By: David W. Powell
The views and opinions expressed in these articles and interviews are those of the individuals speaking, and do not necessarily represent those of Applied Metapsychology International.
I do own the data that I’m going to share with you. It’s a little personal and I’m gonna get through it as best I can. It means a lot to me that you all hear it so that you may get a better appreciation for what PTSD is at all. That is my aim. Dr. Gerbode, Mr. French, and the other people of the institute invited me to come and speak here to this group of helping people. Thank you all for having me.
My name is David Powell. I was born in Pasadena, California. It’s the home of the Rose Parade. I was the only child for the first 9 years of my life. Then along came a gorgeous sister and that was the end of my parents’ couplings. I was taught by my parents, relatives, teachers, advisers, and the media that patriotism was a virtue. Patriots were respected and revered. Patriots who fought for their country, especially in combat, were especially revered and well thought of. That was programmed into me and I think it remains there. I hope to give you some examples later of how that was invalidated, but I still own it.
I served in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam in two topographical areas. One was Chu Lai and the other was Da Nang. I was there from October 1966 through November 1967. I was a combat marine; my military weapons expertise included the 106 recoilless rifle (which is a great big cannon), flamethrowers, ordinance (mines and explosives), my favorite weapon, which was the M-20 3.5″ rocket launcher (which was a little bit larger than what was known in Korea and WWII known as a Bazooka). I also knew how to fire the .45 caliber pistol, and the M-14 and M-16 rifles. Interestingly, the only thing I didn’t actually use in Vietnam was the 106 recoilless rifle; it was a little difficult to carry and it was way in the rear, and they didn’t have those plans for me.
I participated in 7 large-scale combat operations. A large-scale combat operation typically included 500 men or more. I went on many squad, platoon, and company-sized patrols. Since my weapon was a rocket launcher, they weren’t real popular at nighttime ambushes because of the flash and noise. So I didn’t have to go on more than a dozen of those. I’m quite happy that I didn’t have to, I don’t like the night.
The Combat Veteran and PTSD
The happy carefree Marine before you now wasn’t always like this. I am a repairing PTSD victim. Until six months ago, I, and many others unsuccessfully struggled with PTSD problems. PSTD, as Gerald French said, is an acronym for what the American Psychiatric Association called “readjustment problem of Vietnam veterans”. It stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other people who work with the likes of me (particularly combat veterans) are in agreement that this disorder is a delayed reaction to stresses and traumas that we’ve experienced. However, many if not all of the veterans I know take exception to the term “delayed.” It is true that the traumatic incidents and stresses were quite interesting. They were up close and personal. However, the delay was consciously applied: I applied it, Pieter applied it, and so does anybody who was there who has it, or thinks they have it, or denies that they have it. Recognize that it was not some sort of “cooking time” that goes on. You don’t get a piece of PTSD and then pretty soon it matures and grows and then you finally have it. It’s more that you do it to yourself until it hurts too badly. I hope to shed more light on this later.
There remains considerable confusion about PTSD in the mental health agencies, also in the veterans and the public at large. For instance, have you thought, said, or heard remarks such as: “I’ll admit that war can cause problems for people that were there, knowing that they certainly must have gone through some sad things. But this PTSD problem should have come to light years ago. How come after all this time, this problem suddenly appears?” I have heard that. Or “We have been in wars before, WWII or Korea, for example. War and combat is the same no matter when or where it occurs. Why is the Vietnam war so different than other wars that its veteran alone suffers from PTSD?” Or another interesting one: “Isn’t PTSD just a fancy new way to say shell shocked? That’s been talked about since WWI.” Shell shock is a term coined around WWI and they thought it was actual physical damage caused to the combat veteran. They thought that the air pressure from the exploding shells was making them unusual. Or another quote that I enjoy: “Sure we should have been more understanding and sympathetic when our servicemen came back from Vietnam. But just look how we’ve responded lately: we’ve had numerous welcome home events, given them hugs, saying we’re sorry we said what we said and please forgive us now. What do they want now?” It’s almost like a frustration.
