« Feathers...Legacy of Ducks | Main | Zidane's Head Butt - PTSD Uncorked! »

Knock Knock…Whose There?

By Dr. Mike Colson

Combat vets …from the Vietnam War…are coming out of the woodwork.

Just about second day of the week, I stand in front of men and women who are either separating or retiring from military service. Most have served honorably and have in they’re possession a Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Service Medal for non-theater operations while some have a GWOT Expeditionary Medal, having deployed into theater in support of air and ground combat operations. A third type of veteran has one or both campaign medals from Iraq or Afghanistan. These are combat guys like you and me who have a bloody T-shirt and a few holes in their uniform to prove they were there. But another type of vet - the Vietnam-era combat veteran – has been showing up to these events; sitting in the back, listening with intent, and grabbing my arm when the event concludes. And, they really want to talk.

So, who are these Vietnam veterans? Here is my guess:

They are combat veterans who found a way to make the readjustment from jungle warfare to mainstream USA who are now – as a result of TV and GWOT-laden political infighting – being traumatized all over again. The ones I talk to express fears, feelings, and emotions as if they were right back in Vietnam – this after being out of uniform for 30-plus years! Some cry – for dead friends, lost innocence, errors of omission and commission in their post-military lives, and not a few wondering why this again…why now?

When I returned from my second go-round in Iraq, I remember how comfortable it was to sleep on the floor of my detached garage away from family and distractions. I felt safe there. I could prowl at night, check and re-check the doors and windows, and sleep as if awake, alert and ready to meet death’s avenger head on. After eight and a half months, I started to hear a knock at the door. It went like this:

[Knock, Knock]
“Who is it?”
“It’s me” (my wife)
[Long pause]
“Come on in for some breakfast, the boys are both here.”
[Another long pause]
“Are you OK?”
“How much longer are you going to live out here?”
“I’m coming in now.”

And I did…and stayed ever so gently in the home that had for me all the things I had built my life into: family, loved ones, friends, memories, security, hopes, and dreams NOT punctuated with screaming, carnage, or the smell of the dead. Home was where my heart was but the isolation of the garage was a powerful elixir…and it took time to get over its intoxicating draw.

I think the Vietnam veterans are teaching us a new lesson in post-combat trauma: That you can wait as long as you can stand it…but the knock will come.

[Knock knock]
Whose there?
OK. I’ll be right out.

The alternative is decades of unwarranted and undeserved pain.