The shortest war stories -- terror and tedium in just 6 words

The aftermath of war CBS News

(CBS News) SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The assignment was straightforward.

Veterans were asked to describe the war -- the anguish, the boredom, the horror -- in exactly six words.

West Point graduates Mike Nemeth and Shaun Wheelwright believe a lot can be said with so little.

"Responsibility causing maturing beyond my years," Wheelwright said, reading one of the submissions to the Six Word War project.

These are just a few of the thousand six-word war stories they've collected from combat veterans since June:

Shaun Wheelwright in Iraq
CBS News

"Hearts and minds. I lost both."

"Taliban bullet. Army hospital. Found love."

It's their way of helping the war-weary begin their emotional recovery.

"There's tragedy, there's sadness," Wheelwright said. "You have good memories, bad memories, so it's hard to package it in six words, and what comes out is gratifying. It's incredible, what six words can say and how different each one is."

Many are about the gut-wrenching routine of war.

"Nicotine, caffeine. Dead friends, no sleep."

Others use humor.

War in few words
CBS News

"Where did I leave my pants?"

Or focus on more personal battles.

"Divorce, despair, only God could repair."

As for Nemeth and Wheelwright, what were their six words?

"I never deployed so my six words were 'Never deployed, uncomfortable with thank-yous,'" Nemeth said.

But Wheelwright spent 15 months on the front lines in Iraq. He lost 14 classmates.

"So my six currently..." Wheelwright said.

The aftermath of war
CBS News

His choice changes?

"Yes, it changes daily I think," he said, and he concedes he is avoiding answering.

"But if I dig a little deeper my six words are 'Through madness comes clarity and understanding,'" he said.

Through madness?

"Yes, war is absolute madness," Wheelwright answered. "There is no rhyme or reason to it. I don't know how any of us got through it. I really don't."

Sharing war's complexities, in simple sentences.

The Six Word War project is being supported by Six-Word Memoirs and SMITH Magazine.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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