Professor to publish book following lives of veterans

Professor Michael Messner was inspired by his grandfather and father’s services in World War I and World War II, respectively. (Photo from YouTube)

Michael Messner, a USC professor of sociology and gender studies, will be publishing a nonfiction book titled “Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace” on Nov. 9. His book will be released in time for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and aims to shed light on the life-changing experiences of American veterans.

The book focuses on five multigenerational men who fought in five different wars, including World War II, the Gulf War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

Messner’s inspiration for this book stemmed from his grandfather’s service in World War I and his father’s efforts in World War II.

“The way I grew up was being really fascinated by World War I but like a lot of veterans, [my grandfather] didn’t really want to talk about it,” Messner said.  “It’s very common for veterans of wars to feel that they really would rather not talk about it and to me that’s kind of part of a pattern [of] what I call ‘manly silence.’ It’s men learning … to hold things in and not show your vulnerability. So a lot of veterans … feel a sense of guilt or shame [for] things that they’ve experienced and [for] things that they’ve done.”

Messner remembers wishing his grandfather a happy Veteran’s Day more than 30 years ago. He was surprised to hear his grandfather respond, noting that the holiday used to be called Armistice Day. Politicians had changed the name so they could keep having more wars, his grandfather said. Armistice Day, however, symbolized the end of all wars and the promise of lasting peace.

To some veterans, like Messner’s grandfather, the holiday’s 1954 name change was an insult and indicates that the U.S. was founded on war, according to Messner.

“He was very saddened by that and angry about it, and that’s one of the roots of my interest,” Messner said. “I mean obviously that was 30 or 40 years ago when that happened, but I’ve always kind of held on to that story.”

Due to the misconception, Messner wanted to write a book to uncover the truths behind war, including the personal experiences of veterans and the trauma of war on their bodies, through mental illnesses like PTSD.  

Messner said he interviewed veterans from Veterans for Peace, a nonprofit organization for U.S. veterans, to collect a variety of anecdotes for his book.

“There [are] a couple [of] other people that I interviewed who aren’t among the five that I really profiled in the first chapter,” Messner said.

Messner spoke to a female veteran and said that the woman’s anecdote was an important addition to the story since the female military experience is portrayed far less than men’s.

Another anecdote in Messner’s book is from Ernie Sanchez, a World War II veteran. Messner said that Sanchez left the war because he was suffering from PTSD after he killed around 50 to 100 Germans in the line of duty.

“[Sanchez] carries that with him for his whole life, and this sort of shame of having killed what he called ‘brothers, sons and people who were loved by others,’” Messner said.

Messner also said that people’s active participation in war affects the way they view peace.

“In the United States, most of us are so separated from the experiences of the military and war that we sort of think of ourselves as being at peace and we’re not,” he said. “We’re actually in permanent warfare right now in the world.”

Messner hopes this book will share the stories of different veterans who were wounded physically and mentally by war. He said that many of these men are on a path to find peace and to separate themselves from the idea of endless war.

“I want people to understand the experience of these veterans and hear their voices…” Messner said.  “We have these people who we’re sending over in our name… and they’re paying the price for our sense of complacency. These are guys who have come out of that place of silence and trauma and are speaking out for what they see as peace and justice.”