AUGUSTA, Maine — Mike Madore of Waldoboro served six months in Vietnam with the Army light infantry. Madore said he had been unable to describe those experiences that traumatized him until he joined a writing group at the Maine Veterans Administration Medical Center in Augusta about 1½ years ago.
The writing of those students, led by instructor George Chappell of Rockland, was published last month in a book.
Chappell, 78, is a Coast Guard veteran and retired newspaper editor and reporter. After Chappell retired from the Bangor Daily News, he obtained a master’s degree in fine arts at Goodard College in Plainfield, Vermont.
He started teaching creative writing three years ago at the Camden Public Library. The aim was to work with veterans who wanted to tell their stories. He said he was inspired by the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, who wrote “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace” in 2006.
Chappelle said attendance in Camden was sparse and sporadic.
Chappell later was at the Maine Veterans Administration Medical Center in Augusta when he mentioned his program to someone in the psychology department who connected him with someone in the recreation department who liked the idea.
For the past two years on Friday afternoons, Chappell has taught the creative writing course at the VA medical center.
Chappell is volunteer instructor. The VA offers him space for the class and has paid for some books.
A book containing works from Chappell and the students was published last month. “When Souls Walk Away” is available at the Good Tern Natural Foods Co-op & Cafe and Jensen’s Pharmacy, both in Rockland. Chappell said he is trying to find other places that will sell the book.
All but one of the students are outpatients at the VA medical center while one is an inpatient. Five to nine writers are in the group at any one time.
“We support one another. They have helped me with my writing,” Chappell said of working with the group.
Madore said support from Chappell and the other students allowed him to express things he had been unable to since being in Vietnam in 1968. Madore grew up in the Saint John Valley but now lives in Waldoboro.
The back cover of the book is a painting by Madore titled “The Last Mountain.” The painting is his depiction of himself and other members of his division climbing a mountain on the morning of his final day in Vietnam. The helicopter was called the breakfast helicopter because it brought food in the morning to the soldiers.
“I remember that mountain standing out in a field. It looked like it had been untouched by the war. I ran up the mountain exhausted,” he said, in order to get to the helicopter before it left. “The feeling was unbelievable when I was in the helicopter and looking down at Vietnam for the last time.”
Madore said the class has allowed him to express feelings he had kept inside all these years. He said the fear while there has haunted him since he returned home.
“While not a miracle, it is close to it. I’ve gone from fragmented and shattered to healing,” he said.
Madore has a poem in the recently published book titled “Breakfast Helicopter”:
Getting out alive,
The night before we had
Another night in prayer
At the bottom of a foxhole.
Asking L.T. If it is okay to live, — leave.
Then a shout down the line.
Hurry, if you want out.
Breakfast Helo won’t wait.
Run. Up pristine
Mountain. Cheers boosting.
“Get rid of your gear.”
“Wish it was me. Hooray.”
“You won’t make it in time.”
“Whoop. Whoop. Whoop.”
Going Home. The World.
Minus rucksack, helmet.
But with rifle.
Then up up, up.
How did I live, — leave?
The classes are scheduled for 90 minutes, Chappell said, but often go three hours as the group gets energy from each other. Other writers include people who served in the Navy, a retired Coast Guard veteran, an Air Force veteran, and a Korean War veteran who is writing about the U.S. Civil War.