In order to gain a grasp of the magnitude of the problem that Vietnam veterans face, I’d like to give you some data. One issue: far too many people, veteran and non-veteran alike, complain that the Vietnam veteran should have come forward years ago. If he really was disturbed and unable to readjust to life after Vietnam, I ask you who would he have turned to all those years ago? There is precious little help available today. Further, think of the number of misses the Vietnam veteran with PTSD would have encountered along the way. Again I submit that far too few understand what PTSD is, let alone profess that they can help now.
Another issue that is interesting is some raw simple statistics. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the wall in Washington, D.C. It’s the memorial to the Vietnam veterans who perished. That wall has 58,000 names on it. What’s not on that wall are the names of Vietnam veterans who died later as a result of their wounds. And significantly what is not on that wall since the end of the conflict is the number of people who died from suicide or single car automobile accidents. Which is kind of interesting if you think that a bridge embankment jumps up in front of your car. If we were to include those people, we would have to make room for 61,000 more names. That speaks to PTSD. These numbers continue to grow by the way.
More statistics: I recently spent some time helping organize a help-a-thon for a local television station. It was a six-hour program for the homeless in the San Fransisco Bay Area trying to raise money. I was invited because I’m a Vietnam veteran and I have an interest in having my data shared. “Don’t Forget Us”. The statistic that came out of this (and they verified it) is that 39% of the homeless in the San Francisco bay area are veterans (primarily Vietnam veterans). They’re not there out of choice. I submit they are there because they are upset. In prisons, between 15 and 20% of the veterans are Vietnam veterans, most of whom have no prior criminal record.
One Combat Vet’s Story
I want to tell you some things about my personal experiences in Vietnam. I do that so you can get a firsthand up close report from a combat veteran. As opposed to a supply clerk who was real upset when he heard that someone got shot in a truck five miles away and claims to have PTSD as a result. I also want to do it because I’d like you to try and participate in it and get a feeling for the experiences and see if they aren’t traumatic to you too. I submit that in the 13 months some of my experiences were traumatic, but please judge for yourself. As you listen, please try to project yourself into the situations and events. Listening is strictly voluntary, so if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. As of six months ago, I had the opinion that no one wanted nor cared to hear what I had to say. So I’m not going to be offended.
Before I get into it, let me explain a little bit about how I ended up in the Marine Corps. If you didn’t know, it’s a strictly voluntary thing to do to yourself. I do want you to know that it wasn’t a career move on my part. 1966 is the year, 24 years is how long I was on Earth at this time. I was a happily married man for 3.5 years. Early in that year, I thought I’d be drafted into the Army. It wasn’t something I just decided to think. They sent me little papers that said “We’ve found you!” I was responsibly employed; I had a bright successful life, stretching out in front of my innocent eyes then. I was kind of caught, like most people were at that time, with the draft and the buildup of Vietnam. It was increasingly presumed that if you were 18 or older and you were healthy enough to pass their minimal tests that you would go. My employer thought that, too. Essentially, he told me that there was no point in planning my career, nor giving me any raises or promotions. We would take care of all of that when I got back. Consequently, I was motivated to go into the military service and get back as soon as possible. That does sound like a career move doesn’t it!
When it finally settled in on me that I was going to go (I’d enlisted and signed up). I had my interest piqued about filling my patriotism requirement, as I viewed it. The Marine Corps wasn’t the only place I went. In fact that was the last place I went. I talked to every armed forces recruiter going. Ended up with: “Cannot go now”, “It’s a four year enlistment”, “We’re full, why don’t you just wait until you get drafted.” Bumped up against the Navy and next door is the Marine Corps recruiter in dress blues. I went over and spent 30 minutes with him. I said “I’m a data processor”, which was my vocation. He said, “If you go in, we have computers, we’ll most likely put you to work on the computer.” Interesting that that didn’t happen. Just as an aside, my data processing background was conspicuously missing from my service record book, which says who you are and what you know and don’t know. I cannot fault the recruiter but I can sure have a bad attitude for the drill instructor who had my first information.
After recruit training, which is turning you from a civilian into a basic person (their opinion), that was followed by basic infantry training where they would teach you how to run and shoot instead of stand and shoot. I went to specialized weapons training which is where I learned how to load and shoot a flamethrower, how to aim and fire a rocket, how to set mines and booby traps, how to take them away if you find one of theirs. Then I had a 20 day leave and found myself facing that tour.
