If you’ve never heard about someone cooking popcorn using C-4 plastic explosive then you haven’t been reading the right magazine. It’s one of many stories Vietnam War veteran Pete Steciow shared within his writing group and for the pages of Veterans’ Voices.
“The only thing you didn’t want to do is step on it,” he explained. “If you stepped on it, you’d get a lot more than popcorn.”
Joining the writing group was an accident. One day, when he was working as a volunteer at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, a fellow veteran asked for directions to a room where the writing group gathered. Pete decided to walk the gentleman to the location and once there discovered a program he wasn’t even aware existed.
“You learn things from other veterans. There’s socialization how to deal with your emotions,” Steciow said. “So many of the veterans are going through the same things, so it’s very cathartic to hear someone else write and you say, 'Well, that’s me,' and how they feel and how they’re dealing with it.”
The program was started by Ronald Nash, a veteran of the Vietnam War who had a desire to not only help veterans write better, but to heal through telling their stories.
“The VA is in a cultural transformation. And previously it was a 'find it, fix it' type of scenario, and today the whole health pathway, the whole health, has 10 different categories (including) the creative arts, which writing, drumming, music and a number things, are in the creative arts,” Steciow said.
He says he’s been able to revisit his own journey through the way his words, written down, are transporting him right back to where he was within enemy range on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam.
“The focus was on the barbwire fencing and any enemy movement outside the berm,” Steciow wrote in one of his stories. “Our location was so close to the Ho Chi Minh trail, an encounter with the enemy was a real possibility.”
He also wrote about feeling guilt when he had the opportunity for a short rest-and-relaxation visit away from the war.
“Leaving my brothers to continue the search-and-destroy grind while I was off seeking a new experience seemed unfair, but I had earned this leave, having earned my share of many scrapes with the enemy,” he wrote.
From the R&R to the cookies and Jiffy Pop popcorn in his care package from home, his writing transports him back in time.
“I pictured my mom and sister making and carefully packing the oatmeal, raisin and peanut butter cookies along with the Jiffy Pop popcorn, the hard candy and the pictures and letters from the much-missed family. It’s these stories that help you to reflect there were some positive moments, and it pulls you away from the unpleasant memories,” Steciow said.
The group emphasizes that you don’t have to be a writer to take that first step, but Pete Steciow believes the written word can be very powerful in shaping the future.
“If enough of this gets on paper and if enough people read it, the young people growing up will be our future leaders, and hopefully they’ll create change, and a better world, and hopefully we won’t have a need for these wars.”
The writing group has been meeting virtually due to the ongoing pandemic. You can reach out by going to the group’s main website: Veteranswritings.com