Last Thursday, I did my presentation with slides on Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) for a small gathering at the Howard County Central Branch Library in downtown Columbia, Maryland, not far from where I live. My purpose in giving the presentation is to tell people about the malady. So few people know of it; even fewer of us suffer from it these days—a tiny fraction of one percent of all living Americans have ever been in combat. Too often we Americans, who have not had a war in our own land within living memory, have never heard of PTSI or dismiss it as cowardice. I know only two men other than me who suffer from the disorder. Both are, like me, Vietnam vets.
I pull no punches in talking about PTSI. I describe the bond between men fighting side by side, the strongest bond I’ve ever experienced. I tell of being in combat when the man fighting next to me is killed in a way so brutal that there’s not much left of him to put in a body bag. I make no effort to conceal my grief over the loss of my buddies on the battlefield. And I talk in detail about the symptoms of PTSI: flashbacks, nightmares, irrational rages, panic attacks, and depression.
I walk the audience through the ways to cope with the malady, pointing out that there is no cure. I talk about forcing myself to face the memories head-on and training my emotions to stay in check. And finally, I lay out the two most effective countermeasures: taking pride in my service and volunteering to help others in need.
I’ve given the presentation many times over the forty-seven years since I escaped under fire during the fall of Saigon. And yet I still choke up as I talk about the men who died by my side. I still grieve for them. I guess I always will.
But, as I say at the end of the presentation, I am content. My family and I are proud that I risked my life for the good of my country. If I were able, I’d do it all again. And these days I reach out and try to help others who suffer from PTSI. My only regret is that I’m now too old and feeble to deploy to the battlefield. My time is past.
But the memories will be with me always.