My family and I paid dearly for my service in Vietnam. First, my children during those years often had to make do without a father. I wasn’t there, I was in Vietnam. They also endured two tours in-country (what we called Vietnam) when I took them and my wife with me. They lived in Saigon. They disliked it. They yearned to go home. And on their second tour, they got out of the country only twenty days before Saigon fell. They learned the hard way what it was like to live in a war zone in a city under attack.
And I’m still paying the price for my service. After the fall of Saigon, I was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to inadequate diet, sleep deprivation, and muscle fatigue. I had been holed up in my office during the attack on Saigon unable to sleep and with little to no food for days on end. I recovered from those illnesses but not from the deafness that the close explosion of artillery shells inflicted on me. I’ll have to live with that all my life. But that’s not the only injury that remains with me today.
We didn’t have a name for the malady back then. Now it’s called Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). It’s symptoms are panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and irrational rages. It comes from having witnessed and participated in soul-destroying events. For me it was the grisly deaths I witnessed on the battlefield, so gruesome I still can’t talk about them, and the unbearable happenings as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. The condition never weakens. The unspeakable memories never fade. The victim must learn to cope.
I’ve taught myself to control my emotions when the memories flare. I’ve learned to watch for the warning signs that some sound, smell, or sight will unleash unbearable scenes from my past. These days, aside from occasional nightmares and crying jags, I’m able to muddle through.
Would I do it all again knowing the price I’d have to pay? Yes. I’m a better man for having served my country even though my life was at risk. My children and I suffered because of the war, but we all can be proud that we did what our country asked of us.
At the end of it all, as I age and death comes closer, I can find peace and take pride in what I did. That pride is stronger and more important than the cost.