Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Suicide - Combat Deaths Still Happening After All These Years.
PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder...The description below is from the
National Center for PTSD
A National Center for PTSD Fact Sheet
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.
PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person's ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.
Like many of us, who served in Vietnam and have dealt in silence
with our memories, I have often contemplated suicide, even making one deliberate
attempt and many risk taking, who gives a damn attempts. If I had not met
my wonderful wife, when I did, I would have gone through with a carefully
planned three year journey to relief through a "drunk riding motorcycle
accident" . I thought I had handled the PTSD from Vietnam very well,
working 6 1/2 to 7 days a week, 10 - 12 hours a day at a job I loved, to keep
me from thinking about Vietnam. I did not notice the social isolation and
total loss of emotional response.
In the late 1980’s, while I was still suffering flashbacks and anger over the war in Vietnam, I wrote this poem....
Damn all the good reasons the Army gave me to “fight communism”!
Damn all the strangers I killed in hate, but never knew!
Damn all the civilians, whose vote sent me to kill for them!
Damn all the apathetic citizens, who didn’t vote to stop the war!
Damn the memories, that twenty years later still bring nightmares!
Damn us all to HELL!
Will you be DAMNED on judgment day?
God knows I surely will.
Homer R. Steedly Jr.
Bravo and Delta and HHC Companies
1st Bn 8th INF
4th Infantry Division
Some of the symptoms of PTSD I personally experienced are as follows:
Emotional Numbness or Detachment:
I wrote the poem because of the rage I felt bottled up inside of me. My life was deadpan emotionally, simply because I felt that if I let my emotions get to the surface, this murderous rage would be unleashed and people would die! When anger did get out, it was often totally out of proportion to the offense.
These guidelines came from
http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/ Contact information can
be found on this site to help veterans.
Watch for these key suicide warning signs...
This is John's heart wrenching account of the suicides of two of the men from his unit 69th Armor.
The Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Suicides
The darkness, the long nights, it is a period of increased suicides. The winters in Scandinavia and Canada, in particular, take their toll. Christmas is a time of joy and celebration for so many, but for those alone, without a family, it can be a time of depression. Likewise, for those without a meaningful place in society, and this includes viable employment.
There have been at least two suicides, and almost certainly more, of men who were once in the 1/69th Armor. This is an appropriate time to consider their fate, perhaps in order to undertake some constructive steps to prevent others from reaching the ultimate point of despair. The following two individuals had very different upbringings, served in quite different roles in the unit, and their suicides were almost 40 years apart. But there were similar contributing factors to each final decision, and these include the trauma they experienced in serving our country in Vietnam, and the lack of meaningful employment and a viable place in society after their service.
I didn't know Dwight H. Johnson. He had DEROS'ed (as we called it, that acronym derived from "Date Eligible for Return from Overseas Station"), which meant that he had gone home to America a few months before my arrival in the unit, in September, 1968. In fact, although our battalion was composed of approximately 500 men, as are most battalions, I was never able to talk to a fellow unit member who personally knew Dwight. We were simply too spread out; and there was the constant flux, the coming and going, the replacement of the "short-timers" by the "cherries." But Dwight was already a legend in the unit. For he had won the Medal of Honor. Only 3471 awards have been granted since its inception in 1861. The events for which he won the Medal of Honor occurred in January, 1968, "on the road to Dak To." Five tanks were ambushed, and a common account in the unit was that everyone else on those tanks, some 15-17 people, were killed or wounded. One tank supposed burned up, with its crew. If you type his name in Google, it will take you to his page at Wikipedia, and there is a picture of President Lyndon Baines Johnson personally placing the Medal of Honor around Dwight's neck. You can also read the official citation which accompanied the Medal. Experience has taught most of us that such accounts have been "tidied up." No mention of the fate of the rest of his platoon, in terms of the dead and wounded. No tank on fire; no exploding white phosphorous shells. Maybe only 5-10 people alive today could present an accurate account of those other details. But the essential truth of what happened that day is there in that official prose. Dwight lived through what was probably 30 minutes of adrenalin- pumping terror. He fought hard, as his experience, character, and training had taught him. He did what he could to help his buddies. He killed North Vietnamese soldiers, at almost point blank range; an experience very few American soldiers in Vietnam had. He survived, physically unwounded. And his courage and achievement were recognized by his comrades, as well as the military hierarchy.
And for years, that was all I knew. Dwight's story revisited me in the most unexpected way in 1976. I was in the Civic Center in Atlanta, GA., attending a concert by the folk singer, Harry Chapin. Chapin's most famous song was perhaps "Cat's in the Cradle." But there was another song, "Bummer." It was about a black kid, growing up in the ghetto: "He was a laid back lump in the cradle, chewing the paint chips that fell from the ceiling." The song conveyed that his economic circumstances and education offered him no choice but service in the Army. Then, like a 10,000 volt shock, Chapin "hit" me with the line: ". and there were 5 tanks, on the road to Dak To." This was Dwight's story, in song, and that is how I learned the ending, via the poetic license of a folk song. Dwight returned to the States, had troubles adjusting, couldn't find work ("the Army had only taught him how to kill."), and so he tried to rob a convenience store and was shot and killed in the effort. The song concluded, again with poetic license, that when the two cops turned him over, and the Medal of Honor fell out of his hand, one asked the other: "Now where do you suppose he stole that from." (Note: the published lyrics today vary somewhat from the recording that I have - typical of songs with improvising artists.) In those "dark" days, long before Google, it took me over a year to verify that Dwight Johnson was killed, in a robbery attempt, in Detroit, in 1971.
