Veterans Aware: The ‘golden years’

Veteran photo by Martin Haas/Hemera/Getty Images Plus; army water canteen by dusit_srisroy / iStock / Getty Images Plus; composite image, St. George News

OPINION — I get to sit in several discussion groups made up of people who have experienced serious physical or emotional trauma during active service in the military – combat, catastrophic injury, military sexual trauma; stuff that bludgeoned their entire biosociopsychological frame of reference into another form trendily called “the new normal.”

A Bell UH-1H Iroquois military helicopter - a veteran of the Vietnam War - hovers close to the ground in a thick heat haze. Green grass and trees are visible through haze generated by the weather and by the chopper's jet exhaust. | Photo by gsmudger / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News
A Bell UH-1H Iroquois military helicopter – a veteran of the Vietnam War – hovers close to the ground in a thick heat haze. Green grass and trees are visible through haze generated by the weather and by the chopper’s jet exhaust. | Photo by gsmudger / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

Essentially these folks have survived physical, visual or audial experiences that more kindly would have killed them. The remainder of their life will be, for them, like seeing through the window glass of the 1700s and 1800s homes; distorted by their trauma.

The most recent group had a veteran who flew HU1E, or Huey, gunships and slicks in Vietnam. The gunships were for the insertion and support of combat troops, the slicks were for Medevac, now “Casevac,” of wounded and dead troops.

I witnessed these pilots fly these paper-skinned rotary-winged taxi cabs into heavy enemy fire so many times I could not even put a number on them. Sometimes they got shot down and the bird and everyone in it were killed. Most of the time they got in and got out and only some of the people inside got killed. Sometimes they got in and out and everyone was OK … given the circumstances.

So this guy’s telling us that he is having a hard time coming to the discussion group because it puts right-in-his-face that he participated in doing something terrible to Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.

In his mind, now that he is retired and has lots of time to re-envision (through that distorted glass) those battlefields and landing zones, he was the thresher and the troops were his flail.

War graveyard in Vietnam. You can find many war graveyards from the North versus the South Vietnam War in Vietnam. | Photo by freistilchaot / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News
War graveyard in Vietnam. You can find many war graveyards from the North versus the South Vietnam War in Vietnam. | Photo by freistilchaot / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

Statements like, “You did your job,” “You followed orders,” and “What else could you have done?” sound like “Get off of it!”

He learned in his first couple of missions that war is very serious business, conducted in sessions of skull-crushing chaos that leave horrendous results that you never could have imagined, prepared for and will never be able to forget.

From a gunship or slick it should be impersonal but with the amount of ammunition that your aircraft is putting down and the enemy is sending back there is no question that someone is reaping the whirlwind. On the ground “grunts” have to search the enemy dead for lists, maps, directions, statistics and we invariably find the photos; the wives, the children, the parents of the dead. Any way you slice it, it’s personal.

But now, 50 years later, this veteran says he feels like he should have quit; refused to fly. What, break his oath to his country, let those men who were wounded die, let the dead rot in the jungle and not provide closure for their families, be held by the world and more importantly by himself as a quitter, a deserter, a coward?

I firmly believe that only the dead win in war; they don’t have to live with the aftermath. There are things worse than death and the only real answer for why is “Yes.” All of today’s knowledge cannot solve yesterday’s problems and it is tragic they can steal today.

Bruce C. Solomon is a readjustment counselor with the St. George Vet Center. Opinions stated in this column are his and may not be representative of St. George News.

Veterans-Gathering

Ed. note: “A Gathering of Veterans, Families & Friends” is being held at the Dixie Center St. George, 1835 Convention Center Drive, Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., including ““In Remembrance” ceremonies at 9 a.m. and noon. Veterans Aware columnist Bruce Solomon will speak at 1:30 p.m.

The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend. Read more: Calling all veterans, families, friends to gather, honor those who died in service

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • CaliGirl April 23, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    “I firmly believe that only the dead win in war; they don’t have to live with the aftermath. There are things worse than death and the only real answer for why is “Yes.” All of today’s knowledge cannot solve yesterday’s problems and it is tragic they can steal today.” Bruce you are on point here! It is tragic that someone who simply wanted to “serve their country” can forever live with the aftermath not to mention their families. Your articles are always interesting, informative and give the public something to think about. I’d like to see you write something on what to do, where to go, resources to help those who are struggling and the families of those who flat out refuse to admit they have PTSD. Is there something out there that parents of single soldiers to help us help them?

  • .... April 23, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    Well if death seems to be the answer maybe you should try it

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