A Tour of Duty in Vietnam
The date was October 20th, 1966 and I knew then precisely when I was getting back, it was going to be November 10th, 1967 (the birthday of the Marine Corps). Every branch of the service except the Marine Corps had a 12 month tour. The Marine Corps, probably because they liked to one-up everybody else, set theirs at 13 months. Nonetheless, it was a fixed tour. Significantly, no other war ever had such a fixed tour of duty. That has some relevance, too.
Here is how I got there: I got on a plane and was flown to Chu Lai, which down below Da Nang and well below the De-militarized Zone (DMZ). It was one of the initial places where the Marine Corps held its amphibious assault in 1965 and began saving the Vietnamese people. I got on the ground in Chu Lai and traveled for three days on truck, boat, and by foot until I finally got to my company (Delta Company) deep in the countryside. It was night and I was shown the tent that I would call home for the first seven months of my tour there. I was by myself; I didn’t go with a whole group of people arriving as a fresh wave. That was how things were in Vietnam. People went off and came in on a daily basis, which was a part of the 13 month tour. Nobody introduced themselves; it wasn’t a real social setting. I can forgive them for that but somebody should have said something.
It had been raining all the three days I had been traveling so I was good and soaking wet. I found an empty cot and put my stuff down: rifle, sea bag, and change of clothes. I don’t like mosquitoes a lot. They had lots of them over there. My first night was absolutely maddening: wet, alone, dark, in Vietnam, 13 months to go, and mosquitoes all over me. I was so mad I could scream at the top of my lungs. In the morning I woke up covered with mosquito bites having not slept the entire evening. I dreaded the coming night, and each night thereafter, all the time I was there. I still don’t like mosquitoes.
When morning light came everybody was moving around the tent. I introduced myself to the people there and finally found a bunk that I could call my own. I started get situated permanently. My squad leader, who lived in another tent, came by and introduced himself to me and told me what the daily pattern would be. I spent that first day at the Company putting my things in order, laying out a little nest so I felt comfortable, loading my rifle magazines with stolen bullets, and generally adapting physically to the environment. I had to steal the bullets from a machine gun belt because they didn’t give me any when I got to Chu Lai nor did they when I was traveling to my company (for three days). I didn’t want to go unarmed any longer, so I started taking care of myself right then.
That night I was sleeping and a guy came and woke me up. He said “It’s your turn to stand watch”. I said, “What’s watch?” He said, “Well, you go out here and we’ve got a little place where we go and we watch out for the Vietnamese people who might surprise us while the other guys are sleeping, and we don’t want that.” Watches last three hours, they rotated every evening, which meant you didn’t always go 8 to 11pm, you went 5 to 8 and then the next night 8 to 11, and so on through all the darkness. You stand watch alone. I developed a real appreciation for darkness. I hate it when I can’t see anything. I also developed a growing fondness for rain as well. The worst watch for me was the last one. It was supposed to last three hours, but when does it end? I never could figure out when the vigil would end. The day became one long string of watching for the guy to come get you. Only now after all these years can I see an end to that vigil. As another aside: until recently, I hadn’t slept through the night since my third or fourth night in Vietnam. That was about October 24th, 1966, so my sleep patterns are not to be exemplified.
That was my first day. My second day in-country was also my first patrol. A patrol is a gathering of people with military skills: machine gunners, rockets (such as me), riflemen, and the like. Squad size is usually 11 men. You’re told some place to go look for them, or surprise them if you catch them sleeping, or getting ready to do something to you, and then come back to the Company. You’re supposed to keep yourself safe all the way along. If you find them before you get to the objective, that’s fine, go ahead and shoot at them. If you don’t find them on the way and you don’t find them when you get there, bear in mind that you’re going to be looking for them on the way back — because they’ll be looking for you on the way back. That is a patrol.
