It wouldn't be too long after my return that I was able to give my situation, my state of mind, my attitude, my behavior, a name: Post Viet Nam Syndrome.
Post Viet Nam Syndrome became an excuse for my anger; it was a way to define in three words the condition I was in during the early stages of my return home. It defined my loneliness. It defined my feelings of grief and loss. It was an explanation for my feelings of being back in the Nam. It defined the friends and comrades I left behind. It defined the friends that didn't make it.
Almost immediately I recognized how the Army or shall I say the Nam had created a different person someone I later knew as a monster to family and friends and even to self. In the beginning when I returned it was the big things that got my attentionwell not really. It was the big things that once made sense and now had no meaning atleast..in my life. And though I have never flat out admitted to being suicidal, I know today that I committed many suicidal acts behind feelings of survival guilt and a new emptiness that could only be fulfilled with thoughts or actions of "war". I was reacting to situations in forms of violence. I became homicidal and there were times I no longer felt I belonged in the society that I returned to. Afterall, it was not what I had left behind.
Now, there are some things in life that are black and white. For example one day you are born and one day you will die fact. Then there are some things in life that are not so black and white yet in reality are normal situations you can expect to happen on a daily basis in our society. For example: one out of every 2 million Americans will buy a car daily; get in a near or fatal accident; possibly face charges for being under the influence and is incarcerated. But, what about the not so black and white. Not everyday do we call our young to go to some foreign land to fight in a war that in it can not be explained? I suppose the question would be: Are we awakened every day, given less than 5 minutes to shit, shower and shave; grab some ammo; grab your weapon; put a pack on your back with one change of clothes to last for who knows how long; get a couple of meals of c-rations and march off into some unknown location to to kill or be killed?
I know today that in between life and death for me something devastating and traumatic has happened. In the beginning when I came home from the war I attempted to accept my behavior as normal. Now, this despite being in some kind of denial that something was seriously wrong with me. However, whenever I had to deal with my faults I would point the finger at the wife, the job or society in general. How could I tell anyone what I was really feeling inside? Even the soldiers I was stationed with prior to my discharge didn't even talk about the war.
When talking to another Vietnam Veteran ( and we called ourselves that while we were still in the Army) the conversation got as far as where you were stationed, who you were with and yes or no to the question of whether you were wounded or not. I really thought for a long time that I was the only one suffering from Post Vietnam Syndrome!
My last 9 months were at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. I was allowed to go home most evenings and weekends. I didn't have a car and this added to the anger and frustration I experienced because if I didn't get a ride I didn't get to go home at times. Additionally, public transportation was available but not the best for the schedule.
My duty assignment was in the post laundry. I worked at the laundry for about 3 weeks. There was a fire and I was never given another assignment so the only time I had to report was payday; unless called in for something like an emergency. I made a couple of friends while stationed there. There was Lambert and Ronald Campbell from the 1 ST Cav who became my best friend.
Lambert became a buddy who would give me rides home and to the post when I couldn't catch Campbell. Only problem was we were always running late. I recall one time he was driving so fast that he blew something in his Camero and we had to call for a ride to Meade.
Campbell and I were like shadows. He was a proud one and he set the tone for those who would be around me for years to come. By that I mean, if you weren't a warrior, if you were not willing to risk your life for a comrade, if you were afraid to pull the trigger, take some serious chances, hell if you didn't give a damn if you lived or died....... you probably wouldn't be hanging with me!
Life lost some meaning to me.... I was very self-destructing. My family life was slowly going down the tube......it wasn't about not loving..it was about not understanding and being misunderstood. But, I still did not know what was wrong with me. I knew I had changed drastically. I became very abusive and withdrawn. I had no where to go to get the answers. And when I did question what was wrong with me the answer was usually: " There is nothing wrong with you. You've been in a war and you'll be alright!" or " All of our guys experience the same thing, it's perfectly normal!"
If what I was experiencing was normal I often wonder why I didn't see these same things happening to others who had been to Nam. One thing was certain, no one was telling the other about the personal battles related to the war. Nor was the Army offering any suggestions or recommendations for seeking help. So there I was again facing myself in the mirror day after day with more questions.
I often wondered why the Army just turned me loose. No thank you. No nothing. When my time was up....my time was up! Just one more reality in the life of a Vietnam Veteran in search of answers.
What happened to good friend Lonnie Upchurch? What happened to those I left behind? Would I ever see any of those I served with in Nam again? Why, was it that if I knew something was wrong with me did the government not know? More questions and no answers.
Realizing these new realities the question that stood out most was: "If I knew something was wrong with me upon my return to the world, then why didn't the Army recognize something was wrong with me? More so, why was I just left to be? What was to come of me? Why was I not offered any help from the military system of government?