Issue #239: Eric McMillan’s We Go Together

This month’s story comes to us via contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m turning the bridge over to him for the introductions. Take the com, Will! — PR

I was first drawn to Eric McMillan’s “We Go Together” by the story’s setting—a U.S. army base, 1996, near the Korean Demilitarized Zone—and by the author’s résumé, which includes ten years of military service in Bosnia, Korea, and Iraq. I was hoping the story might inform my understanding of present-day tensions between the United States and North Korea, which it did. But it turns out the story’s chief mission is much broader: an exploration of race relations within the U.S. Army.

“During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq,” says McMillan, “I was assigned to a battalion support platoon. Most of those soldiers were African-American, eighteen- to twenty-year-olds. I was a white, twenty-four-year-old college kid in a position of power. If that scenario sounds inherently problematic to you, it is. But in the army, you’re not supposed to act like it is.”

Though “We Go Together” is set in Korea, McMillan draws heavily upon his experience in Iraq. The story’s central relationship involves Lieutenant Woods, a white officer assigned to transform a motley, mostly black platoon, and Sergeant Burrell, a respected black section leader who chafes at Woods’s by-the-book leadership style. When crisis befalls the platoon, the two men’s capacity to work together is put to a high-stakes test.

Along the way, the story mines the inherent tension between the army’s ethos of meritocracy and its reluctance to acknowledge institutional racism. There’s also a lot of fascinating army-speak, which is its own kind of poetry. We hope you enjoy McMillan’s ear for language—and his story—as much as we did.

You can read our Q&A with the author here.

4 thoughts on “Issue #239: Eric McMillan’s We Go Together

  1. Hi – I have question – not related to this post – what do folks do with their One Stories after they read them? Do they keep them forever? I’ve been subscribing for a while and have quite a set but not much space. I was thinking of giving them to the library but I have a feeling they would just be tossed away. Any ideas??

  2. Hi Marci,

    I like your idea of donating them to a library (or maybe to a school library?). If a library agrees to accept the issues, I don’t think they would then toss them. Thanks for being a longtime One Story reader!

    Will

  3. I really enjoyed “We Go Together” and was impressed with the author’s tenacity in writing and revising this story. I’m always amazed how long it takes to write a story, but equally impressed how well this story was told. Great ending!

  4. Having served as a chaplain in the 2nd ID’s Camp Casey during 1977-78, I was overjoyed to see and read the story which was spot on in describing the tensions, the soldiers, the landscape of that place. I returned to Camp Casey in 93-95, when I was assigned as the senior chaplain in the medical command, and routinely visited soldiers in all medical units in “the Land of the Morning Calm,” Camp Casey’s veterinarians, dentists, and medical clinics among them. Not much had changed. Thank you for the story, and I’ll include one of mine, that seeks to be in step with the soldiers who have served there, often with disastrous consequences.

    Korea/2nd ID/DMZ
    August 14, 1977. Due to a navigational error, a Chinook CH-47 accidentally flew over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into North Korea and landed to inspect the damage. Apparently, the crew did not realize that they had sustained ground fire, and thought that the problem was mechanical in nature. When a truck with North Korean soldiers approached, the pilot decided to take off and escape. The North Koreans shot down the fleeing aircraft, killing three crewmen in the subsequent crash. The co-pilot survived and was taken prisoner, and returned to US control after 57 hours of captivity. Bodies of the three other crewmembers were returned on 18 August. This was the sixth US aircraft shot down since the armistice. (Taken from an online source, the Aviation Safety Net and other internet sources.)

    The news reports all
    sound so matter of fact,
    how many of these, how long did it take,
    who survived, who didn’t,
    and—in this case—
    6 down
    since the armistice.
    Any cub reporter
    knows the 5 Ws
    of good reporting.
    The 2nd Inf Div
    Chaplain also
    had a report
    when he returned
    from the repatriation
    of remains on the Z,
    gesturing with his
    hands, maybe 3 to 4
    feet, the size
    of the boxes
    that held
    our soldiers.
    He didn’t have
    to say
    Stunned.
    Hurt.
    Angry.
    His tears did
    the talking
    for all of us.
    #

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