This is now my second day and I’m walking out there like Bambi not knowing what to do with all my special training and we got shot at. What did I do? I just froze; the first bullet sound froze me. Luckily, a guy kicked me and it brought to my attention that I shouldn’t just stand there and let them try twice. Even now, this part of it hasn’t gone away from me. Every time I hear a sharp crack like Gerald mentioned that he heard at Santa Cruz, I get a short neck, sometimes I’ll go down, and adrenaline just races through my body. That is hyper-vigilance in my opinion. It’s not something I was born with, but I got it right after that first patrol — attention to detail. This is also typical; we didn’t shoot back at them because we didn’t know where the shots came from. Hardly ever did unless it was more than just snipers shooting at you. Remembering it was a guerrilla war, they could rake, rake, shoot, rake, rake, which they did and then we shot, and so it went. I was frightened when I knew that I had frozen. I was full of doubt, self-conscious, and I was feeling very much alone. It seemed like I was the only one in this condition. I certainly didn’t take an inventory at the time, but I still think that everyone of us there on that patrol was as interested in that patrol and being shot at as I, but it seemed like I was the only one in that condition. After that patrol, I wanted desperately to go home. That was not to be the case, though. I went on 150 more patrols.
I mentioned before that in combat my primary weapon was the M-20 3.5″ rocket launcher. That’s a big round tube, about 4-1/2 or 5 feet in length, has a pistol area that you hold and you have a gun sight. A squeezing mechanism ignites the rocket in the tube, like a bazooka. It weighed about 7 or 8 pounds with a rocket inside. That’s how we carried the weapon. The gunner, who had the rocket launcher itself, always carried one round in the launcher slung over the shoulder with a hand holding the tube. Then we had an assistant gunner so that we had more than one shot while we were out there. He usually carried three or more rocket rounds. The team was called “rockets”; I don’t know where they got the name.
My squad leader, who had been in Vietnam 4 or 5 months before my arrival, was a quiet unassuming black man named Jones. Jones was concerned with Jones getting home in one piece and alive. Everyone else had the same goal. On my fourth day, about October 28th, we went on a company-sized Search and Destroy mission. I don’t think that the government was comfortable with the term “Search and Destroy”, but that’s what it as and that’s what it was called. I believe it’s called something else now. These missions are Company-sized and larger, which were in excess of 250 people in a Company, up to 500 men, or more, on major operations. This was a company-sized mission. They lasted 4 or 5 days, up to 30 days and longer. We lived in the countryside known as “The Bush”.
How we began those operations was to carry as much ammunition and change of clothes, if you considered doing that. Most often you didn’t, you just slept in what you had. And it weighed you down if it got wet so we didn’t much bother with styling. We were just interested in going out and coming back. We also carried about 5 days worth of meals in our packs (“C” rations) and we’d strip them out of the boxes and carry just what we could eat. Again more concerned with the weight than the nutrition. Typically we would run out after about 5 days. We had eaten everything in sight. We’d get re-supplied: they’d either send it by helicopter or just fly over and airdrop it on us. In either case, the Vietnamese citizens would know that there was a bunch of us out there and where we were going to get our food. So the getting of the food was nice in one respect, but stimulating on the other hand.
We’re back on the company-sized Search and Destroy now. We left at 3am, pitch black and raining. Nothing much happened the first day. Usually when we went out on that size of an operation, we were going well out of our topographical area and into uncharted grounds. Places where we suspected there were Vietnamese citizens building up their strength, preparing to have a little run at us. On the second day of the mission, in mid-afternoon, the front of the column came under heavy continuous fire from the citizenry. The call “Rockets!” came down the line and that meant that Jones and I would run up and try and do something to speed their departure.
Anytime any of us came under fire, everybody got down as low as possible. But in order to come responding to the call “Rockets”, you had to get up and run to wherever the point of attack was. And that is precisely what we did. We got to the front of the line and Jones said “They’re coming from over there, shoot a White Phosphorous round (he handed me the launcher). If the rocket gets close enough, it’ll hit ’em and burn ’em. In any event, the White Phosphorous round will throw off enough white smoke that we can call artillery in.” Well, I did that. I took aim and squeezed the trigger and all I heard was a “click” next to my ear. Nothing happened with the rocket launcher.
I looked at Jones and Jones looked at me and his eyes were full of fear. He yelled “Hang Fire!” which meant that the rocket in the rocket launcher was armed, caught in the launcher and ready to explode at any minute. I mentioned that Jones was interested in getting himself back. There’s a point to that: Jones, along with every man close enough to hear, ran away from me. Leaving me with my own personal bomb inches from my head. I thought I was going to die. I was left frozen in place alone with this utterly horrible thought for minutes. Sometime later, and then only after his fears had diminished sufficiently, another Marine (not Jones) came up and helped me remove the launcher from my shoulder so I could get up. When you fire a rocket, you get down and squeeze the round off. He took it off my shoulder, I got up and took the present over and laid it into a trench and threw a hand grenade down into the middle of it and blew it up. Then we shouted “All clear!” and everybody came back.
