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Guest Post by: Carol Schultz Vento
My 22 year old sister Rosemary died in an accident in 1973. Prior to her death, she had lost her way, making poor choices in life. Back in the nineteen seventies there was some awareness that her poor decisions were influenced partly by our parents’ divorce; however, there was no recognition that my father’s World War II experiences may have had something to do with our family’s troubles.
Rosemary was long dead before the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became part of the descriptive vocabulary in America for soldiers who returned from war. It was not apparent in her young life that our father’s scars had become her own. This overachiever daughter, who graduated near the top of her high school class, won a scholarship to college and was noticed for her beauty had kept her anxiety and depression a secret. World War II was a victorious war – why would the children of those warriors have any problems?
The chaos of living with a traumatized combat vet had not yet been studied. My family’s life can be viewed through the prism of the children. We coped with the fall out of war; alcoholism and divorces were part of our reality. Rosemary and I were casualties of dad’s battles, but we each expressed it in different ways. I was the prototypical rescuer – always ready to save my family members. My feelings were put on ice to deal with the drama and more immediate emotional needs of other family members.
During the turbulent late adolescent and early adult years of my sister’s life, I was a surrogate parent, the one she came to with her problems. My mother worked long hours in her beauty shop and also had a busy social life with ballroom dancing and Single Parent events. My father was struggling to overcome his demons, reinvent himself in a career and deal with a difficult second marriage. My sister’s reaction was more troubled than mine. Despite her academic success in high school, she had difficulty. During the years that Rosemary and I should have spent on developing our separateness from our parents, we were both captives to the residuals of our father’s war, not aware that his unseen scars had been passed down to us.
Acknowledgment of the impact of war on the children of veterans would have to wait another decade after my sister’s death. Veterans coming home from another war, Vietnam, spurred researchers to look at the implications of a father’s war trauma on his children. Finally, the National Center for the Study of PTSD (NCPTSD) was created in 1989 as part of the Veterans Administration’s belated outreach to deal with PTSD. The focus was on the veterans of the Vietnam War. World War II and Korean War veterans were not then considered to be a population in need of mental health services.
While the awareness of a father’s war trauma on his children has now become accepted in the psychological literature, there has still been scant analysis of war trauma in the home of the World War II veteran. In 1986, the only published study of post traumatic stress disorder and children in World War II families was presented in the Journal of Nervous Mental Disorders, by a psychiatrist, Robert Rosenheck. This extremely small sample of five families revealed that whether or not the children had a conscious knowledge of their father’s combat experience, there was an evident transgenerational impact that continued into the adult lives of the children of these veterans.
About the author: Carol Schultz Vento is a college professor and attorney. She received her doctorate in Political Science from Temple University and her law degree from Rutgers University. Her career has included teaching political science, public administration, urban politics, and pre-law courses at Pennsylvania and New Jersey colleges. She has also held faculty and administrative positions at The Philadelphia Center, one of the nation’s oldest off campus college internship programs.
As a lawyer, Carol was a sole practitioner and a writer of numerous legal articles for West Publishing. She also is the author of numerous articles about World War II history, in addition to a recent book, The Hidden Legacy of World War II.
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