One of my favorite quotes from Jerry is “Life has meaning when you are involved in the lives of others”. No where is that more true than the story of Jerry Barnes and his journey from a Retired Army Corps of Engineers employee to author of “When Heaven Visits.” Starting with a chance meeting with a well known literary agent, Jerry spent the next 3 years meeting, interviewing, and investing in the lives of combat veterans. “When Heaven Visits” presents twenty-four real life stories of page-turning action and encouragement. Read personal, vivid, and gripping details of war at its worst and hope at it’s best.
You first became a published author at the young age of 73. That must be a great story. Can you tell us how that happened?
About 3 years ago I met a literary agent, very well known in Christian book circles, who asked me this simple question: “Are you a veteran?” I didn’t know who he was and didn’t know how highly regarded he was at the time.
As a soldier, I said simply: “Yes sir”. His response: “Write me three stories about veterans in near death survival situations and send them to me.” He gave me his card and said: “Stay in touch”. That simple interaction changed my life of peacefully nodding in my chair.
About two to three months later, I sent him the three stories. He responded, kindly, “Good stories. Keep writing”.
I decided to focus on the last four words of the oath of enlistment “so help me God” and started looking for more stories. While I mentioned those words to each soldier, I didn’t require them to focus on faith or any type of miraculous deliverance. I just wrote what they said. All veterans who shared their stories developed a mutual trust for me and vice versa. Even today I can call any of them and they will call me back. They trust me to say the right thing and I have gained about twenty new friends.
I worked for about two years gathering the material, contacting veterans, beating the bushes etc. At least half of the veterans I approached, simply did not feel led to share. Combat is such a personal and emotionally impacting experience. Many just wanted to move on with their lives and not bring up bad memories from their past.
But we persevered, prayed and the Lord just led us to the veterans who wanted to share. We listened, wrote and let each veteran review and revise their stories. Some had a number of changes, others were happy with the stories the way I wrote them. When we thought we were finished, we had twenty-six stories, about 35,000 words. One veteran backed out and could not bring himself to see his tough experiences in print and asked to remove his story, which I agreed to. Another fellow, with a substance abuse problem, just vanished. I have been unable to reach him, so I am not going to publish his story without his review. That brought us to 24 stories and about 30,000 words.
I didn’t start to write a book about religious experiences on the battlefield but had the last four words of the oath of enlistment “so help me God” run through my mind so many times, I decided to let those four words guide my efforts. As a result, about a fourth of the veterans mentioned faith in their story. Some mentioned divine intervention that saved their life. Not one of the twenty-four was opposed to faith as a part of their story. I didn’t push it. They just talked.
About halfway through, I sent about 10-12 of the stories to Les Stobbe, my literary agent friend. He stated simply that he liked what I was doing and to keep going. Only recently did I find out that Les is a five-time award winner in writing, coaching and representing other aspiring writers. He didn’t tell me to emphasize this or that, just said, “keep writing”.
When I was getting close to the end, I asked Les, what do we call this book? He said: I like “When Heaven Visits, dramatic accounts of military heroes”.
Good enough for me. I am an engineer. Never thought I was a writer. It just happened. I do enjoy reading and speaking but I also enjoy design work. This is a new experience for me.
I attended a writer’s conference about a year ago and met a publisher who showed interest in my first story and said: “send me a proposal.” About three weeks after sending her the proposal and three of my stories, she sent me a contract to publish the book. That’s when it hit me. I was on the verge of becoming a published author.
It is now May, the book has been published, and is available on Amazon. By the way, the publisher has nudged me to continue writing and I am in the midst of gathering new story leads (have about twenty-some on the way to a longer book of 35 or so, 50-60,000 words, and a page count of about 200-250. I am thinking about “Combat Survivors”, with the same tag line “dramatic accounts of military heroes”, same as the first book.
“Combat Survivors, dramatic accounts of military heroes.” The first story is about a survivor of “D Day. Some of the most gruesome content I have run into. The story will be about 5-6,000 words, and 20 pages in the second book.
I am getting folks to send me stories now with a decent size Facebook and Linkedin connection base. I am gathering 1-2 every month. Am up to twenty-some at this point. Feels like I will get the target of 35+/- over the next 12-15 months.
Life has meaning when you are involved in the lives of others
Can you provide a specific example or story where reading has helped you learn from others experience?
Let me be specific on why these stories have been such a powerful example in my life, by listening and writing them and now to hear the feedback from readers. The written stories of personal fears, failures, raw courage, amazing deliverance from horrific combat situations, are so powerful, I can re-read them now and still be moved by them. These 20 men and one woman endured very tough situations and now look back and are amazed themselves when they read their own stories.
