WCSU in the Age of Reason

Paul Steinmetz writes about Western Connecticut State University

Support veterans: Read “The Things They Carried”


Tim O’Brien, the author of “The Things They Carried,” is going to speak at WCSU at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26, as part of “One Book, One Community,” the project to bring people together through books.

Many other “One Book” events are taking place throughout the month. You can see them here.

What “The Things They Carried” does is give some insight to the experience of military people, both in war and when they return home. The book’s most disturbing parts are not the scenes of battle, which are horrific, but rather the times when characters remember and retell their experiences. Battle has set them apart. They have trouble comprehending their situations, and the family and friends they return to have no idea.

When you read the book, you will gain a better understanding.

At the kickoff press conference for “One Book,” Brian Bielefeldt, a WCSU student and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan spoke, explaining why he would like as many people as possible to read “The Things They Carried.” Here is what he said:

I am an art major, a graphic designer and a computer science minor.

But, I am not a “traditional” college student. I enlisted in the Army as an airborne infantryman and now I am a veteran, with experiences that range from a combat parachute assault into northern Iraq to over 15,000 miles driven in Afghanistan in some of the most treacherous terrain I’ve ever seen.

When I was asked to speak today I wasn’t sure if I was going to accept. After reading “The Things They Carried,” I realized the underlying significance of this book to our community. With so many young people such as myself coming home and having to live with the experience of war, I feel our communities are ill-equipped to assist in the transition for those returning. Out of a platoon of 30 soldiers I have had two friends commit suicide due to the lack of support from our V.A. and their communities.

Sgt. Colman Bean, and Spc. Jake Swanson.

That’s very difficult for me to say out loud but it is reality.

Our community will benefit greatly by exposing itself to a small part of a thought process experienced by many veterans of today’s generation. Not that they would “know” but more in the realm of recognizing the sensitivity of those returning.

If you were to approach any veteran and ask them if they needed help or someone to talk to, the majority would probably refuse or even be offended. That may be due to their independence but more than likely it has to do with the stigma surrounding mental and physical health in the military.

I feel this community read may not only help those who are not veterans but also those who are, simply by creating a commonality, a talking point or even a silent understanding.

And to quote a chapter from the book, “Speaking of Courage,” page 149, second paragraph:

“He lived with his parents, who supported him, and who treated him with kindness and obvious love. At one point he had enrolled in the junior college in his home town, but the course work, he said, seemed too abstract, too distant, with nothing real or tangible at stake, certainly not the stakes of war.”

Follow Western Connecticut State University at www.wcsu.edu. View information about the services for veterans at WCSU here.

Paul Steinmetz