Note: The following piece was sent to me by my good friend Norma. It was written by her husband, Roger...a fine writer and thinker.
So, let’s meet stigma chin to chin and eye to eye and stare the little bastard in its ugly, intolerant face.
As a lay person, the dynamics of the mind are out of my reach. I leave that to the professionals. But as a writer, the human condition is the acreage I plow and plow.
We will speak today about this thing called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which some view with a skeptical eye. I have been hearing a great deal about this subject since many of our troops have begun returning home from far off wars. First of all, I would like to congratulate those of you who stop to listen to these vets and thank them for their service. As a
veteran, this wonderful behavior comes as a pleasing shock. I am from another, colder, less welcoming era. Vietnam
For example, when I went back to work following my service in the Army, the peacenik manager told me, “You’re not in
anymore,” inferring that he was opposed to the war and had little use for those of us who participated. Like him and many of my mates, including Tiny, a huge fellow soldier who came home from Vietnam with a Silver Star for killing the enemy and saving his guys, we were peaceniks too. Vietnam
After our combat tours, Tiny and I served in a special unit burying soldiers in fancy military ceremonies that featured 21-gun salutes, the playing of Taps, folding the U.S. flag over the coffin and my delivering a statement on behalf of all of you. Here is what I told widows and mothers and sisters and fathers: “On behalf of the President and a grateful nation, I present this flag for which he so proudly served.” I stared hundreds of survivors in the eye as I recited that sentence. Sometimes I see them in my sleep. I am 63 years old. I went into the army at 19. I remember those words as though I said them yesterday.
I brought things home from
. I was in the artillery and shot 105mm Howitzers. Think a 50-pound bullet-shaped round that can be shot as far away as seven miles. I shot thousands of rounds and heard kill counts daily. Vietnam
One day I was cleaning the Howitzer and my four other guys were near the perimeter of the jungle burying unused powder bags. An explosion erupted in the middle of them and smoke poured out of the ground. My instinct was to run toward them, run as fast as I could. As I covered ground, I heard someone scream “Minefield!,” which I understood immediately, in the tick of a second. My mind processed. Stop or go? I kept running, and without knowing it then, that moment of realization would forevermore be imbedded in my brain like a steel beam.
All the guys had shrapnel wounds except one. His name was Hoffman. He was from upstate
and was considered a prospective pro baseball player when he returned home from being drafted. His lower leg was detached above the knee. I learned this holding his limb as it parted from his body. New York
Whether he died or not I never knew. That was
. Always a lack of details. I remember that moment when someone called “minefield” all these years later. In fact, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t recall it. There are other memories, many of them personally more dangerous to me, and I often ruminate about them as well, but none have the staying power of that one single moment. Vietnam
The night I arrived at home, I called the cops about gunshots I heard in my neighborhood. The cops laughed and patted my shoulder when they came to the house and learned I had just gotten home from over there.
I don’t have PTSD. I know this because I have been tested and I monitor my behavior with some medication and with the help of a therapist. Yet, sometimes I have nightmares. I wake up sweating. I remain hyper vigilant, ready to jump out of my seat at any noise. I flinch over loud noises. My sleep quotient is horrible, as is my level of trust in others. I have to constantly check myself for rage, for thoughts of violence. I am often paranoid and always skeptical, which sometimes borders on cynicism. All for something I experienced more than 40 years ago.
My Army experience shaped me like nothing else in my life. And while I don’t recall my daughter’s birth daily, or my wedding day, or the day I won a big time writing contest, every day I do recall a moment frozen in time in a far off place when I ran helter-skelter through a minefield and came away without a scratch. I served for three years, 8 months of which were in a combat zone. Today, soldiers cycle through combat zones three, four or more times.
Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. But you can’t disremember rape, a personal assault, or the experience of fear. For those of us who are lucky, we are protected by a genetic resilience or loving relationships. Or we embrace our demons and come to a kind of peace with them, as I have.
I don’t have PTSD.
Imagine what it would be like if I did?