Many veterans find discussing their war experiences difficult. Perhaps writing about them instead could provide some relief. That's the hope of cowboy poet Vess Quinlan, who took advantage of last month's 32nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada to address a workshop of combat veterans and their families about sharing their stories.
Quinlan is not a veteran himself, The Associated Press reported, but poems received from Vietnam veterans – men who thought Quinlan could identify with their struggle based on his writings about fighting with polio – persuaded him to reach out to veterans in their life after service.
Getting veterans to trust him and begin an honest conversation is the workshop's biggest challenge, Quinlan told the AP.
"It takes an hour before people start understanding what we're doing and that we're not there to get anything from them," he said.
Bill Jones, a fellow cowboy poet and a Vietnam veteran who assists Quinlan with the workshops, said that the national attitude was not open to discussing the war after he returned home. In an atmosphere like that, it's no wonder veterans have difficulty talking about their experiences.
"When I came back it was best not to say anything," Jones told the AP. "It was best not to say you had been to Vietnam."
Attending one of Quinlan's workshops changed that for him.
"I wrote about a lot of my experiences over there," Jones said. "Combat is a very life-changing event. After you've been in combat you look at life a little bit differently."
Quinlan hopes to continue helping veterans find their voices. He told the Elko Daily Free Press that the workshops provided an opportunity to veterans to feel free to write about and explore their memories among fellow brothers and sisters who understand their situation better than anyone.
"Their purpose now [is] to tell a story, but it's the same brotherhood," he said.