On the 40th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon
The radio, television and new book releases are flooding my consciousness with memories of the Vietnam era and all the ways it influenced my life.
1. I was drafted October 20, 1966 – Bigger than any birthday, I always think about it as the Fall season rolls around. The months leading up to the Draft Notice (which I have kept in my strange box of non-treasures), was a very difficult time. My mother-in-law with her twin children had left her husband and was for a time living with my wife and I in a 1 bedroom apartment. At some level the draft took me away from the domestic stress.
2. The months before my draft, I was in a continuous limbo. I was working but knew I was about to be snatched away.
3. The news was constantly about the war. Or at least to me, the news was all about the war. This was TV news. At this point, I still mostly believed whatever our government told us. The Gulf of Tonkin event helped get the war moving along. I naively believed the whole burrito.
4. A few days before I entered the Army, my wife, Sarah, and I went for a short trip to the Grand Canyon. We walked down and staggered back up. I knew I was in big trouble. I was not fit for a war.
5. The night before I reported to the induction center, I took Sarah to LAX and we said good-bye. I didn’t want her to literally see me get on the bus. My dad got that honor. I don’t remember saying goodbye to my mother.
For many young men, that goodbye was really it. Had the fates willed it, I could have been in Vietnam very quickly. I was fortunate. I was not killed or maimed. Rather, I was “lucky” to work in a hospital where we took care of the results of war.
How am I changed from being in the Army but not being in a war.
1. how to survive in a bureaucracy.
2. became more self-reliant
3. learned to trust my gut a.k.a. intuition
4. began my career in mental health on the locked psych unit at Letterman General Hospital
5. was surrounded by educated professionals and wanted to become one
6. was surrounded by horribly wounded young men and was grateful I was not one of them
7. learned to mistrust our government
8. learned that when I think I understood something I was likely being fooled.
9. learned more about life from “black” people. I remember my Sargent, SFC Charles Embry and Specialist Dolores Darling. They both taught me things you can not learn in University.
10. met hundreds of persons who had a mix of PTSD as well as many persons with psychoses and severe depression.
11. confirmed in my mind that I would work “in Mental Health.”
12. decided I could , despite my low self esteem, I could go to graduate school..
13. wrote my first important research paper on soldiers discharged back to active duty. This changed my life.
14. experienced pain of unknown origins for many months. It turned out to be a stress fracture of my tibia, but it took a long, long time to diagnose it.
15. met many fine people.
16. Became a “veteran” of sorts
17. Saw my daughter born in an Army hospital.
18. Realized the “outside world” knew nothing about what was happening at the hospital or at the War.
19. Every day,after lunch, I picked up my mail at the hospital. Every day I waited for “orders” to Vietnam. They did not come.
20. Became “solider of the month” as part of a scheme
21. Realized I could be daring
22. Began to speak up, sometimes before groups
23. Began to believe I was intelligent