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Released October 26, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG -- Acclaimed Vietnam War novelist Tim O'Brien will be the featured guest for The University of Southern Mississippi's fall 2004 University Forum, which will include a variety of programs and events continuing through Oct. 27.

O'Brien, the author of "The Things They Carried," will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at Bennett Auditorium. In addition to O'Brien's presentation, a roundtable discussion panel on Oct. 21 will feature Hattiesburg-area veterans discussing their war experiences and answering questions. The roundtable discussion will be held at Gonzales Auditorium (Liberal Arts Building, Room 108) from 6:30-8 p.m.

Funding for the O'Brien lecture has been provided by the Southern Miss Honors College, the Southern Miss Center for Writers, and a generous contribution from Montague, Pittman & Varnado, P.A.

"We are extremely excited to have a writer of O'Brien's stature coming to Southern Miss," said Dr. Brian O' Neil, assistant professor in the Southern Miss Department of History. "O'Brien's visit is quite timely in several different ways. The ongoing war in Iraq and the presidential campaign between Bush and Kerry have ignited constant references to the Vietnam War in the media. I hope that O'Brien's visit and the related events will help spur constructive debate both on campus and in the wider Hattiesburg area about the Vietnam War and its legacies.

"With Veterans Day coming up next month, I also hope that O'Brien's visit will help shine the spotlight on the service of Hattiesburg-area Vietnam veterans, who at times have not received their full due," O'Neil added.

After graduating form Macalester College in Minnesota in 1968, O'Brien was drafted in the Army and served a 13-month tour as a basic 'grunt' in Vietnam from Feb. 1969 to March 1970 (Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry of the 198th Infantry Brigade). O'Brien's in-country combat experiences, as well as his postwar reflections, have served as the basis for his fiction. His major works, in addition to "The Things They Carried," (1990), include "If I Die in a Combat Zone" (1973); "Going After Cacciato," (1978), which won him the 1979 National Book Award in fiction; "In the Lake of the Woods" (1994), selected by "Time" magazine as the best novel of 1992; and most recently "July, July" (2002). His work is famous for its themes of guilt, complicity, and moral courage.
"Tim O'Brien is, without any question, an author of international stature and it is a great privilege to have him on campus," said Southern Miss Honors College dean Dr. Ken Panton. "He will share with our students the skills and experience that won him a National Book Award for Fiction and made him a Pulitzer finalist, so a lot of us will benefit from his visit."

Other programming, which will begin Oct. 12, will feature a variety of films focusing on Vietnam, as well as a digitized, self-guided tour of Mississippi veterans' oral histories and photographs, titled "Heroism, Horror and Healing: Stories of the Vietnam War and Beyond" that will be at the Hattiesburg Public Library through Oct. 27.

Additionally, the city of Hattiesburg has declared October Vietnam Veteran's Month.

"I want to emphasize the lesson I learned from Vietnam--which should be the lesson that anyone should learn from any war--which is that life is precious," said Butch Brown, one of the scheduled roundtable participants who served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army from 1969-70. "Don't take anything for granted, and live each day with a purpose."

The planning committee for University Forum and accompanying events included O'Neil; history professor Dr. Andy Wiest, who started the Southern Miss Center for International and Continuing Education's award-winning Vietnam Studies Program in 2000; Dr. Maureen Ryan, an English professor who specializes in the literature of the Vietnam War; Becky Montague, an English instructor at Jones County Community College and a Hattiesburg civic leader; and Linda VanZandt of the Southern Miss Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage.

"Tim O'Brien's fiction about the Vietnam War and its aftermath in America is the most important and sustained literary commentary on that profound experience," said Ryan. "He is, more importantly, one of our most prolific and accomplished contemporary writers."

Wiest said having O'Brien at Southern Miss will benefit the area's military veterans as well as the popular Vietnam Studies Program at Southern Miss.

"The occasion of O'Brien's visit will focus campus and community attention on the Vietnam War and on our (military) veteran population, who served with such gallantry in that war," Wiest said.

For more information on these events, contact Dr. Brian O'Neil, director of the University Forum, at (601) 266-6494 or via e-mail at


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November 23, 2004 9:23 AM