The first Vets Town Hall was held on Veterans Day 2015. The idea, conceived by author Sebastian Junger, was simple but powerful: to provide a forum for veterans to share the pride, grief, or quiet appreciation of life that war bestowed upon them and for non-veterans to listen and to learn.
U.S. Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA), a Marine combat veteran, hosted the first Veterans Town Hall in Marblehead, Massachusetts — held in historic Abbott Hall, the community’s town hall and gathering place for nearly 150 years. Several hundred local residents turned out to hear the unique stories of nearly two dozen veterans. These community forums establish greater understanding between local veterans and the friends and neighbors they served. These veterans represented every branch of the military and every military conflict dating back to World War II. The oldest storyteller, Bill Needleman, was a 100-year old Army Air Corps veteran who participated in the Normandy invasion on D-Day.
In a June 2015 Vanity Fair article, Sebastian Junger highlighted the challenges of post-traumatic stress among veterans. He suggested “making every town and city hall in the country available to veterans who want to speak publicly about the war.” He believed, holding these community forums would “return the experience of war to our entire nation, rather than just leaving it to the people who fought.”
In the tradition of warrior storytelling, veterans describe the life that the war bestowed upon them. Veterans speak about what his or her service means to them through a story, summary of service, message, letter home, excerpt from a war journal, or even the story behind a photograph. Non-veterans are invited and encouraged to attend, to listen, and to learn.
The vision is that one day there will be a Veterans Town Hall held in every community in America. Not only are these town halls as unique as the communities where they are held, but they will also be united in their commitment to helping our nation heal and bring meaning back to Veterans Day.
Veterans Town Halls give veterans of all wars a chance to address their community directly and without intermediaries. A veteran speaking at a Veteran Town Hall will look out over a crowd that has many familiar faces in it, as well as complete strangers. These are the people he risked his life for. These are the people she went to war for. No one goes to war and returns home unaffected. It’s not fair—or healthy—for veterans to be left alone with these burdens. They belong to all of us.
The event should be solemn and non-political. There will be no question-and-answer period afterward. There will be no debate on the merits or justifications of war. There will be no recriminations or accusations. This is simply a chance for veterans to tell the community what it felt like to go to war. Some vets will be incredibly proud. Others will be angry. A few might cry too hard to even be able to speak. A community ceremony like this will return the experience of war to our entire nation rather than just leaving it to the people who fought.
For more information, please refer to the Vets Town Hall Field Manual.