Meet this decorated vet who explores the themes of war in his plays.
This month Tidewater Women interviews Michael Stephen Myers, a decorated Vietnam vet who lives in Virginia Beach. After his service, he found refuge in writing to escape the fog of war, and has recently completed his latest work, "A Soldier's Final Act."
TW: You are so multifaceted and creative. What was life like growing up?
MM: As a result of my father's 31-year career in the U.S. Navy, we were privileged to visit much of the world. In the early 1950s, we lived in Bremerhaven, Germany. I was just a young boy, but I remember bombed-out buildings everywhere. The proximity of WWII permeated everything. Many of these things I will never forget.
I was never in one place long enough to develop relationships. It kept me aloof and what would appear to be distant. I was just seventeen when I joined the Army and left home. My girlfriend had become pregnant, and after discussing it with my parents, we decided that I would leave Japan with her family, get married and join the Army. I wanted to be a father to my child.
The Army made me a leader of soldiers in combat. I kept my distance from my men just enough to be able to cope with my responsibilities. Today I still carry the immense guilt of having to watch men that I sent into a situation fall.
TW: Your military background is interesting and a bit unusual. Tell us about that.
MM: My father laid out a plan where I could enlist in the Navy and become a chief in about nine years. I listened but decided I wanted to be on the ground and not the sea, so we decided on the Army. It took only two years for me to become an officer. I served three years as an enlisted man before being chosen to become an officer, receiving my commission in June of 1967.
After Ranger leadership and patrol training, followed by Jungle Training with the Special Forces in Panama, I was sent to Vietnam as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader where I joined my new platoon during the heat of battle. I received a number of awards, including the Purple Heart for being wounded in action.
Looking back, I felt like I had become an old man at a very young age. The remainder of my life would have to find a different purpose, such as the newly discovered reverence toward life, to protect all living things.
TW: We've all heard about how difficult it was for vets to come home from Vietnam? What was your experience and how did it affect you?
MM: I have bittersweet feelings about how everyone now is called a hero for just wearing the uniform. We had none of that and were treated as outcasts.
Whenever one of the men would finish his tour of duty and be leaving the field, I would hear others warning him not to wear his uniform and to keep a low profile—to hide. I thought to myself—why?
It was during a layover in San Francisco that I remember everything was moving so fast. Everyone seemed to be in some sort of a tremendous hurry...but to where?
I wanted to unwind, to allow my mind to realize that it was all over. I had worn my uniform because I was proud of it and of the work my men and I had done for our country. I wanted to be alive, again! But, I was just another soldier returning home from an unpopular war.
TW: What made you turn to writing?
MM: When I returned from the war, I didn't know what to do with the turmoil that was raging in my mind and body, which became part of my isolating from people. I had been told that writing can be cathartic, so with six steno pads, I started scribbling everything I could remember. Later, it would become the material I would use in the formation of my first play, "Badges of Honor." This was also about the time I became involved with Associate Producer, Jim Anderson, of HBO's Vietnam War Story Series. In writing I was able to expel much of the personal guilt and demons and clear the foggy mists of war.
TW: Tell us about the play you have just finished.
MM: This play, "A Soldier's Final Act," was originally titled "A Soldier's Final Act of Redemption," a timely exposé on one of the many troubled veterans in America today. Timely, in that the most recent statistics show an alarming rate of veteran suicides.
Here we are introduced to one such veteran. He is plagued with guilt and finds himself communicating with many ghosts in the room, all the while reaching out for help, but running into dead ends. He finally calls his wife and says goodbye, walks offstage, and a few seconds later we hear a gunshot.
In the third act his lingering spirit helps another forlorn soul find a better way, and in doing so, saves her, and he finds redemption.
My plays have been produced in various locations in the U.S. and in South Africa. The themes are familiar to individuals all over the world. This play is timely and is needed to help with the healing of veterans and their families. In order to do that, we are looking for funding and sponsors so we may produce the play and bring understanding to the public.
TW: You have ties to two Native American tribes. How did that come about?
MM: Horace Axtel, a veteran and Nez Perce Elder, asked me to walk in the circle of warriors. He told me that all soldiers of war are warriors. I was honored to be given such an invitation and eventually would receive the same honor from the Shoshone. I felt more grounded than ever before, all the while listening to warrior chants and warrior drums.
It was enlightening and taught me the healing powers of mind and spirit. It grounded me and connected me to our mother earth. All living creatures are my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to protect all life and to "Walk the red road," in balance with all things. As a result, I became a vegetarian. Even at a young age I always felt animals were my friends, and we do not kill and eat our friends.
TW: What has made you the proudest?
MM: The moment my father saluted me onboard his ship for the very first time. Also, when I received the Purple Heart for wounds received while on the front lines. The birth of my three children. Helping homeless and those in need. My desire to help with the healing of veterans and their families. Non-violence towards man and animal. I do not kill anything.
For more information about Michael and his work, visit www.michaelstephenmyers.com.