24 April 2011
Matt Craw was a student of mine at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey; he is now continuing his education at Rider University. We collaborated on his book The Song Each Bullet Sings: The Story of Operation Iraqi Freedom Through the Eyes of One Marine for several years. I'm incredibly proud of how hard he worked to get his voice clear and strong. His book is an amazing account of day to day life in the Marines and in combat. I also believe Matt's writing has been an integral part in his healing process.
When my father, Michael J. Bonagura, came back from WW II, he wanted to write as well, but he was never able to get more than a couple pages done. After taking a summer creative writing course with me, Matt signed up to do an independent study project that would become his book. The date stamped on the contract was August 23, my father's birthday. I felt even then Matt's project was going to be something really important.
In the years since his death, I often wondered how my father's life would have been different had he been able to integrate and explore his combat experiences through artistic endeavors. Right after the war, he was an actor, even working on Broadway with Paul Muni in Inherit the Wind, but my dad wasn't able to stick with it. I believe his PTSD played a role in all his decisions, and he was never too fond of risk.
Since there is an inherent risk in anything artistic, and having a family to support, my father's acting career wasn't very long lived. He eventually left acting for a teaching career, but I always felt there were times when he regretted that decision.
Interestingly, in 1976 when my father retired from public education, the first thing he did was head out to Southern California to rekindle his old acting contacts, which, by then, decades later, were no longer around. At the time that seemed like a strange thing to do, but it showed me how much he still wanted to act.
In Matt's case, I was very blessed to have the opportunity to work with him. He's an amazing human being, and he's going to write many more books!
Matt and I at a recent event "The Combat Veteran as Artist" at Brookdale Community College, February 22, 2011. Matt was on a panel with Charles H. Johnson (2011 New Jersey Poets Prize Winner and Vietnam Veteran) exploring and addressing the many ways writing can help heal combat veterans.
Matt reading from his book featured recently in The Asbury Park Press.