Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wife of a Vietnam veteran twice

I enjoy reading comments from Vietnam veterans groups that my husband has joined on the social media, Facebook.  I understand why he likes these groups.  Veterans enjoy sharing reflections, thoughts and pictures because no one really understands that experience like other veterans.  

There is one site that is supposed to, according to the rules, be cordial to one another, where veterans can share pictures, swap stories, share songs, poems and just experience a camaraderie of talking to others who shared a very unjust war.  Unfortunately there always exists veterans who are bitter, full of hate and have never been able to rejoin civilian life because they cannot, for whatever reason, leave Vietnam.  I know, from firsthand experience just how deep this bitterness can run, just how much it can, not only control, but also destroy, a veteran's life and any chance for happiness.  The saddest part, is that even when the bitterness consumes them and destroys their life, they still do not understand it themselves, nor can they control it. Everyone who takes part in a war, be it the perceived enemy or the soldier, is a victim of gross injustice laid upon them through no fault of their own.  Yet many involved in a war, come out of it feeling guilty.

My first experience with a Vietnam veteran was at a very young age.  We dated, got engaged and married.  This marriage proved to be one of the biggest mistakes of my young life.  I had no idea how bitter a veteran could be and I certainly had no idea what PTSD was since, in 1970, according to the government and the psychiatric community, it simply didn't exist.  Well exist it did and it destroyed my marriage and sent my family down a dark path that we could not have imagined in our wildest nightmares.  Those types of veterans are like a King Midas, only instead of everything they touch turning to gold, what they touch turns to bitterness and hatred and nightmares for those living with them. They cannot leave Vietnam behind, they are angry at being used as pawns and since it is not possible to punish the government responsible for their anger, they punish those closest to them.  Finally, after too many years of enduring the hatred and abuse, we got divorced.  I was divorced for 11 years, convincing myself that not only were Vietnam veterans crazy people, but that marriage itself was highly over rated, never to be entered into again, at least not by me. What PTSD does is make everyone a victim, especially those families experiencing the hatred and bitterness, and the sad thing is, those families feel like they did something wrong, when they did nothing to trigger the hatred.  Nothing has to be done to trigger that kind of hatred because the hatred lives inside the person with PTSD and whatever you do to help ends up being just a band aid on a shotgun wound.  There is nothing the family can do to stop the hemorrhaging of hatred that gets passed down, like some bitter legacy, to family members. Family members who, especially during a time in America's history, when No One would recognize such a thing as PTSD, when no help existed for veterans nor for families.  When getting divorced feels like someone died because many suffering, without treatment, are as dead inside as the veteran who has laid down in their graves is on the outside.  

One day, after 11 years of feeling bitter about marriage, I met another Vietnam veteran.  We dated but inside, I felt with great certainty, this relationship had no future.  I was wrong.  We dated, we had fun together and we married.  Am I a glutton for punishment?  No, because this veteran is as sweet as the other one was terrible.  I have learned not all Vietnam veterans still live in Vietnam, in the war.  Not all veterans are bitter.  They can be disappointed as the next veteran, but not bitter.  I've been married to this nice man for 14 years now and I've come to know that while all veterans, and their families, were handed a raw deal, there is no reason not to move on, leave the war behind and my veteran has written books hoping to help young people understand that war is no place for them to be.  He wants them to know that, too often, it can tear their lives apart while an ungrateful government stands idly by, discarding them like yesterday's trash.  Writing his memoirs was not an easy task, but he felt it had to be done.  I admire him for it, for transporting himself back to a war he'd just as soon forget, but wanting young men and women to understand it's not good to participate in any war.

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