LIANE HANSEN, host:
Sixty years ago, President Harry S. Truman signed a law that allowed women to become full, permanent members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Some 350,000 women serve in active and reserve duty today, but their stories are rarely told. In a new book to be released on Tuesday, Veterans Day, dozens of women veterans have written poems and essays about their heroic and sometimes brutal service. The book is called "Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq." Some of the content is very graphic, including a passage that contributor Charlotte Brock will read in this segment. Brock is a former officer in the Marine Corps and is in the studio. Welcome.
Ms. CHARLOTTE BROCK (Former Marine Corps Officer): Thank you very much, Liane.
HANSEN: Your essay is called "Hymn," and it was written about your first deployment. First of all, tell us the circumstances that inspired it, a little bit about your deployment.
Ms. BROCK: I deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February to September 2004. I was assigned to the 1st Force Service Support Group. I was a communications officer in Communications Company, and our job was to set up communications on the main logistics hub of the Anbar province, which is where Marines operated.
HANSEN: And you were with the mortuary affairs unit for some time?
Ms. BROCK: I ended up, kind of by chance, spending some time with that unit. I befriended the officer in charge. And just by hanging out with him and the Marines there, I ended up helping out.
HANSEN: And the essay "Hymn" was inspired by that experience.
Ms. BROCK: Yes, it was.
HANSEN: Will you read just an excerpt for us? You have it in front of you.
Ms. BROCK: Sure.
(Soundbite of essay "Hymn")
Ms. BROCK: (Reading) I pulled IVs out of their veins as gently as I could. I knew it was crazy, but I didn't want to hurt them. I cut off socks and looked at dead feet and toes. I saw holes in every part of their bodies. I saw bones sticking out of flesh. I saw brains leaking out from heads, and eyes that had been popped out of sockets. Bodily fluids dripped on my boots. I gagged at horrid smells. I jumped back when the swollen, bright-red body of a drowned man belched up water and weeds.
HANSEN: That's very graphic. I can understand why it would have stayed with you. Why did you want to write about it?
Ms. BROCK: Well, I was taking part in a creative writing seminar which a former Marine volunteered to lead. And we had to write a piece of nonfiction. And this was the most important thing I had to write about. I'd been, kind of, planning and meaning to write about it for a while and just felt like I needed to get this out of the way so that anything else could come.
HANSEN: Who you are writing this for?
Ms. BROCK: I guess the first audience is the family of the actual Marines and soldiers that I saw and that I helped take care of. More than that, obviously, it's the families and loved ones of any service member who lost his life and - or her life in Afghanistan or Iraq. And of course it's for the American public in general. It's just one more view on, not only on the war, but just on the human experience. And, I mean, anybody who has lost a loved one or been around death can relate to it. I mean, when I wrote it, I didn't plan on having it published at all. It was very much for the few veterans of the class. It was just to share the experience with them. But people encouraged me to share it. And so I did.
HANSEN: Yeah. Was it difficult?
Ms. BROCK: It's very difficult. For me the most powerful thing about the experience was that it was not at all about me, and I could completely forget. I did. It was just - I was not there except as a function of what I was doing. Whereas now that I'm sharing it, there's this public thing, and it's - and I have to be in the spotlight, which I'm not saying that I'm so modest that I can't appreciate as well, but there's definitely conflict there.
HANSEN: When did you leave the Marine Corps?
Ms. BROCK: Officially, July 1 of 2008.
HANSEN: So it's only been a short time.
Ms. BROCK: It's been very short, yeah.
HANSEN: How do you spend Veterans Day?
Ms. BROCK: Well, usually I call up other family members who are veterans. And this year it'll be special because I'll be at the book launching, so.
HANSEN: Yes, the book is being launched on Veterans Day. Charlotte Brock is a former Marine Corps officer and a writer. Her essay "Hymn" appears in the book "Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq." Charlotte, thanks so much for coming in.
Ms. BROCK: Thank you so much for having me.