I knew then that the only person that I could count on was me. I’m sure that Jones learned that same lesson some 4 or 5 months earlier. I’m sure that every single person there learned the very same lesson. You’re the only one that’s going to get you out of this tour alive. Since 1966, I have in varying degrees maintained this attitude. Until recently I have been able to trust no one. No one, including myself, wanted to make friends with anyone in combat around them. It seemed that if you did, either you’d get killed or wounded, or they’d get killed or wounded. So why make friends? Friendships jinxed the chances for survival (I’ll explain more about that later).
Another New Guy on Patrol
The following weeks in Vietnam were all just more of the same: isolation, constant fear of dying, distrust and dislike of superiors (which included everyone from Jones on up to the Captain), aversions to developing any meaningful relationships with my fellow combatants, and so on, and so on, and so on. There were no safe spaces and no sure allies over there. The tour of duty was 13 months; we’re now up to 2 months. It’s not going to get too much more punishing, so bear with me. By my eighth week of my tour, I was a seasoned combat Marine. I knew how to take care of my self and my equipment. I knew how to scrounge for my own food, clothing, ammunition, and supplies. I had not yet been wounded; that was to change.
I was on a daytime patrol in one of the uglier areas. We used to have, if you can imagine, a circle and in the center of the circle is the hill where you stayed and slept and stood your watch. We had an area that we ordinarily patrolled and that was relatively safe. When you went out of that certain area, that was where the Viet Cong had their pleasure. They weren’t going to get bothered every day, so they could take the time and set up sophisticated booby traps, punji pits, plan ambushes, build bunkers, and the like. The Viet Cong also ruled the countryside all night every night. It was their home after all.
I was a squad leader now. I had an “A” gunner who went with me on patrols; he was the one who carried the extra rounds. He was new to The Bush, meaning that he had come to the company probably a week before we came out on this patrol. I didn’t like having a “New Guy” with me. There is a prefacing word to “New Guy”, but I shan’t use it here. They’re awfully clumsy. They’re scared, but they’re scared for the first time, so they’re increasingly clumsier. I really wasn’t in a mood to be patient for that. Never was. I let him know that I didn’t like him screwing up. In short he was pissing me off and I told him so.
We’re out, daytime still, and we came to an open spot or a clearing. There’s a lot of trees and jungle and all of that stuff, but there’s places where there isn’t anything. This happened to be a rice paddy that was also a grave site. We faced the Fu Long River that ran by. On the left, open for about 30 yards was nothing, just exposure to the river. Then, more tree lines, etc. Rockets (which was my weapon) in the patrol order of march followed the Machine Gunner. There was a fire team (3 riflemen), then the Machine Gunner, then rockets, and finally riflemen in the rear. We came up to the tree line and one at a time went racing across this open 30 yards. We didn’t stand there in a group holding hands. We were all spread out behind so as not to give a large target to shoot at.
Wherever two are gathered, so is a good area to snipe at.
Machine Gunner in the tree line is just getting ready to take off. My “A” gunner who is new to The Bush doesn’t know what he’s doing. So I’m yelling at him telling him what to do next. Finally, I get him squared away and the machine gunner gets ready to go. I’m counting mentally to myself and I’m telling the “A” gunner “Get ready to go, we’re going next, you’ve gotta follow me” and some superlatives there. Then I took off. Now I’m still not convinced that he got the word. So I’m about halfway into the clearing and I look back to make sure he’s ready to take off. He was. Now I’m right up next to the Machine Gunner, who had slowed his run across the opening. The very next instant we got ambushed. There were 7 or 8 rounds that came in. I saw the Machine Gunner get hit in the back.
