Celebrating Kurt Vonnegut's 90th Birthday and Armistice Day 

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click to enlarge MARC LEEDS

When Kurt Vonnegut was still just a rich, spoiled Indy boy, his prose, as laid out in the student newspapers at Shortridge High School and Cornell University, was "flat," eldest son Mark said, having read enough of his father's early attempts to have formulated an educated opinion.

"Power only came after the pain" but the old man took a long time to tell his truth, young Vonnegut said. Meanwhile, as a father in need of catharsis, Kurt was "annoying," Mark told Inskeep in an in-depth interview following a brief speech earlier in the afternoon.

Mark was raised "before the money hit" but with edicts, written across the walls even, such as: "Goddamnit, you have to be kind." and "Go love without the help of anything on earth." Mark said he was "incredibly proud" of his father, noting "at no point did he make me less than him."

The art helped the father become "unstuck in time versus stuck in time," the son said.

Vonnegut writing tip: If you get stuck, write a poem and share it.

Vonnegut witticism: No matter what happens ... it's better this way.

Vonnegut craft project: Use rejection letters to line wastebasket.

Eventually, Vonnegut had book contracts and more to offset those rejection letters. An agent, Don Farber, helped Vonnegut. They became best friends in New York City. Farber is a veteran, too. He attended Vets Reclaim Armistice Day. He knows about the bloody mysteries of fate's dice in war. Farber shared his own World War II experience: Fresh into a reassignment away from his unit, the entire group he left behind was killed. He has grappled with that ever since.

Soldiers have no incentive to ask for help for mental trauma, according to retired U.S. Marine Hugo Patrocinio. "It goes contrary to your duty not to let your fellow man down. PTSD makes you part of the problem instead of part of the solution."

But one day a doctor told Patrocinio, who did a lot of fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, that it sounded as if he'd been through a lot.

"I went for my pills, got caught telling the truth and it led to my retirement," Patrocinio said.

"When I found ArtReach and started writing and drawing, something lifted."

For true healing to occur, one must find safety, a place not to be judged, but that allows the flexibility for change, he said. Patrocinio is now an ArtReach Project America veteran peer trainer and training instructor.

Other veteran artists who shared their stories through the day included poet Jason Poudrier and ceramist Ehren Tool, who gives away mugs and installation pieces encrusted with molded images of military symbolism and war to stimulate awareness.

Retired U.S. Congressman Andy Jacobs is a veteran. He fought injustice in Congress for three decades. He excoriated people who would start wars without themselves serving. "War wimps," he called them. Injuries he sustained in the Korean War keep him in bed a lot. He attended Armistice Day.

"America: Where she is right, glory; where she is wrong, courage," he said.

He shared two war stories to illustrate one underlying point: "Even in the savagery of war, there can be humanity."

In short, the karma of a C-ration gifted to an emaciated Chinese POW sliding down Korean Hill 902 in the custody of Jacobs' men paid dividends when Chinese gunners offered a free pass to Jacobs and fellow soldiers carrying a litter with their dead commander out of a battle zone just a few weeks later.

And in a nod to fellow Marine Whitehead, Jacobs concluded his presentation with a thought bite: "The Marine Corps is not what it used to be. In fact, it never was."


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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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