The concluding statement in the Wikipedia article seems to have captured the essential truth of the matter, as his mother relates: "Sometimes I wonder if Skip tired of this life and needed someone else to pull the trigger".
The other suicide was my friend, and fellow medic, Irvin Harper. I first met Irv in the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku. He arrived in Vietnam in January, 1969, and within a month had contracted malaria. He was being transferred to the 6th Convalesce Center in Cam Ranh Bay, for about a month of "treatment," which, word had it, was to make your life unpleasant enough so that you would want to go back to your unit as soon as possible. He read books; we became friends, and we helped each other out from time to time, even though we were usually not in the same place or company. Before arriving in Vietnam he had already been married and divorced; on his R&R to Hawaii he gave his fiancé a diamond ring. I was leaving four months prior to his "DEROS", and he asked me to visit his family and future wife, in Forest Lake, MN, on my way to my brief 85 day assignment at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver. I did; we had a pleasant dinner, with the ultimate question dancing in the background: I had survived Vietnam, would he?
He did. And like some other veterans of that war, he sought solace in the natural world, in remote rural areas. He had gone to university at Bemidji State, in northern Minnesota, garnering a degree in Philosophy. A limited job market, for sure. He had different talents, and was a natural card- player. He won approximately $2000 in poker, in Vietnam, almost as much as he earned as a medic. And with that two thousand, in those much gentler times, he bought a log cabin, and 40 acres of land, about 10 miles north of Bemidji, in a place called Turtle River, just off Hwy. 71, on the way to International Falls. Yes. COLD. And for $2000, you don't get all the "amenities," like running water, only a hand pump in the yard. But he assured me that the coffee, which was prepared over a wood stove, really did taste better. (Was it because you had to wait so long until it was ready?) No other house was visible from his; he was immensely proud of his "virgin" pines. He had a garden, raised some pigs, hunted deer and ducks. A woodsman. An entirely different world for a city boy like me, and he was always generous, and never patronizing when he brought me into his world. Turtle River became a place of "pilgrimage" for me throughout the `70's, `80's and `90's. Going to an entirely different country, but never needing a passport.
He took steps to "regularize" his life. Income would help, for example, of the steady variety. Based on his college degree, and his medic experience in Vietnam, he was able to complete a one-year program to become a licensed physician's assistant. He landed an excellent job working for an ophthalmologist in Bemidji. He became a specialist in the eyeball. He even modified my personal behavior, for he always drove his car with his lights on, even during the day. He told me if you only knew how many people drove their cars to the clinic, and were legally blind. Gulp! A little extra visibility wouldn't hurt. And he "regularized" his water supply, and more. Too many trips to the pump at 40 below. In 1976, he bought a prefab "kit", for $25,000, which contained the essential elements to a gorgeous cedar log, A- frame house. A few kegs of beer, and on one weekend, the "community", when we had such things, put the house up for him. Electricity and plumbing followed within the month, and that "little brown shack," which was the outhouse, was no more. He had a sign at the edge of his property, on the road in, that said "Harper's Last Stand."
The glories of the natural world, to someone who thoroughly appreciated it, and steady income. A most positive life trajectory. Save, for the problems. One of which was the malaria, a "weird" kind, not the normal variety, but one which seemed to haunt the Central Highlands of Vietnam, as most recently recounted in Karl Marlantes excellent book, "Matterhorn." It was dubbed "plasmodium." Treatment? From the VA? Come on. "You have to prove that you contracted the disease in Vietnam," a familiar opening gambit heard by many other veterans. Each year the fevers would come back, in the summer, and haunt his body. Other matters did too, and they manifested themselves in some self-abuse: drinking to excess, and smoking. His "women situation" never got "regularized," really. He was married and divorced four times.
But he had shared with me so much of his world, and I only thought it appropriate to reciprocate. I showed him mine, at the time, which was France. In 1989 he had not been outside the United States or Canada since Vietnam, and I talked him into visiting me and my family in France. Like many Americans, he had been exposed to much Franco phobia. you know, if you don't speak the language perfectly. blah, blah, and the snooty waiters. He too found a different world in which none of that was true.
In 1992 he visited me in Atlanta, and I was stunned by a confession. The cold weather bothered him; he intended to leave "Harper's Last Stand" permanently, and considered retiring to Belize. But he also loved Alaska (in the summer), and on his second drive up the ALCAN, he stopped in White Horse, the Yukon, chatted up the bar maid, who would become his 4th wife within a month. Canadian citizenship followed soon thereafter. They were divorced within a year; and he found some work with the EMS. Click the EMS logo for a link to the Marsh Lake News story about Irv. ... Link to slower Cached Copy ...
The games of life were running out before the life was; his body was failing; depression predominated. I feel I tried in my way to pull him out of the downward vortex. It was not enough. He told me on several occasions that he did not intend to "linger." One time before he had called me, saying that it was the end, and then called the next day to apologize. Approximately 15 months ago, in September, 2009, I was not home when the message was placed on the voice mail. It was a 30 second, drunken ramble that was hard to decipher, but ended with that point of contact, the bit of French that he had learned: "Au Revoir."
It took almost two weeks, of returned phone calls to a phone that only rang, before the flat affect of a taped Canadian telephone operator confirmed my fears: "This number is no longer in service." My wife's sleuthing on the Internet yielded a contact with his 3rd ex-wife who confirmed the details, and unlike Dwight, he used his own hand to pull the trigger. White Horse would prove to be "Harper's Last Stand."
Dwight H. Johnson and Irvin Harper. Two very different life trajectories, linked fleetingly in the Central Highlands of Vietnam by their unit, the 1/69th Armor. Common endings, one with his own hand, one used another. Both, to some degree, continued casualties of the war, though their names will never be on The Wall.
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