It seems so long ago, and yet so near. The fog that smothered our spirits, the rain that beat us senseless, and the death stench that covered the valleys like a putrid quilt.
And now someone wants me to speak about Vietnam and the effect it had on me. They’re asking me to recall my symptoms when Post-Traumatic Stress came stalking me more than two decades after I left the rice paddies. It’s hard to remember everything that happened while my life was careening out of control. I balk at conjuring up the nightmares, the suicidal despair, the bursts of rage, and the weight of hopelessness that crushed me to the ground.
And these well-meaning people also want me to share my narrative of recovery, so that the story ends on a hopeful note. I’ll be glad to oblige, in the hope that my recovery, though far from complete, might help another veteran who needs a ray of light in a dark hour. For me, it was the support of caring men and women who loved me enough to listen to my pain. They didn’t recoil in horror when I shared the images of blood, gore, atrocity, and betrayal. They seemed to want to bear part of my burden, although I knew they would never completely understand the complexities of my suffering.
There were also wise pastors and priests who saw my spiritual battle unfolding before their eyes. They prayed with me, and they gave me work to do in service to others. They reminded me of the forgiveness and the renewal that our Gospel brings to empty broken hearts and shattered souls. And they pointed me forward, far beyond the echos of combat and the cries of the dying. Their message was that the past would always be a way to describe my life, but it didn’t have to define me. I could find new meaning and could build my future on the lessons of those earlier years.
And so I’m traveling ahead.