Finding The Words: Stories And Poems by Women Veterans
“I’m not a Girl Scout. I am a marksman, lethal and proficient,” reads Army veteran Cindy “Loc” Hornung aloud to a room of fellow female veterans as she shares part of her writing that will be included in “Finding The Words,” a collection of stories written by women veterans with service times ranging from as far back as WWII.
The project originally came as a result of a suggestion from a veteran that had participated in a previous poetry workshop at the Indiana Writers Center (IWC), and both Barbara Shoup, Director of IWC, and Shari Wagner, Indiana Poet Laureate and workshop instructor at IWC, agreed that a workshop focused exclusively on helping women veterans share their experiences with words was a beneficial and much-needed effort.
They received funding from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation that allowed the book project to move forward, and they began meeting together, alternating between the Indiana Writers Center and the Vonnegut Library, to start crafting their stories into what would become the “Finding The Words” book.
Word of the project was shared with veterans’ groups, service providers and the local media where it caught the attention of the eldest of the book’s contributors, 94-year-old WWII veteran Elizabeth Smith who served in the Marines. She was excited to contribute her perspective and share her experiences with the group. She, along with nine other female veterans with service in varying branches of the military, began writing and sharing their walks through military service under Wagner’s guidance during the workshop sessions.
Another contributor to the project is Marine Corps veteran Julia Whitehead, the founder and CEO of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. She shares, “It has been interesting when people find out that I served. They behave differently with me once they know I served.” Because of that, she found herself at one point distancing herself from that past truth but has decided to no longer hide it. She has found a community of support in the fellow female veterans that are involved in the workshop and the creation of the book.
That feeling of support and validation, of knowing that someone else has had a similar experience and can relate to how emotionally taxing military service can be, has been a great source of comfort and encouragement to all of the women involved in this project. Although each woman’s story of service and experience within the military is unique, they share the common bond of service and of working within a historically male-dominated arena.
Throughout the generations of service that are represented within this group, each member has their own story to share when it comes to the dynamic of being women in the military during the time in which they served. The role of women serving in the military has changed drastically over the years, from only being allowed to serve in administrative roles or staying on radio guard to now being on the front lines in combat roles. Despite being given increasingly dangerous roles in combat service, several of the women expressed the friction that still exists between men and women in the military and how, even in more progressive times, defining roles and being given proper respect is still a challenge.
These women veterans have been through a lot, individually and collectively as a group as they worked to write through their experiences, embrace their vulnerabilities and find their voice to share their own unique experiences. They realized that although they each experienced their time in the military under different circumstances and in different roles, they are forever bonded by their service.
They hope by sharing their stories, they will be a source of encouragement, support and validation to others who may still be trying to process their own experiences or coping with the emotions that result from being a female member of the military. Their words, some shared as stories and others as poems, represent a collection of experiences, identities and struggles that they hope will resonate with and comfort those who read them.
The “Finding The Words” book launch event will be held at Indy Reads on Mass Ave. on Saturday, November 19 from 5-7 p.m. The book is available for presale as well at the Indiana Writers Center website for $15.
A special thanks to the women veterans who contributed pieces to this collection. Thank you for your service!
Shanna Reis, Army; Leslie Bales, Air Force; Robin Hall, Army National Guard; Cindy “Loc” Hornung, Army; Laura McKee, Air Force; Anita Siccardi, Army; Elizabeth Smith, Marine Corps; Christylee Sparrow Hawk Vickers, Army; Julia Whitehead, Marine Corps, and Lisa Wilken, Air Force.