By Lori Wysong
Far more than just a Veterans Day concert, “Re-Entry: A Performance Tribute to Veterans,” showed the military from many different perspectives and questioned the stereotypes of the typical veteran’s reasons for joining and experiences within the military.
“The military is a place where, regardless of motivation, creeds, race, or origin, people learn to work together,” said Iraq War veteran Charity Winters.
A good deal of work went into the multimedia event. “Re-Entry” was a collaboration between the Washington College Department of Theatre and Dance, the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the Delaware Division of the Arts, and the Delaware Art Museum.
Singers, dancers, actors, and recorded interviews with veterans from the Starr Center’s StoryQuest Oral History Program helped tell the stories of veterans across several wars and homefronts. All of these aspects were blended together to dramatize the memories that veterans shared in interviews that were projected on a screen.
In his interview with StoryQuest, former Tuskegee Airman Leroy “Boots” Battle remembered being drafted into World War II in the middle of a budding musical career.
“This is the only country I know, and right or wrong I have to stick with it and do my part to make it better,” he said.
Following this segment, a skillful tap dance number evoked the story Boots had just told about teaching fellow Tuskegee Airmen Morse code by comparing the dots and dashes to the rhythm of music.
As the night went on, students and veterans in the audience heard excerpts from the interviews with soldiers who fought in Korea and Vietnam, and witnessed song and dance performances that incorporated such varied themes as discipline, comradery, tragedy and longing.
In part of Winters’s reading, she said that, “There is no question that war is an ugly thing.”
The performance did not shy away from touching serious themes.
In one powerful StoryQuest interview, Vietnam veteran Lansing Williams shared that he didn’t know what to say the first time he was thanked for his service in 2010.
When he and his fellow soldiers returned home from war, “The first thing we did was change our clothes and grow our hair out, because Vietnam vets were not welcome,” he said.
There were some lighter moments as well. Another Vietnam veteran, David Sussman, said, “We used to wear these extremely starched uniforms.” In order not to wrinkle them before inspection, he said, “You learned how to get into your uniform without bending your knees.”
Following the performance, military memorabilia from as far back as the 19th century was on display in the lobby outside Decker Theatre. Helmets, uniforms, and photographs encouraged audience members to consider what it means to serve in the military.