I am a plain and simple country boy who has been blessed beyond measure. My career was a dream as I was able to enjoy work for the Army Corps of Engineers for 42 years. Now I am a published author at the age of 73, and busier than a one-armed paper hanger! Couldn’t be happier. Life has meaning when you are involved in the lives of others. These stories give you an up close and personal account of others in the midst of combat.
In writing the first book, I made 20 new friends. I have consoled, prayed with, encouraged and spent hours with these new friends over the last couple of years. One of them refers to me a “POPS”. He joined the Army at 30, a military brat of a Green Beret Dad, who was beaten by his father when dad was home for being so strong-willed and stubborn. He was quite cautious with me for a while. Now when we meet he hugs me so tight I can’t catch my breath for a few seconds. Another, a policeman, just showed up at a book signing ceremony last week. What a treat to have one of the heroes in the book to just show up. A group of 40 some folks talked to him for 20-30 minutes. I am learning from the veterans I meet and write about to patiently look beyond their bravado and jousting. Much of it is a facade. Probably the most enjoyable time I have spent with heroes in the first book was when I got together with the three policemen. That was 2 hours of nothing but laughter and jokes. It was so rich. I turned the recorder on and prompted them with questions and found another terrific story the three of them shared together in Iraq when a suicide bomber detonated a shrapnel vest in the midst of 200 unsuspecting police recruits. They became caregivers and lifesavers on their day off! We cried and laughed together for two hours. I learned unselfish heroism from them. Rich stuff I will never forget. Imagine hearing one of these tough policemen who had seen lots of death on the street relive yelling at a young Iraqi man with a massive chest wound “Come back! Come back! Don’t you die on me!” Tears fell from his eyes as he relived this.
What are some of the similarities you discovered through interviewing these combat heroes? Are there specific patterns you see through these stories?
Bravado is the first impression of most. They all give off bravado. Yet the more I listen the more they show human compassion and reveal the scars of combat, fears of the future and challenges of readjustment to normal life. Some of them are still fighting the wars over and over and have a hard time letting it go. PTSD is very real and the real victims today are some of the family members, wives and children struggling to cope with the loved one who is struggling just to remain sane in a world that often doesn’t understand why “they are not normal”.
How has your writing made you a better thinker and better man?
I hope I am better. I sure am amazed:
- That a 73-year-old man can become a published author. Get started, keep trying and doors will open. It is still hard to believe.
- I am amazed by how people admire what I have accomplished. I don’t see it as a big accomplishment. I just met someone who challenged and encouraged me to write a book. I acted on the request. I know I am goal driven and have always been drawn to the things others say are difficult. My wife and I can relax and take vacations for the rest of our lives. I find them boring after a few days and want to return home and do something useful.
Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?
You’ll need to read the book, but the second story in the book is my own. I missed being on a Vietnam helicopter by 15-20 seconds, that crashed, killing all but one person, who was seriously injured. I shiver every time I remember that.
Easy question: Read this book and you will never doubt the reality of heroes who protect the freedom we all take for granted.Jerry Barnes
How would this book benefit the average person who has not had similar experiences ?
Easy question: Read this book and you will never doubt the reality of heroes who protect the freedom we all take for granted.
Other than your book, are there any books you would recommend being added to the Army’s reading list?
Books about animal care, particularly rescue animals are fantastic. I have been invited by Judith Fritz, founder of Freedom Farm here in Buchannan, VA that funded the New Freedom Farm. She rescues animals and nurses them back to health and invites PTSD soldiers to come to help her. It is therapeutic and provides healing for the horses and the veterans. She has heard about the book and invited me to come to the Farm for weekends to meet veterans and shamelessly sell books.
Where do you recommend people buy your book?
People can contact me for the book. I will sign and mail to them. [email protected]
I saw you are donating some profits of the book to Veterans organizations. Are there some specific organizations you recommend? Non-profits that provide aid to homeless/disabled veterans/families. We are donating 1/3 of net profits after costs are recouped. Will do the same for the sequel.
Jerry Barnes is a prolific author and currently focused on his book ”When Heaven Visits, dramatic accounts of military heroes”. Inspiration for the book came from the words of the oath of enlistment before entering the Army.
The book is published by Elk Lake Publishing, Plymouth, Massachusetts and is available on Amazon. If you’d like a signed copy, contact me at Jerrybarnes(at)lumos.net.
The author currently lives in Virginia and will consider speaker requests and signing ceremonies.
He is also working on a new book titled: “Combat Survivors, dramatic accounts of military heroes.”
This book will still focus on veteran heroes of all services, and incorporate Green Berets, Seal Team members and Special Operations Forces operating in hot spots throughout the world.
One third of all proceeds from sale of books is being donated to a 501c3 serving homeless/disabled veterans/families.