By CHRISTINA CLARK
“Weight” can be applied to actual objects as well as experiences and emotions. The assigned and chosen articles a person carries with them through a difficult period in their life will change as they continue after the journey. As a part of the Big Read St. Joe County project funded by the NEA (National Education Association), the Veterans Book Club has joined with the community to read the fictionalized account of Vietnam soldier’s “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien.
The display cases in the Schurz Library on campus will house things that United States soldiers carried in wars past to show the physical weight of the things soldiers carried, and to give gravity to the experiences these items witnessed with their owners. They are on display this month as a part of a community wide month with events connected with the book.
The book is one that many read in high school, but the storytelling and content are worth revisiting.
“We want to introduce it to a whole new group,” said James VanderVeen, of the book choice for the Veterans Book Club, and the community engagement.”
“Rhiannon Carlson is the organizer for the student veterans and works in admission. She and I picked this book,” said VanderVeen. “We thought it would be a relevant book for the community. I know it, I read it, I’ve used it in classes and thought it was fantastic .”
As an archeologist, VanderVeen was particularly fascinated with the objects themselves.
“It’s what people carry, what people throw away, it’s the emotions they carry, the memories they carry, it’s the association of that object with the outside world that they carry,” he said.
“We did find a good collection of helmets from World War I to current times. We thought that could show change and they’re a symbol of a soldier,” said VanderVeen. “We also had much small personal items like a cigarette case and a lighter…Rhiannon [Carlson] donated pace beads—a string with beads on it that you use to keep track of how far you’ve walked when you’re on point—she associates it with a lot of different memories.”
“We have a safety razor that a faculty member’s grandfather used in World War I…a bunch of things that literally soldiers carried. Things we knew that were used and worn and held onto by people in the military,” said VanderVeen.
In addition to the artifacts, there will also be trench art on display as well, which involves taking things like bullets and artillery shells, and other things from war, and transforming them into a work of art. VanderVeen relates this artwork back to the book, “it’s moving and an emotional piece.”
Other events in the area are linked to the Big Read St. Joe County’s and IU South Bend Veterans Book Club as well. A portion of the grant from the NEA went to the purchase of hundreds of copies of the book, which were then donated to various places in the community such as area libraries, the IU South Bend library, book clubs, the Veterans Center, the downtown VA (veterans affairs) clinic, et cetera. The next History on Tap event at South Bend Brew Werks will be held on Wednesday, October 11 at 6 p.m., where the theme will be “The Day I Refused Induction,” along with Vietnam-era protest songs. “Art of Valor,” with artwork from area students who interviewed veterans and then created a work of art, will be at the South Bend Museum of Art through November 12.