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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm and OEF/OIF Vets Chime in on Combat

An interesting look at the experiences of war veterans over the decades ran earlier this month and is still well worth a reading.

From the Kansas City Star:

Q. Did you have any problems readjusting after you returned from war?

Joseph L. Dickerson (Korean War): I was in several pretty strong firefights, and I was wounded — shrapnel from mortar fire at night in left chest. It’s still there, close, by my heart. They see it every time they take an X-ray. I had a hard time adjusting because I saw a whole lot of dead bodies in the short time I was there. And blood. Head blown off, arm blown off.

When I got discharged I never did talk too much to anyone about it. I kept it to myself. But I knew something was wrong, because I had problems holding jobs. I think I was 21 when I got out. Battle fatigue, that’s what they called it then. I had dreams, and you become touchy sometimes.

I went in at 17, and I used to be a happy-go-lucky guy. When I got out I was a little different. I wouldn’t go to work as I was supposed to. I couldn’t take orders till after about three or four years. And dreams. I still have the dreams. I sleep with a weapon. I always have slept with a weapon after I came out of the service. You just feel safer.

Maj. Jason “Tank” Sherman (Iraq and Afghanistan): I came back, still in the reserves, and didn’t really go through anything. I didn’t see what some other people have seen.

Gary Shepard (Vietnam War): I’m still not adjusted. I mostly stay with my friends. I’m still not comfortable in restaurants, and my kids still know they don’t let me get my back to the wall, and they watch out for me. I try not to let that bother me so much anymore, but sometimes it does. I still go to sleep with a loaded pistol most of the time.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Continuing:

Ernest Torok (Vietnam War): Coming back from Vietnam I just moved on to my next military assignment. When you stay in the military, amongst your comrades, you all understand each other, and it’s not as much of a problem. But when you go from military back to civilian, that’s a heck of a big adjustment. But personally I don’t feel that I suffered.

Patrick Ratterman (Desert Storm): I had horrible problems readjusting. I had held the same job for eight years (working with delinquent kids) when I was deployed. When I came back I got my old job back, but probably within a few months I was let go. It turns out I was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the last 15 years I’ve had 17 different jobs. There were a lot of physical problems that are related to Gulf War illness — fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue. We apparently got into some depleted uranium or sarin gas, nobody really knows. So I would say I had numerous problems on my return.

Andrea Whitworth (Afghanistan): It’s hard to explain, but you feel a null and void of that year. It’s gone. You’ve been away from friends and family. It’s almost like you don’t know them anymore, and you have to adjust to that. I felt a sense of (being) lost. That’s all I had known for the past year. Not only had I changed since I left, but everybody around me had changed as well. It was the “what-do-I–do-from-here, and where-do-I-go-from-here” type of feeling, and a sense of fear to a certain point. I’ve readjusted now.

Roy Shenkel (World War II): I had a lot of trouble. I was frightened. I couldn’t be around people or be in a restaurant. And as stupid as I was I carried a .25-caliber handgun in my pocket for about a month after I got home. I wasn’t thinking right. One day I said to myself: “What am I doing with this thing?” I just felt like I didn’t want to be challenged anymore or pushed around. I don’t know. But it was stupid. I got rid of it. But it took me two years to get straightened out. I’m still not completely over it, but I’m doing great now. But we all should have been deprogrammed. They just turned us loose, and we did the best we could.

Read the rest to hear reflections on how they were treated when they got home, and what advice they have for today's troops.

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