Since I couldn’t seek therapy for my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), I knew I had to handle it on my own. If let it go, my memories would ensconce themselves in my unconscious and haunt me with nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and irrational rages. I knew that I had to face my memories head-on, bring them into my conscious mind, learn to control my emotions. So I did. I taught myself to face them. I trained my emotions to react less violently.
These days, except for occasional nightmares and involuntary tears, I’m managing my memories. That effort was not helped by another brand of shame.
When I returned to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon, I quickly discovered that Americans considered the war in Vietnam shameful. The less said about it, the better. For decades, I never mentioned my Vietnam experiences. Knowledge that I had engaged in a shameful war for thirteen years made my PTSI worse.
Five or six years ago, that all began to change. I was invited to something I’d never heard of, a celebration to welcome home Vietnam veterans. I decided to risk it. When I arrived at the gathering, young people, not even born when Saigon fell, came up to me, shook my hand, hugged me, and said words I never thought I’d hear: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.” I cried.
That experience and working with veterans made me aware of another emotion, pride. I have every reason to be proud of my service to my country. The days of shame are gone. These days I no longer hide my Vietnam service. I wear a “Vietnam veteran” pin on my American Legion hat. I have a Vietnam button that I use on some of my casual jackets. When I dress in a suit, I wear my Meritorious Medal button, earned for my work during the fall of Saigon, on one lapel.
I have come to understand that we Vietnam veterans deserve the honors now being given to us. Today, the Vietnam Effect for me is pride.