Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War

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Pleiku Jacket

Once you've experienced the horrors of war, it seems you never can escape it. "There's Always Something There to Remind Me," as the early 60s song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David goes. Yesterday morning, for example, I was dumbstruck by an unexpected sharp reminder of what I experienced in the Central Highlands of Vietnam almost 42 years ago during the brutal Tet Offensive. There I was in Bread Alone, one of the tonier of tourist-filled establishments on the main street of Woodstock, with a bagel and a latte. As I stirred raw sugar into the latte, I glanced back at an elegant 40-something woman placing her order. BAM-POW - the air swooshed out of me as if I had been punched in the solar plexus. She was wearing a faded-green satin jacket emblazoned with the words, Plieku, Vietnam. One of the typical GI slogans of the day, "When I die I'll go to heaven because I've spent my time in hell!" encircled the colored embroidered image of South Vietnam.

I approached her, "Excuse me, but I ran supplies to Pleikiu in late 67, early 68. Are you the daughter of a Vet?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," she replied. "No, I went to high school in Manhattan in the early 80s, and there was a thrift store near the school that had bunches of these jackets. A bunch of us bought them and wore them. We thought they were cool. I've kept mine after all these years and wear it from time to time."

Cool? What could I say? Nothing really. So I wished her a good day and went out into the bright sunlight of a beautiful morning, deeply breathing away the dark images from that faraway place that never is too far away in memory.

Thomas Brinson,
Activist Poet,
Who Sometimes Asks Poetically-correct Questions

August 9, 2009
Woodstock, NY

Taking stock at 65
Michael Uhl,  Walpole, Maine -- July 2009

These disastrous mornings
mortality swirls round me
Sister Maggi
cut to pieces at the Mayo
Sister Peggy on the coast
a virtual streamer
broken like a doll

Nothing like a wedding
to spice the family madness
The selfish son estranged
damaged by war
no less than the father

T’ is cruel to give a flower
then pluck it back

Do not deceive yourselves:
The contemplative life
does not a contemplative make
You have to work at that

On these embattled mornings
flowers help

Tour the morning garden
in the lee of the solstice
A hundred perennials to greet
A multitude of colors set their roots
by beauty’s calendar

Early bulbs and wild flowers
take first bow
Trout lilies spread the ground
with mottled leaves
Lady slippers glimpsed
where least expected

Unforgettable forget-me-nots
drop violet stars in every bed
Across the stone embankment
pink phlox creeps
The deep hued columbine
rise like corn
on stalks of grape and magenta

And in the dooryard
lilacs bloom their therapies of perfume
to rival sweet rugosa rose
in powers of intoxication

On and on it goes
Everyday an old friend newly found
and as we gain we lose

Remember this:
No fleeting flower
can slow the ticking clock
These flashes of forgetting
are but a steady keel
to steer the stormy days
There is no cure for life

A Poem by Lee Ballinger, Los Angeles

Twenty years ago when I moved to California

I went to Wells Fargo to open a bank account

The teller was young, beautiful, Vietnamese

My first thought was
"You know, I might have fucked your mama"

My second thought was
"You know, I might have killed your mama"

I took my receipt
Went outside
And threw up on the sidewalk

And you wonder why I have trouble sleeping?

You wonder why I broke the lamp and punched a hole in the wall?

You wonder why road rage makes me feel so good?

My body came back but not my mind
I will always be ten thousand miles away

Lee Ballinger, Los Angeles
Used with permission of the author

Sermon by Reverend Kurt A. Kuhwald
The Legacy of War: A Son's Story Sermon by Reverend Kurt A. Kuhwald, November 12, 2006
Berkeley Fellowship Of Unitarian Universalists, Rev. Kurt A. Kuhwald, Minister [PDF format (recommended)] [MS Word format]

From Anthony Weisher:
Thank you for your work on this issue. There is a comment in the hearings about promoting those who work on their mental health issues. That is an excellent way to help the public and military understand that we are in much better shape in recovery. It is the ones who are riding it out or fixing it themselves who are likely to give up. I have PTSD and flashbacks; I am a survivor of multiple types of abuse. more...

From Kerry "Doc" Pardue:
A couple of years ago someone asked me if I still thought about Vietnam. I nearly laughed in their face. How do you stop thinking about it? Every day for the last thirty-four years, I wake up with it, and go to bed with it. But this is what I said. "Yea, I think about it. I can't quit thinking about it. I never will. But, I've also learned to live with it. more...

From Jim:
Hi Penny, I read your book. The personal interviews were riveting. It's disturbing that the carnage still goes on. A friend of mine from a local boat club recently told me about his older brother. Capt. in the Marine Corps, 2 tours in Iraq. Came home to his wife and 2 kids, lived in upstate rural New York. Wasn't home a month when he was killed in a snow mobile "accident". more...

From: "welcomehappiness":
I am an ex British Soldier, who thought he was hard until 5 weeks ago, when I broke, I have been diagnosed with Mixed anxiety, depressive, stress disorder as a consequence of Traumas. This I am told is because you need one unique event to call it PTSD. I have been told I have suffered with PTSD and coped From the Gulf War/Northern Ireland.

I think what Mrs Coleman is doing is amazing, Mrs Coleman is fighting for people like me who are still alive and she doesn't have to,Thank you Mrs Coleman.