Mental/emotional Illness

I read something about Donald Trump’s statement regarding US veterans with PTSD. He implied they hadn’t been strong enough to handle the grim, manly realities of warfare.

This brought to mind my own severe case of PTSD, and I offer this little story as an answer to both Donald and Hillary. (It’s a very personal story, but as a hermit in the rainforest I enjoy a bit of anonymity.)

I spent 13 months in Vietnam. I wasn’t part of a combat unit, but a few times I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially during Tet Offensive in 1968. I came away from that experience with nightmare images and a bad drug habit.

But the nature of my trauma is based on what happened after Vietnam. I had another year to go in the army, and the army in its great wisdom and glory assigned me to the Honor Guard at Fort Sheridan, Ill.

We wore beautiful uniforms – white ascots at our throats, white cotton gloves and shiny, patent-leather boots. The weapons we carried were also beautiful – old M1s, with all metal parts chrome-plated, and a walnut stock.

It was our job to act as pallbearers and honor guard for the men and women killed in Vietnam. We carried the flag-draped caskets, blew the bugle and fired the 21-gun salute.

The most hated moment of every ceremony, at least for us, was handing over the American flag to the mother, or father, or brother, or sister, or son, or daughter. We held a lottery before each funeral, and the loser was charged with this unpleasant task.

I lost the lottery a few times. I stood next to the casket, a soldier alone, holding the American flag in my hands, surrounded by grieving Loved Ones. I heard and saw their anguish and rage, and I knew some of it was directed at me. And I shared it. I had seen the war, and the utter devastating meaninglessness of it. But I could never say this out loud, much less to mothers and fathers. My grieving was deep and private. In fact, this presentation by the Honor Guard was supposed to lend meaning to the death of their child and friend – even a sense of “heroism.”

I approached the mother, said my little piece about “a grateful and sympathetic nation” and handed over the flag. Most mothers hugged the flag to their chests and screamed.

Those of us on the Honor Guard absorbed these powerful and passionate feelings. I had my heart broken so many times it’ll never get put back together again. Even now, forty-seven years later, tears roll down my cheeks as I pound on this fucking keyboard.

It’s important to remember that each death caused by our military means that 50 or a 100 people go into a state of grief and anger. Think of all the funerals. Most Americans have no idea what their government is doing in their name.


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