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Wednesday November 26th 2014

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Letter from Vietnam Vet

Dear Rick,

Just a note from a Viet Nam vet with PTSD to say thanks for putting it on the line so well in your story “When Yellow Ribbons Aren’t Enough.” I know how difficult it is.

Wars almost never make anything better, and most often make things worse. But the greatest tragedies are in the mangled and destroyed lives of the young who go off to fight them, never fully aware – how could we be? – of the costs.

The physical wound that earned me a Purple Heart has had minimal impact on my life – a piece of shrapnel from a rocket the night the Tet Offensive started – January 31, 1968 … at 3:02 am, if I remember correctly … and I certainly DO remember correctly!

I lay on a slab in a field hospital later that morning watching as a corpsman scalpeled my leg open, connecting the entry and exit wounds. then for the better part of a month, maybe more, I hobbled around on crutches and was terrified of going out in the open for fear that another rocket attack would catch me without shelter and vulnerable. Needless to say, I developed an acute sense of hearing and could tell seconds before impact that another rocket was headed in-bound. My buddies learned to react quickly whenever they saw me duck for cover.

But PTSD wasn’t even on our radar back then. Nor for years afterward.

I was one of the lucky ones – almost 24 when I got drafted, married, with a career and a mortgage – because at the end of my tour I came home to an adult life, responsibilities and a loving spouse. I didn’t develop either a drug or an alcohol problem. I was not violent. I did my best to return to “normal” life and got on with it.

Oh sure, I bailed out of bed onto the floor more than once in the middle of the night, or bellied down on the sidewalk one night while walking hand-in-hand with my wife out of the Tennessee Theater … in the midst of a group of puzzled movie-goers. That damn downtown Knoxville fire siren sounded just like the siren back in Lai Khe. (And, although it hadn’t happened in a long time, I hit the deck a few months back when pushing a full grocery cart out of the Winn Dixie on Bayou Blvd., because a low flying plane came in from behind me. (Yeah, in 2 thousand freakin’ 11!)

Over time I did pretty well. Got my degree in ’73, became a corporate speech writer, then an editor, and a PR clack, and a script writer, and a vacuum cleaner salesman, and a clerk at Best Buy, and a photographer at Glamour Shots … and a divorcee, and a … well, you get the picture.

It wasn’t until around 1997, when I was working with a female Navy vet, that I ever even considered the possibility of PTSD. She saw the symptoms and kept bugging me to go see Ann Hart at the Pensacola Vet Center. Finally, I went.

A few months, and a few tests, later I was declared to be suffering from PTSD, and my disability rating went up from 10% to 40%. I was put on two meds – Trazadone, to help me sleep and Citalopram for depression. I also started therapy.

Anyhow … enough of this prattling. I meant to write you a brief note of thanks for the article. So that’s how I’ll end this.

Thank you, Rick! Keep up the good work.