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Storytelling has always been the heart of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, sorting through old, and perhaps difficult, memories to tell a story can be daunting, especially if the account comes from military experience.

For the fourth year, veterans can learn how to get their thoughts on paper as they bond with other former servicemen and women at the Veterans Writers Workshop during the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Admittance is free and open to veterans and their families.

The workshops are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., each day Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 in McMullen Hall, room 22 at Great Basin College. Beverages, snacks and lunch will be provided.

Veterans are invited to drop in at any time to meet one-on-one with poets Bill Jones, Vess Quinlan, David Richmond, Ken and Betty Rodgers and Ken Thurston.

“By attending, you will meet published authors,” said Michael Cailor, Operation Bravo coordinator and Veterans Resource Center volunteer.

Attendees will also receive “sage advice and the encouragement of other cowboy poets,” he said.

Also participating is Karen Lloyd of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, who will be available to answer questions from those who wish to provide their personal narratives about their service during an American war or operation.

The veterans writing workshop has encouraged veterans to write down their stories as both a therapeutic way to work through memories and to share a part of their lives with their spouses and families that, in most cases, would not be easy to tell at the dinner table or in casual conversation. Recording memories also helps document this important chapters of U.S. history.

“I know the therapeutic value of writing,” Quinlan told the Elko Daily Free Press in 2016 when the workshop debuted at the gathering.

Quinlan, who had polio as a child, discovered writing as a way to put his thoughts and feelings down on paper and sees it as a method that can help veterans work through post-traumatic stress disorder.

But it’s also getting a veteran’s story of what he or she went through, Quinlan explained, which is usually best done in the company of other veterans.

“You put back together a group of men who went through a life-changing experience with a different purpose,” Quinlan said. “Their purpose now is to tell a story, but it’s the same brotherhood.”

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The workshop is a safe space, giving veterans, especially those from the Vietnam War era, “permission” to recall their tours of duty, Cailor said.

“It’s now OK for them to tell their story,” said Cailor, who served in the U.S. Navy on a nuclear submarine for seven years during the Vietnam War. “They are more received now than when they left [the service] in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Cailor pointed to Jones’ recently published memoir, “The Burning Body Detail,” as an example of a former U.S. Marine Corp. forward artilleryman working through his experiences to look back on his service.

Quinlan said he and Jones, who are each published cowboy poets, co-authoring “Blood Trails,” saw many similarities between the cowboy and the veteran – both of whom can use writing as an outlet for sharing memories, expressing thoughts, and getting their stories down on paper before it’s too late.

“I know that those stories are out there,” Quinlan said. “I know we need to hear them, and I know they need to tell them.”

“You put back together a group of men who went through a life-changing experience with a different purpose. Their purpose now is to tell a story, but it’s the same brotherhood.” {&textAlign: right}Vess Quinlan {&textAlign: right}Veteran and writer

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