More on my reaction to reading On Combat: The Psychology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace (Warrior Science Publications, 2008) by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman with Loren W. Christensen.
Two striking similarities between the men and women Grossman studied and me are the effects of sleeplessness and fear.
While on the battlefield with units in combat, the troops and I went for days without sleep. I learned to nap at every opportunity, and I gauged my effectiveness by my ability to concentrate my consciousness even when I was exhausted. But I knew that after even one day without sleep, I was of less use.
During the fall of Saigon, I and the two guys with me at the end survived for days with almost nothing to eat and without sleep. I don’t remember being tired or hungry. I only remember my obsession with getting my guys out alive. By the time I escaped under fire, I was starting to hallucinate, but I could distinguish the real from the unreal.
Like so many of the warriors Grossman describes, I remember fear before and after but not during the times of greatest conflict. I felt the flutters of panic as the combat began, and I shuddered after it was over. But in the heat of battle, I felt no trepidation. Like warriors everywhere, my compulsion was the survival of men fighting next to me. I was committed to saving them even if it cost me my life.
During the fall of Saigon, I have no recollection of being afraid. Again, I was determined to save my two guys no matter what it cost. Later, looking back, I trembled to remember how close to death we came.