The National Endowment for the Arts created Operation Homecoming in 2004 as a program to assist soldiers and their families in finding a means to express themselves through their writing.
The NEA sent distinguished writers to military installations around the country and overseas to teach writing workshops to deployed, or about to deploy, troops. It has collected more than 12,000 pages worth of poetry, songs, memoirs, fiction, and other writing, which led to the creation of one book, a PBS program, and the documentary Muse of Fire.
The PBS program on Operation Homecoming was informative, but Muse of Fire is powerful. The chosen subjects are compelling, sometimes as moved as they are moving.
Watching Muse of Fire, the solace of creative expression becomes as evident as the value of the NEA's program--not only for the participants, but for the trove of valuable material that will enter the American historical record.
Some of the subjects whose work is profiled in the documentary display a particular talent--their writings having as much literary as historical value.
Andrew Carrol, editor of the Operation Homecoming book, explained why living through combat can crystallize experience, making wartime writings more intense, and expressive:
"You see a whole spectrum of emotions coming through in this literature but they become amplified through the lens of war because these are life and death circumstances. So love letters have a little more passion to them. Or a journal might have a little more intensity, a little more intimacy expressed in them because every troop realizes that this could be the last thing they write."
Maj. Zoltan Krompecher's letter to his daughters must have been one of the most heart wrenching things he had ever composed. "I write this letter to you because soon I will leave for Iraq," he says.
"I've been watching the news and am worried that there could be the off chance that I might never get to watch you board the school bus for the first time, place a band-aid on a scraped knee, or walk you down the aisle of your weddings. So if you're reading this years from now, I want you to know how very much your daddy loved you..."
But Krompecher is just one of many writers featured in Muse of Fire. Some read their writings, some talk about experiences they have never discussed before, some explain how putting their thoughts into words became such a release for them, one plays the guitar and sings of war.
For anyone who wants to see it, the producers are making it as easy as possible. They're currently running a "Pass It Forward" program, offering anyone who requests a free copy of the DVD, as long as they pledge to show it to five other people.
For anyone who's enough of an Iraqhead to subscribe to this site, five friends who would enjoy this film won't be difficult to find.
Here's a clip of Maj. Krompecher's letter