Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In Memory

TRD101: In Memory

by Michael Maynard

May 24, 2006

I just received an advertisement e-mail from J.C. Penney with this heading: “Celebrate Memorial Day with Free Shipping”. This is almost as obscene as George Bush’s statement on how to give tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001: “Fly to the destination spots of this country”. Let’s honor the lives of those who lives were lost by a terrorist attack which could have been prevented, except for a series of blunders and inaction, by the various levels of those who receive a paycheck from the federal government, including the President and Vice President, by going to Disney World.

That’s what the United States has become: a big credit card. Let’s give respect to the birth of Jesus by promoting toys weeks before the day of his birth. Let's celebrate the founding of our country by buying foreign-made automobiles. Let’s honor those who have died in combat, serving to preserve and protect the honor and security of this country and our allies, by buying some furniture because it will be shipped free of charge to our homes. Let’s honor those who have died in combat to make sure their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, live in a free country, by selling them cheap imported goods, purchased in debt, that our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters will have to pay through higher taxes or further reductions in government services.

My father is one of those who should be honored this weekend. His Army battalion was the first to reach the shore at Anzio, despite the heavy fire from Mussolini’s troops. He was a gentle man, who spent hours with me in his hopes that I could become a professional baseball player. My uncles delighted in telling the story about when he went hunting and stopped to pet one of my great-uncle's mangy dogs. As he bent down, a huge deer buck raced past him, nearly decapitating my father with his antlers. My father went hunting for the exercise and being out with the guys. He could no more shoot a deer than his son can today.

From his military service, my father lost some of hearing and had shrapnel embedded in his leg. He also suffered from what we now would call PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He suffered from debilitating headaches. He had dreams, flashbacks, where he relived Anzio and saw his Army buddies get shot around him and woke up screaming and in a sweat. A few times, when he was having one of his headaches, he would become angry and violent. He never received treatment for his PTSD, at the time, not only wasn’t this condition known, it was considered to be part of what happened to you when you returned from battle.

I was lucky. I didn’t want to serve in Vietnam and I just below the cutoff lottery number twice. But they were anxious years because I was on the potential call up list. While I was in college, Vietnam veterans returned to my school. Many were burned out cases with hollowed eyes, smoking joint after joint in the hope the buzz would help alleviate the pain from the memories of the horrors they had lived through. Those vets who were my friends told me stories of what happened to them. I understood what they were saying, but could never comprehend what they experienced. A recent study stated that 98% of those who fired weapons during the Vietnam War suffer from PTSD. Given the similarities in theatre environment between Vietnam and Iraq: the horrors of guerilla warfare, uncertainty to discern the enemy easily, hostile environmental conditions and overextended tours of duty, there is no reason to expect the percentage to be lower.

The US is now getting the first wave of soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many suffer from PTSD, as well as other physical and mental maladies. The WWII soldiers came back as heroes and the US Government rewarded with them with free college tuition and low-interest loans. The Vietnam soldiers came back in the midst of a major societal change and were considered as heroes/anti-heroes, unfortunates caught up in the midst of geopolitical gamesmanship being done by proxy intervening in a foreign civil war. The Vietnam soldiers did come back to free college tuition and an improved Veterans Administration hospital system to care for them. The soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back as heroes, but in a country that’s honoring them with a stripped to the bone Veteran Administration hospital system, greatly reduced government social services programs to help them in their reentry, and in some cases, having lost their jobs, though these jobs are supposed to be theirs upon return. The jobs that are available are usually minimum wage service industry jobs, since the combination of government disinvestment and outsourcing of manufacturing and high-tech jobs off-shore has made finding good jobs at good wages difficult, at best.

The Rumsfeld Department of Defense, to no surprise, has not budgeted for the number of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans requiring mental health services, the type of personnel needed to handle PTSD cases or the facilities it will need to build or reopen to handle the rapidly growing number of servicemen and servicewomen needing treatment. So it will be left to the municipalities and states to handle the medical overload, and the cases of suicide, homicide and domestic violence that will inevitably occur. Of course, those people who lose their lives as a result of this gross mis-planning by the DOD will not be added to the daily number of deaths reported by the DOD. They will be casualties of war as much as those who died on the battlefield.

I still have my father’s duffel bag and helmet. He resides in me, my heart and my memory forever. That he suffered from his service to his country was unfortunate, but his government cared about and planned for his return to civilian life. That the current servicepeople don’t have to suffer the way he did, but their government has turned their backs on them for “budgetary reasons”, is heartless and despicable.

TRD101 knows this: With all the advances in modern day psychopharmacology and psychotherapy, it is possible to proactively treat those returning for PTSD. However, despite all those advances, no one can change what is in the memory of those who served in combat nor those who loved ones died as result. We can do nothing for the dead but pay them honor, but we disrespect their service to our country by the way their modern brethren are being mistreated.

And that is The Real Deal 101 for today, like it or not.

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© Copyright Michael Maynard, TRD101, May 2006.

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