WASHINGTON, August 11, 2015 – It was 1975, the Vietnam War was winding to a close and I had been touring the western United States as a solo act, playing guitar, writing songs, making records and doing one-night stands in civic auditoriums, schools, stadiums, churches and other venues.
I wrote, sang and recorded Christian music, which reflected the dramatic change of direction my life had taken since I had converted to Christ.
One night, in a northern California town, as I packed up my Martin guitar and Bose sound system, I glanced up into the face of a young man — mid-twenties, sandy blond hair, freckles, and sad eyes. He wanted to talk. He was polite and unassuming, and said he would like to support my traveling ministry, although I had not solicited his financial help.
But something else was on his mind. As I would soon learn, his life was falling apart.
I was still a novice, and for that reason I thought I had all the answers. I was twenty-seven, had graduated from Baylor University, and was under contract to a prominent record label.
I flew my own plane to meet the tight schedules I was required to keep.
I had the world by the tail, so to speak.
But, then, I met David. As he began to tell me about his life, my worldview did an about-face. He had proudly become a Green Beret, fought honorably in Vietnam, and had been fortunate enough to come back in one piece — almost.
Soon after arriving home, he realized things could never be the same as before. Of course, I cannot tell you his real name, his hometown, or the dates and locations of battles in which he had participated. In fact, he never shared the details of specific engagements.
But I can never forget his testimony, and those of others with whom I had serious discussions later on.
The young man had been taught to kill with his bare hands.
Superior officers had instilled within him discipline, dedication to duty, and a propensity for aggression. The training, combat, and events he witnessed had bound him with a deep hatred for the enemy. His instructors told him that hate was his biggest weapon against fear when facing a deadly threat.
“I now have a problem that is destroying me,” he said. “Since I have returned home, there is no longer an enemy to fight, but the hate in my soul has never gone away. In Nam, I was able to channel the hate toward the enemy. Now that I have returned, where am I supposed to direct those feelings? The hatred I feel is with me constantly. I can’t rest, can’t have a life. I want peace, but don’t know where to look. The desire to kill someone is driving me insane.”
He was one of America’s best. But here I sit, forty years later, and as I type this story into my word document, my eyes fill with tears once again. I, who knew everything, had no words. I didn’t have a clue.
I prayed with him and told him I would continue to call on God for him. He was a believer. He thanked me. I kept up with him for a year or so, and then he dropped off the radar screen. We lost contact.
This was not supposed to happen. I mean Hollywood had always shown the hero coming home to his girl and achieving the American dream after the war. It was right there in the movies for everyone to see — happily ever after.
Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) takes many forms. The causes and symptoms aren’t always the same. Some victims recover sooner than others. Some never do. I do not know what became of David. I only wish I had known then what I know now.
No, I’m not a trained therapist — not even close — but you don’t have to be a professional firefighter to recognize flames and smoke.
Anyone who has been severely traumatized can be affected, not just soldiers. Assault victims, storm survivors, those who have had a close call with death — all are vulnerable. Other symptoms are hyper-vigilance, paranoia, inability to sleep, uncommon fear.
One hint going forward — love is the healer of emotional distress. This is why, in many cases, loved ones play a major role in helping the victim of PTSD. I have seen that people can literally be loved back into wellness.
Next time, I will share some basic things that you can do to recognize symptoms and help bring healing to those who suffer under this dark cloud.
James Nathaniel Miller is the author of No Pit So Deep — The Cody Musket Story, to be released this fall. http://www.whoiscodymusket.com