BROOKFIELD, MASS. — A new project aims to draw stories out of veterans while drawing them into their communities.

The Veterans Storytelling Project, a program from The Brookfield Institute, uses trained volunteers to help veterans tell their stories, a proven method for reducing PTSD while helping family members, friends and neighbors understand their loved ones better.

This story, by Vietnam veteran John Sacco, launched the project.

“Some research shows that if veterans are received warmly into their own communities, it relieves PTSD,” said Beverly Prestwood-Taylor, executive director of The Brookfield Institute. The research also confirms that a welcoming community does wonders for returning veterans’ morale.

“Our primary purpose is to create stronger relationships between the veterans and their communities,” Prestwood-Taylor said.

Afghan vet Bryan Pelley agreed. “Many of us are carrying stories about things that are pretty terrible, that are eating away at us. You don’t want to tell anyone the deepest stories because of the fear of how they will react. What we need is a sense of validation from the community, a sense of purpose for what we did. The way that someone reacts to your story has a huge impact. Most civilians don’t understand or they react with horror, which leaves the veterans feeling more excluded.”

Telling and hearing the stories is a way to help all parties, Prestwood-Taylor said. The veterans, some of whom have been quiet for 50 years or more, are able to talk about whatever they want and the people hearing the stories learn the impact and history of the experiences. The trained volunteers are not intrusive, letting the veterans take the lead. They might  tell a funny story, or talk about a typical day, their buddies or their combat experiences. Support is key, Prestwood-Taylor said, and it’s the sharing that’s important. “We are very careful with the veteran’s story. We ask if they want to write, talk or videotape it. We make sure we know who they want to hear it. And we make sure they know they own the story.”

The project is starting with stories from veterans in the Central Quaboag Valley area. Sacco, of Ware, shared  his story with Prestwood-Taylor; it is posted here. Sacco served in the Air Force in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. He tells of multi-day air raids, running out of water, extreme heat, chest wounds and more horrors, but said, “ … the worst part of Viet Nam was coming home.” Even now, he said, “I still sit with my back to a wall when I go out. … And I still get startled by loud unexpected noises.” But telling his story has chased away a lot of the ghosts, he said.

“Throughout our experience working with veterans, we have learned how powerful stories are — and how healing and transformative the telling of these stories can be,” Prestwood-Taylor said.

For more information on the Veterans Storytelling Project, call The Brookfield Institute, 413-563-7282, or email us.