My husband of 23 years never felt that he belonged anywhere except in a jungle hunkered down in a bunker. He was sent to war at 17 years old. He was still a lad, not even through his formative years. The Marines became his parents. He was told how to think, act, and defend his fellow Marines. His life from that time on was lived with the messages he learned in those first months in boot camp. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, each 13 months. The scars of war were severe. Severe on him and his family. The best book I read was called, Vietnam Wives. The book pretty much explains it all for Vietnam wives.
This is a sensitive man, talented…actually gifted in so many ways. He felt lost all the time. Never felt he fit in. Loud noises startled him. Parades with military units marching by moved him to tears. Fireworks were reminders of mortar attacks. “Choppers” (helicopters) flying to the hospital over our house brought back good memories of being airlifted out of impossible battles. He survived. Have you heard of survivor guilt? I feel so angry about war. I feel so angry about all our soldiers went through and how their lives were changed for ever. Their hearts and minds and bodies. Everyone should visit the Vet hospital! Wait in a waiting room. Hear the vets talk. Movies brought flashbacks at night. Regardless, he must have watched the movie, Full Metal Jacket, hundreds of times…especially when he was feeling very lost. We could never sit up front at a gathering of people. He had to be in the back of the room so he could survey his surroundings. He was always on “alert” for danger. He felt he had to be tough. He wore Camos and his dog tags for years. Riding in the car with him was scary. Road Rage made a simple trip to the store a nightmare. He even had a toy machine gun on his dashboard. One time he chased another driver off the road because of something he didn’t like. Built up anger!
His favorite place to sleep was in the back of his truck in the camper with his rifles. Rifles were a sense of protection to him. They made me very nervous. Made him feel like he was protected. I was in tears so much of the time. I felt I should be able to help or felt attacked, verbally. He said he loved me. Why then did I feel so miserable all the time? We went to The Vet center for Post Traumatic Stress counseling. The counselors were amazing. They helped me so much! He went with the guys for a very intense series of meetings over a number of months to help the guys stop “backpacking” their feelings…relive the memories so those experiences they were hiding weren’t leaking out in anger and destructive behavior. That was hell for him. He did it for me, he said. I went to a group for wives. What I heard there was startling. The women spoke freely in ways they could never do at home with their husbands. I felt I had no problems after hearing their stories. Alcohol was one of his escapes. It was so disruptive I couldn’t continue living with him…even though it is not my nature to give up. Al-a-non helped me so much to realize my choices of behavior. He wrote Vietnam poetry. He published a few books. The poetry was so dark. Other vets could identify with the themes. I had a hard time reading it. We are divorced, now. He is living on a sailboat by the shore in a California marina. He experiences “peace” more now, but the mind never turns off, he says. Can’t sleep much at night. Never seeing sight of land is his idea of “peace.” Do you know how many Vietnam vets have committed suicide? Since 1975, nearly three times as many Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war…over 150,000 have committed suicide since the war ended. Now, I live with another Vietnam vet. He experiences some of the same symptoms my husband did. I understand it more. Alcohol is not involved. We share a strong faith and compassion for each other. His humor and delight in being around people helps us through challenges. He understands what it is. We go to the vet center a lot for war related health issues. He is now on full disability. He deserves every penny!
Women and children are the fallout of the Vietnam War! They live with and develop ways to protect themselves from the fallout every day.
Vietnam vets see and experience the world differently. Their perceptions are heavy! The families feel deep dark heavy, too.