Yesterday I listed the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and talked about how I cope with them. Today I want to get into the plus side of the disease. It has enriched me and greatly deepened my writing.
First comes the question of pride. I—and I suspect all who have survived combat—feel a sense of fulfillment and pride that I stood and fought beside my brothers. We combatants are proud that we risked everything for God and country and family and democracy, but our first priority was the man fighting next to us. The bond between men who have fought side by side is the strongest love I’ve ever experienced. And I know that what I did on the battlefields of Vietnam saved lives. That gives me a quiet pride that doesn’t need to be expressed.
Second, I am a richer and fuller man for having suffered through the rigors of serving beside others in combat. I have a depth of understanding and sympathy I could never have developed any other way. As hideous as my untamable memories are, I cherish them. I know and understand and can write about the human condition with a wisdom earned by shared pain.
And finally, I know that I am not alone. When I meet with other veterans, especially those from Vietnam, we don’t need to express our comradeship. A quick handshake, a brief look into the eyes, a half-smile of recognition—it’s enough. I’m a member of a band of brothers who will always be there for me, just as I will always be there for them.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of PTSI, but it has always shaped my writing. Dave in The Trion Syndrome and Chuck in Last of the Annamese go through the things I went through. From the reaction of readers, I believe that I’ve been able to tell the stories of these men in ways that help other victims of PTSI to cope with their condition. And I’m confident that my books have led to a deeper understanding by those who have never experienced combat.
I’m grateful. I’m content.