Local director brings stories of service to life in ‘Veterans’ Voices’

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

As a storyteller and eight-year volunteer for the South Willamette Valley Honor Flight, Leigh Matthews Bock found “the perfect marriage” through her project at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis.
The Veterans’ Voices Project II, directed by Bock, is a series of short plays that give glimpses into the lives of veterans as they served their country.
Bock worked as communications coordinator at the City of Lebanon for five years, while Gary Marks served as city manager. She stepped out of the position to allow new interim City Manager Nancy Brewer to choose her own coordinator, since the two work closely together, Bock said.
Now she works at Albany Helping Hands, and continues with Corvallis Community Theatre, which she has been involved in since 2002.

DIRECTOR Leigh Matthews Bock watches the action on stage during filming at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis.

After sitting on the idea for several years, Bock directed the first Veterans’ Voices Project last year, which featured stories from 12 veterans.
“Being part of honor flight since 2013, I have heard so many veterans’ stories,” she said. “I started feeling selfish to keep them to myself. I wanted other people to be able to hear their stories.”
Due to COVID, it was decided to scale this year’s play down to six stories, and to film it so it can be streamed online, Bock said.
Six playwrights were matched up with six veterans who shared their stories either over the phone or in a location where they felt safe, she said.
“Their only parameters was to honor the veteran’s story, and to be 10 minutes or less,” she said.
One of the stories is about “Al,” an Air Force veteran in the Korean War who taught pharmaceuticals at Linn-Benton Community College and worked in the Lebanon Strawberry Festivals following his military service.

Another of the stories portrayed this year comes from Paul Wilson, a Korean War veteran who shared a story in last year’s play. He died in March due to COVID while living at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home.
“I asked the playwright from last year if he would be willing to go back from his notes from his interview with Paul and create a new story because I wanted to honor Paul since he’s not with us anymore,” Bock said.
Bock’s demeanor softened as she spoke, her voice fluttered a little, and her eyes misted over.
“I think that one’s really important to me,” she said.
Wilson lived in Corvallis and Sweet Home before moving into the Veterans Home in Lebanon in 2017.
He served as a mechanic in the United States Navy on the USS Furse and USS Currier from 1948 to 1957, then moved to Corvallis to help his father, whose health was failing.
“He was such a man of service, not just to country, but to his family as well,” Bock said.
Wilson went on the Honor Flight in 2016. Bock’s daughter ended up being his guardian, and then he started becoming a part of Bock’s family.
He joined them for the holidays and birthdays, and the Bocks often visited him at the Veterans Home, up until he died, she said.

Leigh and Paul made it tradition to take a “selfie” every time she visited him.
Photo courtesy of Leigh Bock

“I saw him two days before,” Bock said. “I went and talked to him through his window, and he was picking on me still. Still being ornery. Still being the wonderful person that he is.”
Last year’s play from Wilson was titled, “An Ethic Called Work.” He was a hard worker, and he respected others who worked hard, Bock explained.
“I was very impressed by his sort of old-school personality, sense of humor, work ethic, taking life as it comes to you,” said Dan Simmons, playwright for both of Wilson’s plays.
“He mentioned the reason that he joined after World War II as soon was he was 18 was because some of the others had served, so he felt like it was his duty to do so. He had a real commitment to his fellow sailors.”
This year, Wilson’s story, “Gettin’ Out Alive,” is about struggling and striving, and loss.
It’s perhaps a message Bock can relate to.
“I tell my husband that is the part I hate the most, is these men and women make you fall in love with them, and then they die. That’s really hard. They have lived such big lives, and to get to be such a tiny piece of it is such an honor, and it’s hard when they go. It’s really hard.”
To watch the Veterans’ Voices Project II, tickets can be purchased online at Majestic.org, or email [email protected]. The play shows at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Pricing is “pick what you pay,” from $10 to $20. A link will be emailed to watch the live stream at 7:30 p.m., and will be good for 24 hours. The plays will again be available to the public at a date yet to be determined.

Veterans’ Voices Project II
7:30 p.m. Nov. 18
Majestic Theatre
Online only
Tickets – “Pick What You Pay” $10 – $20
Info: Majestic.org
or email nate@majestic