Finding Positives Within the Negatives of War, Part 1

Guest post by AW Schade, USMC, Vietnam 1966/67

After writing the “The Demons of War are Persistent,” my personal story of Vietnam, and the struggle over forty years against emotional conflicts, nightmares and guilt, which today is universally recognized as PTSD. Like many warriors, I never spoke about the war, nor stayed in touch with brother warriors, dreading the likelihood of talking about horrific memories.

However, this story is not intended to rehash the demons of PTSD. Instead, it is a story of a single session of therapy that helped me grasp why I felt mediocre throughout my life. Do not get me wrong, you will not read about a magical solution to PTSD. There remains a darkness in my soul that I continue to fight back to keep from surfacing. Yet, the following account helped me look at this one of my PTSD issues, from a different perspective. Hopefully, it will do the same for you?

At one of our sessions, the group and doctor convinced me to speak about myself, starting with my overall thought of my duty in Vietnam–that is; what I felt I accomplished; instead of what I lost of myself.

After a long hesitation, I told them the greatest accomplishment in Vietnamwas the hundreds of people our teams personally saved from rape, torture, or savage death. We did not give a damn about the politicians and college students back home arguing, or running off to Canadato avoid the draft. We were enlisted Marines[i], on the front lines, protecting innocent people caught up in a horrific war.

My most positive moment, I continued, was when I lifted a three-year-old girl from the rubble that separated her from her parents, who were slaughtered by the Viet Cong for giving us rice the day before. Though traumatized and trembling in fear, she reached up to me, I cradled her gently in my arms and made her smile, for only a moment. I handed her to one of our extraordinary corpsman, and continued to seek out the enemy who committed these atrocious murders. It was then I understood why I was inVietnam.

However, as with all things I masked in my subconscious, I obscured that moment of compassion for decades. Until this small therapy group encouraged me to glance back and look for positive events. Which most often were engulfed by the worst of war’s memories.

Moving on to questions regarding my post-war years, they asked me to focus on my career. The doctor knew I continued to battle the demons, and wanted me to focus on an area where he knew I had some success.

I explained when I left the Marines, after four years, I was youthful and confident in myself. I had no clue as to what depression and anxiety were, and I thought the nightmares were personal and temporary. I was determined to look forward, and in no way backwards to the war.

Unfortunately, over the years I realized that while constantly looking forward helped me avoid chaotic memories of war, it would evidentially shadow the memories of my formative years, and positive events throughout my life.

I thought it would be a good time to stop talking, but the group asked me to continue. As peers, they knew I needed to feel a purpose, and not think my life was a second-rate existence. I was reluctant, as I looked around the room and knew many of the Vets succumbed to PTSD early in life. I felt I was about to sound like a wimp.

Awkwardly, I began to tell them-with many gaps-about my career afterVietnam. My first recollection was one they all understood, that I went through eleven or twelve jobs feeling totally out of place. Watching sales managers gather their teams, and with fanatical enthusiasm tell them how great we were, and together would attain the highest sales revenue, beating all other regions. To me this was a kid’s game, compared to victories in combat.

Feeling extremely inadequate, I was ready to head back to the military. However, before it happened, I got married to my current wife of 42 years-who will be the first to tell you, living with a type ‘A’ personality with PTSD, and didn’t know it, was often a living Hell. Especially when she had no idea what I was battling, but then neither did I. Like millions of warriors before me, I never spoke to anyone about the war, or the nightmares that abruptly woke me; soaked in sweat. I decided not to reenlist and pursued a career in business.

[i] Except for a short trial during Vietnam, about 1000 shocked draftees, were inducted by the Marines; the 1st and last time.

Next week Part 2….

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.


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