For many years U.S. Navy Officer Jerri Bell swallowed the story that when it came to military service, women were only involved in support roles. It was not until she started researching for a book on women’s military history that she realized the common narrative was false: women had been actively involved in combat since the American revolution.
The realization made her angry and motivated her to capture a more complex reality in print. She co-wrote “It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories From the American Revolution to Afghanistan" (University of Nebraska Press/2017), and later began encouraging other women veterans to write their own stories — an exercise that both helps them process their experiences and contributes to an honest conversation on what it is like to serve.
Other veterans have also found artistic expression to be a remedy and path to greater understanding. LeJuane Bowens served in the Army and says it was not until he began writing spoken word poetry that he was able to process the invisible wounds of deployment and depression. And award-winning photographer David Jay captures the more visible trauma of war with his large-scale portraits of veterans who have endured life-changing service-related injuries. By showing the reality of warfare to the public in an exhibit called “The Unknown Soldier,” he hopes people participate in a greater conversation about war and the humans whose lives it alters.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Jerri Bell, LeJuane Bowens and David Jay about the purpose of artistic expression and how it can lead to greater understanding. David Jay, Jerri Bell and LeJuane Bowens speak in a panel discussion on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. at Duke University’s Jameson gallery.