Ranch & Coast Magazine

February 2024

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Focus military "If your father served 30 years in the military, and you spent the first 20 years of your life traveling with your father, we want your story, too," says Garry Garretson, the organization's president, who joined the group in response to an ad he saw for the very first meeting. Garretson served for four years in Vietnam in the 1960s as part of a reconnaissance flight crew, often tracking typhoons across the Pacific. His writing career dates to the 1990s, when he wrote a story about an experience he had right out of high school. "I was an internal mail carrier at FBI headquarters on November 22, 1963. I was in the teletype room when news arrived of the president's assassination," says Garretson, who was the first person to deliver the information to both FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Garretson has continued writing ever since, and for more than a decade, he has been encouraging other veterans and active-duty personnel to do the same. So far, the group has published four anthologies of short stories, each focused on a particular theme, with titles including Away For The Holidays and At Ease! Now That I Have Time To Think About It. e stories range from the battlefield to the homefront, with names such as "Come On Home, All Is Forgiven" and "e Learning Curve Sometimes Looks Like a Cliff." Once a story is published, it does not end there. e Veterans' Writing Group of San Diego County works closely with other local organizations, including So Say We All, a remarkable true-story performance group that Garretson credits with helping the Veterans' Writing Group get its start. Founded in 2009, So Say We All is a literary and performing arts nonprofit whose mission is "to create opportunities for individuals to tell their stories, and tell them better," says Justin Hudnall, the organization's executive director. At the same time, So Say We All works to highlight the stories of people who are talked about more than heard from, which includes veterans and military personnel, groups with which Hudnall feels considerable kinship. A native of San Diego, Hudnall traveled cross-country in 1999 to study playwriting at New York University. e 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center took place during his junior year, changing his plans completely. "I joined the United Nations, working with UNICEF as an emergency response officer," says Hudnall, who deployed for two years to South Sudan during the Sudanese Civil War of the early 2000s. "We were dealing with death, with trauma, with isolation. You rely on others in your team for your survival, and form very fast, very powerful bonds." For the past 15 years, So Say We All has put on two shows per month, one scripted, the other open mic. e scripted show takes place at the Whistle Stop in South Park, which seats 210 people and sells out for the occasion. Each show consists of seven stories on a particular theme, each one true, and each one told by its author, along with a multimedia presentation. "It's a night of entertainment, very much with the audience in mind," says Hudnall. "ere is something truly mesmerizing in the power of watching one person sit and tell a story." COURTESY PHOTO << Garry Garretson, president of Veterans' Writing Group of San Diego County ranchandcoast.com 48 FEBRUARY 2024 RANCH & COAST MAGAZINE

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