Vietnam veterans say ‘Never Again’ to troops returning from Iraq, Aghanistan
Not all post-traumatic stress is created equal.
This became very clear to me earlier this month, as the 14 Vietnam veterans in our group – including my father – shared some of their stories on the long bus rides between Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta and Tay Ninh. (Many were prompted by the memorial services we held there; check tomorrow’s Journal News for that story.)
Not everyone who served in Vietnam had done so involuntarily, through the draft; some, like my father, had joined the military as officers, eager to serve their country. Some of the veterans had seen countless gory battlescenes, but a few had served in supporting roles in offices or ships that rarely or never saw combat. Some were wounded, some weren’t. Some had never been on a plane or outside the country before; my father was an immigrant from a war-torn country. Some shared funny stories, like my father’s rabbit breeding program and USO show memories, but others chose to reveal wrenching tales of lost lives and harrowing bloodshed. Some stayed in the military after returning from Vietnam; others couldn’t wait to get out.
But they all had some trouble readjusting when they got home, including “hitting the deck” the first time they heard a car backfire or July 4th fireworks. And they all worry about how today’s “War on Terror” veterans are doing, and want to make sure they get the help they need sooner than so many Vietnam veterans did. We have a better understanding of PTSD now, and soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan don’t get called “baby killer” when they get home, but the new generation of troops has encountered major problems, ranging from inadequate health care exposed at places like Walter Reed, to longer deployments with serious psychological consequences. Plus, more soldiers are surviving now with injuries that would have been fatal in the past; I would love to see a real statistical analysis of this (like what’s done to compute movie box office grosses, factoring in ticket price inflation) to see how Iraq and Afghanistan casualties really compare to Vietnam and previous conflicts.
The Vietnam veterans, through groups like the Vietnam Veterans of America and the 25th Infantry Division Association, are working on visiting hospitals, setting up memorials, lobbying government officials for more funding … There’s a lot to be done, and many are upset that American soldiers are once again embroiled in an unpopular war with unclear origins and no end in sight.
I could write a lot more about this, but for now, I’ll sign off with a link to an excellent video piece about the “Marlboro Marine,” the young soldier famously photographed by an L.A. Times journalist during the siege of Fallujah, and his ongoing “struggle to heal his scars of war.”
Check it out. And, notice the similarities between this photo and Bernie Duff‘s “Childhood Lost” painting (the first image in this post) of a U.S. soldier during the Vietnam War? Bernie calls this weary, shell-shocked expression the “thousand yard stare.”