David Finkel thought he had written his war book.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
Titled The Good Soldiers, it detailed the experiences of the approximately 800 members of an infantry battalion out of Fort Riley, Kan., many of them 19 or 20 years old, during the surge in Iraq.
Beginning in 2007, Finkel, a Washington Post reporter, spent eight months on the ground with the troops in Baghdad. That book appeared in 2009 and won admiring reviews.
But then Finkel began hearing from other soldiers who had returned home.
They would say, Hey, things arent going that well, Finkel said recently. It became evident that I only had written half of the story.
So Finkel deployed again, this time to the homefront, visiting veterans and their family members, some of them living in central Kansas, who allowed Finkel constant access.
In Thank You for Your Service, Finkels immersion method yields vivid field observations of veterans such as Adam Schumann and his wife, Saskia, of Junction City. He details one seemingly routine trip to the Topeka veterans clinic where Schumann receives treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
What might seem routine is anything but.
There are long moments of clenched anger when the couple realize the appointment is for the next day, when they discuss whether they should try to see the doctor anyway, when they endure long moments of extended silence while in traffic, and when Saskia finally erupts as a woman crosses the street in front of her, against the light.
As detailed by Finkel, PTSD at least on this day can manifest itself as a constant rumbling within, always threatening to erupt, and not always within the returned combat veteran.
It takes a while to earn a spot in the backseat when people are trying to go on with their lives, Finkel said. My method is not to just visit a story, but to stay long enough so that when I finally begin writing I am confident that the truth I am conveying is not the naive truth that I might be feeling but something that comes close to the actual truth of their lives.
Finkel speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. His appearance is being presented by the Kansas City Public Library with the Truman Library Institute. To RSVP call 816-701-3407.
The following day Finkel will speak at 4 p.m. at the Kansas State University Alumni Center at 17th Street and Anderson Avenue in Manhattan.