On Friday, Nov. 9, as part of a diverse week-long lineup of Veterans Week events at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, journalism instructor Grace Lim along with students from journalism and music departments, art director Shawn McAfee of the University’s Learning Technologies and others in the campus community will unveil “War: Through Their Eyes, Vol 2., Warriors and Nurses.”
The Nov. 9 event segues into a Saturday, Nov. 10, first-of-its-kind, free, public symposium titled, “The Iraq War in Retrospect,” co-sponsored on campus by the University, Military Veterans Museum and the Wisconsin Humanities Council.
In the UW Oshkosh Today interview below, Lim talks about the project – a next chapter in the collaborative “War: Through Their Eyes” storytelling that began in 2009.
UWOT: What is “War: Through Their Eyes, Vol. 2, Warriors and Nurses?”
Lim: War: Through Their Eyes, Warriors & Nurses, is the second of the War: Through Their Eyes series, which began in 2009. That first project gave 16 student soldiers and Marines a forum to tell the world why they enlisted, what they did and what they felt at the front lines of war. Their stories, which were told in an 80-page book, a series of podcasts and a photo gallery, gave us a glimpse into a world that most of us will never see. “Warriors & Nurses” continues that tradition of giving our veterans a name, a face and a voice. Through the eyes of our students and alumni, Warriors & Nurses are stories of war and the lessons learned from it.
UWOT: Who are the veterans involved in the project?
Lim: These five veterans are either current students or alumni of the College of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. We had asked the College of Nursing administration to let their veterans know about project. The five that we decided to focus on all have compelling stories from four wars.
Greg Gibbons (‘74, BSN) grew up fast in Vietnam, where he served as a hospital corpsman with the U.S. Navy. He helped the war wounded from both sides, for kindness knows no boundaries.
Denise Parrish (‘98, BSN; ‘09, MSN) also grew up far away from her small Wisconsin town. Not only did she leave the only home she knew, she had to leave her baby boy to fight in a war that she barely understood.
Dixie Berres (‘11, BSN) had a romantic view about the military. She thought it was a fun way to travel and see the world. For Berres, who served a tour in Iraq, the reality of war quickly trumped the romance.
Will Anderson became a combat medic with the U.S. Army by happenstance. Anderson keeps the most grisly details of war to himself, but does say his time in Afghanistan helped solidify his intense desire to help others.
John Ackerman served with the U.S. Army as a combat medic in Iraq. Like many young enthusiastic soldiers, Ackerman wore his patriotism on his chest. Right after he enlisted, he had a U.S. flag tattoo placed over his heart. Now, a veteran of the Iraq War, Ackerman knows that true patriotism is more than a mere ink drawing.
I sat in on most of the interviews and I found myself tearing up more than once. I am the mother of two teenage boys. My oldest is 16. These men and women were only a couple years older when they left their families and homes to go to war. It’s mind-boggling and heart-wrenching. These stories are not pro or against war. That was not the purpose. These are the veterans’ stories. It doesn’t matter what our personal views are about war. These men and women stepped up to do something greater than themselves. As with the first project, some of the veterans haven’t shared these stories with their families. They haven’t looked at the yellowing war photos in years. These are important stories, and many of us who haven’t seen war except in the news need to hear them from the people who were there.
UWOT: Who are the students and faculty involved in this cross-discipline, multimedia project?
Lim: For my fall 2011 “Selected Topics Multi-Platform Storytelling in the Digital Age” class, my students were charged with producing a multimedia project that included a traditional print magazine and a series of podcasts. We started on the Warriors & Nurses project but had to work on another one that had a more pressing deadline. I told my journalism students in that class after Dec. 16, which was the last day of the semester, that they could walk away, untethered. They had more than fulfilled the class requirement of producing a multimedia magazine. Grades were in, locked down. However, I did give them the opportunity to continue to work on the Warriors & Nurses project. If they did, they’d have to meet hard deadlines. They’d had to work during interim. Nate Cate, Brad Beck, Noell Dickmann, Morgan Counts and Amy Wasnidge signed up to see this project through.
UWOT: What have you, as an instructor, learned from working with the students and the veterans on this project?
Lim: I learned that meaningful stories are right here, in our classrooms. We are living in a country during a time of war. It’s hard to remember that especially when we’re home, safe and warm. These stories remind me about the sacrifices that a number of men and women have made on my behalf. As instructor teaching future journalists, I tell my students that I am fascinated by people that I do not understand. How is it possible for someone to see war up close and still feel compelled to go into nursing? My students’ mission was to help these veterans, these warriors and nurses, tell their stories.
I also learned that there are so many talented and generous people here on campus. The two original music compositions were by Dr. John Beam, an associate professor of mathematics and my husband, who wrote War: Through Their Eyes, and music student Matt Muelling, who played the viola, violin and guitar in his piece, “Warriors & Nurses.”
UWOT: What will the Nov. 9 event be like?
Lim: There will be a free, light reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by a multimedia presentation led by my students in the Reeve Memorial Union Theatre. There will be a photo exhibit in the Steinhilber Gallery. The photos were shot and designed by Shawn McAfee. The war photos were from the veterans.
There will also be a short special dedication to Craig Birkholz, who was one of the veterans featured in the first War: Through Their Eyes project in 2009. Craig had served two tours, one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan. He earned his criminal justice degree here at UW Oshkosh and became a police officer in the Fond du Lac Police Department. He was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday, March 20, 2011. The Warriors & Nurses book was dedicated in part to Craig’s memory. When I invited his parents to the event, Mrs. Birkholz told me that they only one copy of the first book and how precious that book has become since Craig’s passing. In fact, the family has placed the book under glass. Shawn McAfee and I, both mothers of boys, can’t imagine her grief. We decided to reprint those pages of Craig’s story and frame it for the family.
UWOT: Where can people find the new book and DVD?
Lim: University Books & More will sell the books at the event for $14. All proceeds will go to the Student Multimedia Projects Fund, which help offset the costs of projects like these. We only have a limited number of books (about 200) and even fewer DVD/CDS. The DVD/CD set will be given out free to the first 50 people who purchase a book at the event.
People will also be able to download video podcasts and songs on the www.uwosh.edu/war website after the event.