Veterans and my novel, Brindle 24

J.J.Brown father photo

On Veterans Day I always think of my father and our veterans. I think of their families and how far the ripples of shock spread out, too. My father was a veteran of WWII; he joined up underage after his older brother, Gerald, was killed in the war. Those wartime experiences had a huge influence on his life – and on ours. As kids, we heard so many stories, so many memories, and confusing discussions between out parents about war. These always ended with the eternal hope for peace – my father, like some of the other veterans I’ve known, had become a pacifist.

J.J.Brown father photo
Veteran Norman Brown, the author’s father

Two fictional characters in my third novel, Brindle 24, are veterans I based on memories of my father, who had already passed away from lung cancer at the time I was writing. The characters Officer Joe, and David, a father, are both veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Their friendship grows from a shared past in the service, and both were drawn from my father’s personality.

In Brindle 24, which takes place over 24 hours, the veterans are dealing with an environmental emergency in a remote rural town, Brindle. The area is a lot like where I grew up, Freehold, New York, and the struggles there are very personal to me. David’s teenage daughter is trying to make sense of the changes on their property and the surrounding hills after fracking (gas drilling with hydraulic fracturing).

David is a tragic character, and an anchor in the story. Officer Joe is a main character who witnesses changes fracking brings, and crimes that occur as reactions. His main role is to protect families in Brindle from devastation the gas drilling brings.

In Brindle 24, the veteran characters work through some of their residual trauma from Iraq. In real life, my father’s time in Japan’s targetted cities at the end of the war shaped him in many ways. He remembered walking through the destroyed areas and just keep going after the atom bombing, and talked about bringing food to people who survived. He sometimes told us stories about his experiences when he took a break from working out in his garage beside the house, and his tales became a part of my childhood imagination.

The PTSD was hard for me to understand then, but now it all makes sense. Sudden noises or loud sounds would startle him, and he had no tolerance for fireworks, no interest in parades. His wartime memories filtered the remainder of his life through the perspective and the scars of being a survivor of WWII, where his brother and so many men he know had died.

You can find Brindle 24 in most places books are sold, Amazon, in print and on kindle and other e-readers. Leave me a review and let me know what you think – maybe a veteran in your life shaped your childhood too. So many of us were children of soldiers.

A Seat on the Bus on 4th of July

Fourth of July
Fourth of July, St. Helena Island, South Carolina

On our bus route in NYC, no one got up when a grey-haired man with a long pony tail lurched up the steps, walker first. Printed on his worn brown cap was “American Veteran” and it was the Fourth of July. The vet was going to sit though no seat was open, and he motioned to a white-haired man to move over one in the handicapped seat area at the front of the bus. And he did, grimacing, but kept his legs spread wide, his manicured white fingers trembling from age or anger, I wasn’t sure which.

The vet was a big man in a loose T-shirt and shorts, awkward, and vocal. I don’t know where he was headed. He launched into a description of how important this day was to him and the three ladies in the handicapped seats opposite listened and nodded.

“This is the first day I’m out of my wheelchair in four years,” he explained and when he spoke, his gums showed where he was missing front teeth. He began a story about the VA and his endless struggle to get his healthcare right.

He maneuvered the walker up beside him into a raised space near the front where people sometimes rest their bags. Twisting in his seat, his large backpack squeezed the space of the man next to him, who nudged it, then hit at it. I thought a fight might break out right there but it didn’t, and they settled in after a few pushes.

“I feel bad,” I said.

“Don’t,” a young woman next to me said, “He’s taking care of himself, he’s strong, and he’s going to be just fine.”

I started worrying about the night’s celebrations and the noise of it all, and how people who’d been in the wars would feel with the fireworks going off. I had a flashback to a fireworks display in Albany years ago where a homeless man raced out into the crowd from under an overpass, terrified and yelling, thinking he was at war again.

I remembered my childhood Fourth-of-July times, confusing because my mother wouldn’t condone fireworks – dangerous for the fingers and she was a pianist – and my father, also a veteran, didn’t like the noise-makers. Long after I’d left home I realized he probably had post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and I began to understand the “rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air” brought back painful memories, as it does for many of the men and women who’ve been in combat.

Military with PTSD is helping with signs this year for veterans and loved ones to put out: “Combat Veteran Lives Here – Please Be Courteous with Fireworks.” If you see one of these, you can let them know if you’ve got fireworks planned so they can prepare and get headphones on or at least, avoid the surprise.

May your Fourth of July be a safe one, and may you get a seat on the bus, wherever your life is taking you.

Writer’s note: I write about US veterans and PTSD in my novel Brindle 24. Read more about my books at my official author site.