Minnesota Makes October Veterans Voices Month

HUMANITIES, September/October 2015, Volume 36, Number 5

Minnesota is the first state in the nation to devote an entire month to honoring veterans and their stories. A bipartisan bill—drafted with help from the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC) working with several veterans’ groups—passed unanimously in both state houses, officially declaring October as Veterans Voices Month. Veterans themselves have led and organized the project from its conception, including Representatives Jerry Newton (D) and Bob Dettmer (R), who worked with MHC to write the legislation.

For too long, says David O’Fallon, president of MHC, a gap of understanding has divided veterans and civilians. All too commonly, he says, veterans are viewed as either “heroes or troubled.” Project officer and veteran, Trista Matascastillo emphasizes the need, not only for veterans’ stories to be shared, but for veterans to tell their own stories. She explains that the act of telling one’s story, especially one that is frequently misrepresented, can be liberating for veterans. A successful project in this vein has been MHC’s involvement with the Telling Project, in which Minnesota veterans share their  military service experiences and stories on stage.

MHC is collaborating with organizations and universities to host Veterans Voices events. The Humanities Center in partnership with the Great Books Foundation will host teacher training on a curriculum developed by a team of veterans and educators, using poetry, short stories, and memoirs from the NEH-funded anthology Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian. The curriculum includes themes like “Addressing Myths/Stereotypes,” “Family Impact,” “Reintegration,” and “Duty,” and will be taught in middle and high school pilot programs.