Postscript To Tour of Duty In Vietnam
I suppose if there is any time to free associate this would be the occasion. How else would one capture the last 50 years of survivor experience?
50 years after the war, the whisper voice says. My God that sounds like our grandfathers speaking. Oh yeah, I am one! And soon to be a great grandfather by way of our corpsman grandson Devin and wife Nydia.
That is the best segway to trying to capture what life has been like since the war. Family and friends and an unconditionally loving good wife have been the ticket to sanity. Yes, miraculously I have only been married once! And blessed with 3 children who all showed compassion for their fathers stint in the Marine Corps and the residual effects of war. They have volunteered for veterans events of all strands, both ceremonial and social since their early teens. My wife, Lydia has also been engaged in veteran advocacy over the years by supporting our involvement in fraternal organizations, eg, Marine Corps League, Vietnam Veterans of America, Point Man Ministries. VFW and American Legion. She also was one of the managers of a website for wives called, “Living With PTSD Vietnam Wives,” that at one time was in the top ten veteran websites. I was trained as a Veteran Service Officer by both the VVA and American Legion, and then course work through the San Bernardino Veterans Affairs. Lots of phone work, lots! And lots of home visits. That is where a supportive spouse is tantamount to peace in the home.
But now let me get real. It has been a long journey home with many speed bumps and psychic pot holes along the trail. I like to quote my Marine pal Pete Bourret the award winning author of Physics of War. “PTSD is shrapnel through time.”
Like many, the search for a vocation that fit did not come easy. The GI Bill helped in the exploratory world. First a major in philosophy and religious studies. Then a formation program with the Franciscan Order. Then Nursing school with work on a mental health unit and suicide prevention team. And then a total career switch to commercial property management—oddly all of them somewhat pastoral at the core. It was in property management where I became a workaholic and the proverbial “wounded healer.” That meant too many happy hours—all to be helpful ya know!
I had a number of office buildings and shopping centers under management and just kept moving all the time. A fellow veteran shared with me one day a rather poignant metaphor, “you were always fine Mike, moving from village to village, office to office like being on patrol and taking care of the, “villagers-tenants.”
Soon thereafter the numbed out amygdala and memories of war stored in the bird brain basement surfaced with constant intrusive thoughts and some crummy nightmares. My wife informed me that I would stab my pillow at night. Fortunately never her.
As a long time soccer coach, both youth and high school, I was always fond the phrase , “feedback is the breakfast of champions.” I was getting a ton of feedback about my mood shifts and unsolicited anger. I took my own medicine and sought help at the Tucson Vet Center and a 19 day PTSD program at the Tucson VA. That was the proverbial paradigm shift that has been the fuel for a life of service to returning veterans for the last 18 years. Addressing the latent and stagnant post traumatic stress that flowed like a river beneath all conscious life has been the catalyst and cord connecting most all my activity and behavior since that day forward. From the first Vietnam Veteran support group at the University of Arizona in 1971 to the current retreat circuit for returning veterans at the Merritt Center in Payson Arizona to the Elder Warrior Program at the Franciscan Center in San Juan Batista. California, I have found purpose and meaning. And ironically all as result of war. There is light at the end of the tunnel, without bullets.
“Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical.” Anonymous