he wouldn’t really talk. Well she finally mother-badgered him into talking about it because she wanted to help him and he told her that he wouldn’t wish war on his worst enemy. Most are pretty remorseful. I haven’t found many who have said ‘Yes, we’re doing it right and doing it well.’”

What he did find, however, was camaraderie.

“The number-one common element to every interview was they were all there fighting for the soldier on their left and on their right. They weren’t fighting for freedom, or democracy, or anything but their fellow soldiers. That speaks to their sense of the mission, the fact that maybe the mission wasn’t the priority, just taking care of each other and surviving.”

Lommasson interviewed people of all political persuasions. “I just ask them to tell stories,” he said. “I don’t try to emphasize one side or another. I’m just a conduit and I try to stay as close to invisible as possible.”

His goal is to give voice to service men and women.

“Each of them has something profound, heartbreaking, noble and painful to say. Some of it is terrible to listen to and you realize how hard homecoming can be because you’re sent to war to do things that you’re raised not to do. Then you come home and you have to re-learn the things you were originally taught.”

The program is sponsored

by Oregon Humanities and hosted by Friends of the Cornelius Library.

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