BEACON FALLS – For Sgt. Helman Roman, war didn’t just change his outlook on life. It made his friends and family appreciate things they used to take for granted at a different level.
Roman was wounded in Afghanistan and is still an active duty member of the U.S. Army.
After all the things he’d been through, life’s little annoyances didn’t seem as significant as before.
“Before they complain about it, they’ve got to think about it twice,” Roman said.
Roman and fellow veterans spoke about their experiences in the military for the culminating event of “One Region, One Book,” a project intended to get the whole community discussing the same book.
The event took place March 30 at the Woodland Regional High School Library Media Center.
Students, parents and faculty came together to discuss “The Things they Carried” by Tim O’Brien, a collection of war stories that begins by listing the physical objects soldiers carried with them during the Vietnam War, and goes on to describe the emotional baggage soldiers took with them and brought back.
At the event, guest speakers described some of the things they brought with them in more recent wars.
Roman took a plastic green and white rosary from his aunt.
“Even though every time I put my body armor on, it would hurt me, I always kept it there,” Roman said. “Always, you grab something from home. …You keep all those memories alive.”
Eric Trinidad-Perez, veteran of the second Iraqi War, and recipient of a purple heart, said he carried a photograph of his wife, which he kept inside his helmet, as well as a copy of the New Testament from his grandmother. He said he used to read the Bible at night for an hour or two and still has the battered photo.
Dawn Rodock, also an Iraq War veteran, said she always kept a pair of jeans in her duffle bag.
“They made me feel good,” she said.
Brian Fell, Woodland assistant principal and athletic director, served in the U.S. Navy. On the submarine, soldiers could only carry the bare essentials. Fell kept a picture of his wife and his wedding ring in his locker. The only thing he had with him all the time was a TLD, a device men would wear around their belts to protect them from radiation. Fell said the one thing he collected while on the submarine was family grams. Once every two weeks, soldiers would receive a few sentences from their loved ones, messages like “Miss You. See you soon. Daughter took first steps,” Fell said.
“It was kind of a badge of honor. If you had ten or 11 of those things, boy, you were doing good,” Fell said.
The veterans agreed with the author’s sentiment that the best war stories aren’t about war at all, but about the people who fight in wars. They discussed the rivalry between people who often go out on missions versus those that mostly stay at the base and what it’s like to come back home after being in combat.
“When you’re in a combat zone, it’s like you’re going 1,000 miles per hour. And when you come back home, it’s like pulling the e-brake,” Tinidad-Perez said.
Roman spoke about adjusting to civilian life after living in a combat zone.
In Iraq, he said, the soldiers were the authority. People would get out of the way when American tanks came down the streets. Back in Connecticut, he gets stuck in traffic on I-95. It’s a difficult adjustment.
Unlike the soldiers in “The Things They Carried,” today’s veterans are welcomed home.
“To go through what you go through is hard enough. I can’t imagine how those soldiers felt when they came home from Vietnam,” Rodock said.
As part of the project, students wrote essays in reaction the book.
Ryan Landry read his essay about his personal battle with scoliosis and his seventh grade surgery. Makenzie White wrote her essay about leaving her mother on the first day of kindergarten and the importance of friends in facing life’s adversities.
Makenzie’s mother, Michelle White, said she enjoyed reading and discussing the book with her daughter.
“I just like the reach of it and bringing people together. I think a good story, a good book, is a way to expand your world. And when you can share it with other people, it just enriches the experience for everyone,” Michelle White said.
Her daughter agreed.
“I just like the idea of the One Region, One Book, and I hope they do continue it. I thought that what all the speakers said was extremely inspirational,” Mackenzie White said.
Woodland teacher Paul Geary said the program was more successful than he expected and he hopes to continue and expand the program next year. He is already thinking of books for next year, and is considering choosing two books with a similar theme. He and co-planner Joelle Kilcourse are soliciting suggestions from the public.
Book club co-presidents Lauren Heerdt and Shipojn Rifati worked on One Region, One Book for their senior project.
“We wanted to get the school involved in reading more and learning about the Vietman War,” Rifati said.
Kilcourse said the event was a success.
“I’m hopeful that our turnout today will kind of foster some interest in reading and hopefully next year’s choice,” she said.