At Long Last

Years ago—now more than five—a friend sent a relative of his, a man in prison, a copy of one of my books, The Trion Syndrome, about a man suffering, as I do, from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). That disorder results from a wound to the soul inflicted by experiencing deadly violence. My case came from repeatedly going through combat, first between 1962 and 1975, when I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S., later in other places that are still classified and I can’t talk about. My job was working on the battlefield using signals intelligence, the intercept and exploitation of the radio communications of the enemy, to tip off friendly forces as to where the enemy was, his strength, and his intentions. All those years I was a civilian, but I operated under cover as an enlisted man assigned to whatever unit I was supporting (U.S. Marine Corps or army or friendly foreign military).

As I have reported before in this blog, PTSI is permanent. The malady is never cured and never goes away. The sufferer has to deal regularly with the symptoms—flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, irrational rages, and depression—and to learn to live them. Because I had top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances, I was not allowed to seek therapy—I would have lost my clearances and my job. I had a wife four children to support. Seeking help was not something I could risk. So it was up to me to deal with my memories on my own.

I discovered early on that despite my yearning to push away the memories, the only way to cope with the disease was to face the unbearable recollections head on, bring them into my conscious mind, and train my emotions to react more calmly. That self-ministered therapy led me to write down what happened and, eventually, to my books.

The man in prison, whose name I’m not disclosing to preserve his privacy, had also been in combat many times, operating a navy corpsman tending to wounded Marines on the battlefield in Vietnam. He was stationed in central Vietnam in 1967, not far from where I was serving at the time, but we never met. He, like me, was not strictly speaking a combatant (even though we were both armed) but a helper. And he was a victim of PTSI, which contributed to the violence he committed that landed him in prison. He found my Trion intensely personal. It was his story told by someone else.

More next time.

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