This is Memorial Day in the US. Many people do not know that this day of remembrance was begun by former slaves honoring the dead Union soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina. This is a day for remembering those who made the final sacrifice.
My husband is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. We married after graduation and spent 20 years moving from post to post. West Point instills in it’s graduates a phenomenal love of country and a desire to be the best person you can be. My husband has lived out that code his entire life.
Two years of that time were spent in Viet Nam with a brief tour in the states in between. He led a Company of soldiers and spent the first year almost entirely in the jungle. His men faced danger every day. The jungle was so hot that they literally rotted through their uniforms and new ones had to be delivered by helicopter each week. They never knew each day if they would be just struggling through the heavy jungle growth or fighting for their lives. Each night’s rest could be interrupted by gunfire and fear. He fought during the Tet Offensive and cannot talk about that time.
His men loved him and after he returned home I received a letter in the mail with money collected from the company for us to enjoy meals out. He was the only commander who walked away from that company. The others died.
Each day I thank God that he returned home, not only in one piece, but also able to endure the memories. He has been to the Viet Nam wall in Washington, DC once and will never go again. It is too painful
Just thinking about the men who fought with him and the classmates of his who died in that war brings tears to my eyes and his. Neither of us can listen to taps played at military funerals. May God grant peace to all those who served in that war and all others. Those who lived and those who died. They blessed our lives.
Today there was a terrible tragedy in our area. A C 130 military aircraft crashed just after takeoff. They have not said yet about survivors but a video of the crash (taken by someone who heard the aircraft and thought it sounded funny) shows the plane going in a nose dive. It seems unlikely that anyone survived. We have not heard how many were aboard but somewhere between five and nine crew.
It is amazing that it crashed on a major highway and didn’t hit any cars. I guess in every tragedy there is some light. My heart goes out to the families of those soldiers. Their lives will never be the same. “What a difference a day makes” (from the song). It is so true. We can never be sure of a next moment, next day, next year. We make extensive plans and don’t know if they will happen.
If we spent our days worrying about what will happen next we would never leave home. When my youngest daughter was 15 years old she flew to Japan as an exchange student. We let her go far away. At that time a passenger plane was (I think) accidentally shot down and I didn’t want her to go. My husband pointed out that we can’t stop living for fear of what will happen.
Many people have talked about how fruitless worry is. We are not living if we spend our life in fear. We must live and make life worthwhile.
Today is my husband’s birthday. He turned 80 years old. He can hardly believe it and neither can I. Time flies. It is hard to believe that in June we will have been married 55 years. It is so funny to think back to the 1960’s and it seems like yesterday.
Things were so different then. We did have color TV but no cell phones. Some people who were rich had car phones but they were bulky and the signal was erratic. We drove a 1962 Pontiac convertible. The windows rolled up with handles. The top did go up and down automatically. It did not have air conditioning. We lived in Army housing and sat out on the stoop at night to have fun with our neighbors. We had little extra money and our favorite thing to do was to play games or cards with friends. We only had one car.
We went to parties at the officer’s club and the dress code was strict. Men were not admitted at night without a tie and women always wore dresses. We did wear shorts and trousers at home or with friends. Bikinis were not seen at local swimming pools. People would have been shocked. Men never used “bad” language in front of women and no one ever used the “F” word.
Long distance calls cost money per minuet so the calls were short. Our communication was primarily face to face. We knew our neighbors and had volley ball games in the courtyard in front of our quarters.
Birth control pills were a new thing and there were questions about their safety since they were much stronger than the new ones. We could talk to our next door neighbors through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. and my husband and the guy nest door had fun conversations while shaving in the morning.
Life seemed simpler then. We talked a lot with friends. We shared meals that we made ourselves and played games rather than watch TV. We spent more time with friends than we do now. These memories are fun to recall.
However, everything was not perfect. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Blacks were suffering major discrimination. LSD was one of the drugs of choice. Everything was not idyllic. It was time moving away from the simpler 1950’s into the chaotic 60’s. My husband was later to spend two years in Viet Nam.
When we deal with memories we can choose which ones we want and disregard the others.
In a previous post I mentioned reading the book Tribes. I have noticed lately that I am secure enough in myself to agree or disagree with someone. I have felt that way about the last few things that I have read.
Years ago I read a book about the PTSD that is being seen in our returning soldiers that was excellent. Being married to a military man (his first career) the book clarified for me many things that had changed in the handling of military personnel and that the changes were not good.
In the book Tribes the author suggests that if people who suffer from PTSD were integrated back into a loving community environment that it would be easier for them to recover. I am sure there is truth to this. Being accepted is critical to our well being. However, the way soldiers have been handled in Iraq and Afghanistan has created more stress than in previous wars. I think the PTSD is more severe than we have seen before.
Recovering from any traumatic event causes PTSD. If the event is sudden and ends quickly recovery is usually easier. Any of us have a big physical response to trauma. All of our fight or flight responses are activated with some major physical changes. Major amounts of Adrenalin are released, our heart rate increases, blood to areas of the body not needed is reduced and brain is super alert. This is what is supposed to happen in the short term but suppose you are in this mode over a long period of time. The body is physically stressed to the point where it is difficult to recover.
So what made this happen to our soldiers? In previous wars there was a front……an area where the fighting took place and units were rotated back from the front for rest and time to come down from the high. In the last wars there has been no front and soldiers are in danger no matter where they are. They are never free from the adrenaline rush. There is no place to rotate them to for rest. During Viet Nam soldiers served (usually) one year and knew that they would be rotated home at the end of that time. They were usually away from battle for at least two years before being sent back. (If at all) Many of the prime units used in recent times have been at war for an undetermined length of time. (usually shorter than before) They were brought home and may be sent back in a few months. Some of them 4 or 5 times or more. The time away from battle has not been long enough for any sort of recovery. This information is not hearsay. I have personal knowledge of this.
Having said all of this I know that the writer of the Tribe is correct is saying that recovery is better if there is integration into a community. Unfortunately, for most of the sufferers there is no community awaiting them. Many can’t find a job or have any major support system. Their trauma has also been so much more severe than previous cases we haven’t really learned how we can help. Work is being done but maybe too little, too late.
Wow! I really needed to say all of that! It has bothered me for a while.
Anxiety and stress and difficult for any of us to handle. How much more so if we were exposed to life threatening events over a long period and then expected to return to normal over night.
Today has been a good day. Since I have situational anxiety and the situation has resolved I am beginning to come down. Since my husband is retired military I care deeply about those soldiers who have PTSD and have some understanding of what they experience. I am fortunate that my episodes are usually short and only take a short while to get over but I can understand how unbelievable it must be to have that much adrenaline running all the time. In the current war zones there is no time away. There is no front. There is no getting away from the stress. They are hyped up 24 hours a day for as long as they are there. Our bodies do not respond well to this sort of stress. Excess adrenaline increases heart rate, blood pressure and so many other things. These soldiers frequently come home for only a few months and are on their way back to the front. How can anyone be immune to mental and physical ailments. I hope that some of the studies on the brain and anxiety can be used to come up with some help for these men and women.
It makes me and my issues seem small by comparison. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn’t help when my buttons are pushed. I want to remember how much worse it could be but there are times it doesn’t help. I am continuing to develop more coping skills for my day to day life and hope that I may at least reduce my response to bad situations. Sometimes you just want to ask “Why me?”
Comparisons are odious is a quote from Madeleine L’Engle