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Karl Marlantes: Turning Ghosts into Ancestors

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 20, 2023 3:04 am

Karl Marlantes: Turning Ghosts into Ancestors

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 20, 2023 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Vietnam Veteran and best-selling author Karl Marlantes shares his story of war, memory, and loss.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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See for terms and conditions. And we return to our American stories. Up next, a story from Carl Merlantis. Carl is a recipient of the Navy Cross and the author of the bestselling books Matterhorn and What It Is Like to Go to War. Two books he wrote after his service in Vietnam. A service he didn't talk about until after undertaking the process of putting pen to paper. Let's get into the story. Here's Carl talking about what he did immediately after the war.

First of all, I hid. I mean, I avoided talking about it with anybody because I did have the feeling. And I think it's shared by a lot of veterans.

Not all veterans, but I did have the feeling that people wouldn't understand. Particularly the dark side of things. There's a thrill to war. There's a thrill to crack cocaine, too. And there's enormous, enormous costs.

I would never want to pay the cost to get that thrill, but to deny the thrill is false. How do you tell somebody who's, you know, I don't know, somebody that you're trying to date and she's a college girl and you just come back? I mean, how do you talk about that? You don't. Because you're just, first of all, back in the Vietnam era, you would be just, you know, people really were horrible to us. You know, like we were really criminals. So why would you even want to open yourself up to that? So, I mean, I just, you know, I never told anybody I was in the Marines or in Vietnam.

Just didn't. So that was one way of handling it. It's not right because you've got to talk about it for two reasons. One is for your own mental health. You've got to get these ghosts out where you can see them. My friend Joe Bobrow calls it turning ghosts into ancestors. They're part of you. But if you don't deal with them, they'll haunt you.

I mean, the reason that you're getting bar fights and your marriage breaks up and you start doing too much alcohol is because you're being driven by a ghost. And you're not conscious of it. You've got to get it out.

One of the ways of getting it out, I did it by writing, but the classic way is just talking to people, people who you trust. And that would be like your spouse or your brother or your sister. We didn't even do that. The other side is if you don't tell people what they're actually asking, you know, 19-year-old kids to do for their country, they'll ask them for really trivial bullshit. The military is from seven southern states. The people that are fighting are, you know, their mom and dad works for Wal-Mart.

They're not partners in big city law firms. If you don't get these stories out, the people who are making the big decisions, and most of them have never even been in the military, will have no idea what they're asking and will continue to sacrifice our kids for really trivial reasons. Anyway, I just clamped up. It's the wrong way of doing it.

I use this analogy. Most men, I would say the vast, vast majority of men don't understand, and young women who have not done the experience, what it's like to have a child. What is it like to go through childbirth? If the women who have gone through childbirth feel that they're somehow superior to the rest of us, that's a horrible tragedy for the human race.

And luckily for us, the women don't do that. But they've been through an experience that young women and men have no clue about really, other than what you read in stories or what you hear people talk about. But if you listen to, you know, your mother or your sister or, you know, in my age, your daughter talk about childbirth and they talk about it freely, you get an idea. You'll never really understand it, but you get an idea. And if it wasn't for that, you would have no idea.

I think that veterans, and I often tell combat veterans, don't leave that chip on your shoulder because it is true. I don't think anybody can understand it unless they've done it. I just think that's just the case. You can get close. I mean, good storytelling, good writing, you know, good poetry.

There's been some wonderful songs. They get close, but you'll never get there. And you and I will never understand really childbirth. The only people that understand it are the ones that have done it.

It's the same with combat. But the key is that that can't put you into a category where you think that you're better than other people. You just have had a different experience from other people. And that's a very important thing to understand. Like I say, I use the example of women who have had babies. They're not superior to the women who haven't. And I think that that's the right attitude. Not superior, inferior, just different.

And you won't ever, I don't think you'll ever be able to bridge the gap. Just that simple. I had to deal with this bronze star I got for pulling the kid out from underneath the machine gun. I was written up for that, you know. You know, did a heroic deed.

Brave deed in front of a whole bunch of people. And so I got written up for a medal. And I have that one.

It's in the shadow box on the wall in the living room. I had to deal with it. I wouldn't have been able to talk to you about that without having written it first. Because the feeling of, I wonder if I killed him. I wonder if I killed him. God, I could have done it.

Oh, God. I mean, it would haunt me at night. I'd wake up in the middle of the night going, oh, Jesus, did I put that bullet hole in it? We'll never know.

Because the bodies were blown up. And I wish I'd have known then. But I'll never know. But having written it down and got it out, I remember, you know, literally balling and snot hitting the keyboard. I was balling. I wasn't crying. I was balling.

You know, you know, when you're balling is when you're running out of both nostrils as well as your eyes. And writing it down, got it out. And I could examine it and take responsibility for what I might have done or didn't do. And it was clearly easy because after I wrote it, first of all, I can talk about it without. I mean, I think before I'd written about it, I just start shaking, literally start shaking and would have to shut up. Couldn't carry on. I don't have that problem. And I think that having written it, the ghost is turned into an ancestor.

It doesn't haunt me anymore. It's just part of my life. So the writing was important for those reasons. And also it was important for the other side of it, which I said that people who haven't had the experience.

I wanted to tell our story, our story, what 19 year old kids are trying to grow up and be Marines and be in combat all at the same time. And it wasn't easy. And, you know, unless our story gets told, no one will know. I mean, this is kind of a funny story, but a woman came up to me at a reading and want me, you know, was lying to sign the books and signing books and her turn came up and she was sort of, I'm really embarrassed and sort of hemming and hawing. Oh, gosh, I don't know what to say. I said, what's wrong?

What do you want to talk about? I said, go ahead. And she said, well, you know, I was in college during the Vietnam War and I just hated it. It was wrong. I hated the war. And I was a protester. I protested every chance I could get. I protested. And then I read Matterhorn and I didn't know you guys slept outside. I about fell out of my chair. But you see, this college educated woman, college educated and didn't know we slept outside in Vietnam.

I go like, there's a large, large gap between, you know, the military and the civilians. And that writing helps close it. And a terrific job on the production, editing and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Colmore Lantus. And by writing these things down, he was able to turn ghosts into ancestors. But more importantly, I think he was connecting warrior's lives with civilian lives, just as Stephen Ambrose did with Saving Private Ryan, interviewing all those men and women who put their lives at risk in World War Two.

Colmore Lantus. Turning ghosts into ancestors. Here on Our American Stories. When you're an American Express platinum card member, don't be surprised if you say things like Chef, what course are we on?

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-20 04:44:00 / 2023-11-20 04:49:04 / 5

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