The next thing was I got hit, and the force of the bullet knocked me to the ground. I shouldered the rocket launcher, aimed at where the shots were coming from, squeezed the trigger, and once again nothing happened. There was no “Click” this time. That meant that the rocket was a dud. That also meant that I needed a new rocket. I was alone in the clearing being shot at. The Machine Gunner had gone through the middle and into the tree line on the other side of the clearing. My “A” gunner is in the tree line at the beginning of the clearing and I don’t have any rockets. So I yelled at the “A” gunner to come up and reload me, give me a new rocket. A reasonable request. He refused. He just stood there looking at me and refused to come. I was enraged.
Hopefully, you can see that he refused to help me and acted like a coward in battle. His inaction could have killed me. I fully intended to kick his ass as soon as I got to him. And then report him for cowardice when I got back to the camp. The shooting stopped and I got up and ran to the “A” gunner with some thoughts about what I was going to do to him. When I got up to him, I saw a terrified, petrified 18-year old, out-of-his-wits boy, with his rifle aimed directly at me. I knew he would have shot me if I threatened him in any way. From that moment (January 1967) until a few months ago, I had difficulty confronting anyone who upset me.
Aftermath to a Different Kind of War
That’s the end of the input and the little trip. It didn’t tell you much about what PTSD is but rather what traumatic incidents are. Some things inside of that are considerations of patriotism. Coming back from Vietnam in 1967, and the few years that followed, was not a good year to have been in the military fighting for your country, trying to become a hero. In fact, cowardice seems to be an operative word then. The brave people, the real heroes didn’t go. That was talked about. Since that’s my opinion of what was the case when I returned from Vietnam, I personally repressed all of those experiences. In fact, if I had my druthers, I would have denied I was ever in the service. I would have said I was in Northern California or Southern California. Rather than confront the verbal and non-verbal abuse of having been a Vietnam veteran. God forbid they knew I was a combat veteran.
There’s lots of interesting things that I “stuffed”. That “stuffing” is putting PTSD in and letting it bubble up. Sometime it’s going to pop out, it’s rather like a psychological pimple. It’s going to come to a head. In Korea, WWI, WWII, the men and women who were there were thanked. They were thanked then and there by the whole nation. Not so the Vietnam veteran, despite the welcome home parties we’ve had recently.
Another situation with PTSD in my opinion: it was a very individualized war. You didn’t make friends. It was dangerous to make friends. It had a specific beginning and it had a specific end: 13 months, 397 days. Depending on when the airplane came to take you out, it was that many hours. The day the foot touched the ground in Vietnam, was the day the meter began to run. As long as you could keep your “foot” down there and stay alive, you knew you were going to get out at some point. Precisely on November 10th, 1967, I got to go home. That indicates to me a state of hyper-vigilance 24 hours a day for 13 months. I don’t know of any other military action that the U.S. has ever been in that that was the case.
Another interesting thing about the Vietnam conflict was that it was a guerrilla war, start to finish, all 10 years. We’d never fought a guerrilla war before where women, children, old men, old women, anybody who was a Vietnamese citizen could be a Viet Cong for a day or just one minute. Throw a hand grenade, and he’s a Viet Cong, clean your shirt the next day and he’s a Vietnamese citizen. There are other aspects to guerrilla warfare that were a part of Vietnam that I don’t believe was a part of any other conflict. So that made Vietnam a little more special.
There was no group camaraderie. There was, instead, jealousy. You were jealous of the new guy because he didn’t know the bad data that lay ahead. You were jealous of the guy who had been there one day before you because he was gonna go home before you. Interesting. I tried to indicate to you that once you step your foot down on Vietnam your tour of duty begins. But that is also the time your war starts. There were, as you may remember, rocket attacks on Da Nang. They could shoot at you from 10 miles out. There were mines, booby traps, punji sticks, ambushes, the North Vietnamese Army, deserters, other advisers, non-stop 24 hours a day for 13 months, 12 months for the Army.
New guys were dangerous, that’s why you didn’t associate with them. They’d trip, they’d stand like I did the first time. Somebody standing up draws the attention of the person firing the weapon. So there’s gonna be more bullets going in the direction of the new guy. If you’re near the new guy you’re at greater risk. Clumsy — they’d trip the fish wire hand grenade booby traps, they’d step in the punji pits. That stops a lot of things because you’ve got to sit and tend to them and help them. In the cases of larger mines and hand grenades, you could get hit by some of the stuff that didn’t hit him. You go down just like anybody else. So new guys were dangerous.
