Long ago in this blog, I wrote about the loneliness of men who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) from combat. My thoughts are worth a revisit.
Since I began promoting Last of the Annamese and started this blog, I have been receiving email notes and Facebook postings from other men who served in Vietnam. They have reinforced my memories with stories of their own and, in effect, confirmed for me that others have unspeakable recollections, too.
Sufferers of PTSI from combat invariably go off by themselves because they can’t talk about what they did and what they witnessed. That makes them feel isolated, as if they alone are tortured by monstrous memories. When they find the courage to face their experiences directly, they nearly always go through the maelstrom by themselves, away from their loved ones. On the one hand, they feel shame for what they have done—they are often accused of cowardice and weakness; on the other they don’t want to burden those they care most about. It makes for a lonely life.
So when other men speak to me of the combat they have been through, I come to understand that I am not alone. I am one of a band of brothers. We suffer alone, but we reach out to help each other when we can. I am comforted because I wrote both The Trion Syndrome and Last of the Annamese in part to confront my memories and in part to help others who suffer as I do. Annamese begins with the following dedication:
“This book is dedicated to those who suffered through Vietnam, were jeered and spat upon when they returned to the world, and have yet to be thanked for their service. May our country awaken, recognize your sacrifice, and honor you.”
For decades, any involvement in Vietnam was condemned. I went through many years of keeping my Vietnam experience to myself. But in recent years, the attitude of Americans about the Vietnam war has changed. I’m now more often thanked for my service and welcomed home.
Now I can take pride in my service. And I see that I was never alone.
My brothers, I thank you.