So also were “short timers”. That was anybody who had less than about 30 days to go of his tour. It was my experience that “short timing”, the time before you get to go home, starts getting shorter and shorter, and kicked in at about 3 months to go. Things that kick in are refusals to go out on patrol. Then having to insist that a “short timer” go out on patrol because you can’t go out with 10 men, you’d rather have 11 with you. Well, you run the risk of the guy shooting you. Or alternately, putting a hand grenade in a bush next to where you’re standing and saying “Oh, geez he hit a booby trap” when in fact he “fragged” you. “Fragging” was a term that got to be popular later and so was the activity later. “Short timers” were intelligently as afraid as the new guy so they would do absolutely outrageous things to keep themselves from getting hurt. An activity that wasn’t the best activity you could do put everyone at risk. So now we’ve got push marks on new guys and push marks on “short timers”. You can’t trust anybody, so you’re just there by yourself in your own little war.
I think by the examples of my two fond experiences with the rocket launcher you can tell how good my equipment was. The rockets had “1955” printed on them; that’s when they were made. [Ed. Note: The M-20 was a Korean War developed weapon that replaced the M-1, M-9, and M-18 2.36-inch rocket launchers of World War II. Towards the end of Vietnam conflict it was replaced by the M-72 Series LAW, a disposable launcher.] I could go on and on about the M-16 rifle I got about 7 months into my tour, but we all know what that fine weapon did for our people. So we had court martial orders that our rifles would work, that they would not jam, or you would be in a jam. The weapon didn’t get any better, the complaints just got a lot quieter.
On November 10th, 1967, I was on a patrol. That afternoon I was on a plane for El Toro Airbase (Southern California). When the plane landed, I was on a 20-day leave in the U.S. There was no chill-down period. From either killing or being killed in the morning to going out to dinner with my wife, in one 24 period, seemed a little unfair to my (now) ex-wife. And it was.
Lastly, on a remark about PTSD, I’ll give you something that most Marine’s I know hold near and dear: Big boys don’t cry. So, of course they don’t have PTSD, that’s for sissies. They were men: not the case. I mentioned that I’ve run around with that data and experiences, which quite frankly and honestly, I’ve never talked about with anybody before today, in any gathering of more than a dozen people. So thanks for bearing with me.
Group Therapy at the Veterans Administration
I want to tell you about the quality of help that is around (as I know it), from the Veterans Administration mental health and rehabilitation system. I’m confident that you’re going to conclude (as I have) that this is representative of what not to do. In August, 1986, I was having a particularly difficult time with a combination of some personal setbacks. Setbacks one at a time are OK as long as you’re “stuffing” problems, stuffing upsets, and you’re not worried about confronting anyone since you just avoid confrontation. All the other little precious tools I had. Well, I got hit back-to-back, and that upset me. I knew that I needed to get some help, but I didn’t know where to turn. So I called the Veterans Administration in Menlo Park (down the street). It is nationally acclaimed as the center for PTSD treatment. I’ll poll you later to see if you agree with that.
After fighting on the phone for a little bit, and being transferred and put on hold, and speaking with people who didn’t speak my native language, I finally got an appointment with a counselor. I went down and talked to him for about an hour and half. At the end of that hour and a half, I just kind of wandered away. There was nothing to it. In fact, I was more upset when I left than when I arrived. So being the brave U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran, I sent him a letter and said I wasn’t coming back, rather than just phoning him and telling him that. That was the end of it. I just picked up my own ‘stuff’ and tried to cope as best I could. About three months later, the same counselor, who is a respected therapist in the PTSD group of the VA, called me up and said we’re going to have a Thursday evening group meeting. “I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of it because it’s all combat experienced Vietnam vets and we know you are one. What do you think?” I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to.” Meet some friends. I didn’t make many friends, especially vets. I didn’t have any friends there, so who was I to meet up with?
Although this group of eleven, which met every week for an hour and half, in Menlo Park with two therapists was supposed to be for combat veterans, only three had combat experience. But I stayed, much to my chagrin. Here is an example of the quality of help I received. This is very shortly before I quit going there, a year and some months of Thursday meetings and being upset afterwards. Two of the guys were in a minor disagreement right at the beginning of the meeting. One of them was combat experienced. He wanted to keep things centered on Vietnam issues and situations: “This is when I was shot at, or this is when I saw my best friend blown up. Let’s keep it focused on Vietnam.” The other guy, who was not combat experienced, wanted to deal with present time issues: “I’m upset now. I’m about to lose my job right now, my car won’t start, and I need new tires.” This is true; if I could make it up I’d write a book.
What the therapists did, which was not atypical, whenever something was going awry in the group, they’d call on me and punch one of my buttons and I’d go off for about 45 minutes and make it real interesting. That would fill up the hour they needed and then they could send everybody home. So they punched my talk button and I obliged with the following.
This is another one of the cruelties of the Vietnam conflict. They gave people rest and recuperation (R&R). You got to go leave your personal war for from 5 to 7 days. The seven-day R&Rs were to Australia and Honolulu, Hawaii. I chose Honolulu. Now I’m 7 months in country, with 80 patrols and 7 operations, and I decide to go see my wife. I’m telling the group, in a monologue, that I told my wife that “I was absolutely unaffected by Vietnam, it was an absolute walk in the park, I’m five years older than she, she needn’t worry about me, I’ll be right home after the close of business, it’s a cakewalk.” I told the group how upsetting and difficult that was to face in 1967. The pictures that came up that go across those prior seven months are still pretty stimulating. I cried a long time toward the end of my talk there in the group at Menlo Park. As a matter of fact, in Menlo Park in 1988 I was in Honolulu in 1967, physically and mentally there. After I dried up my tears, the lead therapist with no acknowledgement of me or my mental condition, nor my current mental state, nor a ‘thank you’, nor any other acknowledgment, turned to the group and said “Well, we’re just about out of time now, but before we break up I want to make sure that that upset we had before doesn’t affect the group. We’re all gonna be here next week aren’t we?” That was Thursday night. The group adjourned. There didn’t seem to be any reason not to meet next Thursday.
I went home, turned off the lights, got on the airplane going from Hawaii to Vietnam and got off that plane on Sunday night. I didn’t leave that apartment to eat, buy new cigarettes or do anything. I was real appreciative of how they took care of me in the Mecca of PTSD. The only thing that did come out of those meetings that was of any meaningful, sustaining, and currently ongoing joy was that I met Pieter van Aggelen at one of the VA meetings. We became fast friends. He and I are both combat-experienced. We share a sixth sense affinity that goes beyond just friendship, or liking the cut of his suit. Through Pieter, I met Gerald French and Dr. Gerbode, and I began to learn of facilitation and viewing. Talking to Pieter and Gerald, I told them I was interested in what was going on because it sure sounded a lot better than what I had been getting at the hands of the “qualified”.
Applied Metapsychology and Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR)
The way I got into things was, Gerald says “Hey, have a look at the Effective Communication course,” so Pieter and I took the Effective Communication course together. I began the course more out of the pleasure of Pieter’s company than thinking I was going to get anything meaningful out of it. What I did get out of it was an ability to communicate my feelings, at least. As an aside, my new skills liberated about $5000 or $6000 that I wouldn’t have asked for that was due in commissions. So that more than paid for the course.
Then I learned of Facilitation. Pieter had been doing viewing with Gerald and I had expressed an interest in that as well. The communication course paid for itself. Maybe I could get some help with my PTSD problems. At one of Dr. Gerbode’s lectures, I met someone who could be a facilitator for me and I the viewer. I leapt at the chance. This brings us right up to Christmas 1988 and that’s when I began viewing. I’m currently working with Gerald as my facilitator. After about 15 hours of this work: I now sleep through most nights (something I couldn’t do), I remember my dreams, and I’ve had other private victories. For example, I can sing the Star Spangled Banner from start to finish without choking. I know I have more work to do. I look forward to confronting other incidents that are within the context of my interview, and the pictures that pop up that were below the first level of pimple. I want to get back to the business of me again. I look forward to doing that. All this has to do, from my point of view, with Traumatic Incident Reduction. I feel that TIR as it’s practiced and as I’ve experienced it works for PTSD victims and it applies to any group of troubled, less able people.
I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to me as much as I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
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