|A streak of anguish crosses the face. Terror burns in the eyes. Heart and soul force a facial mask of guilt. Hunched shoulders bear silent grief. Cold anger. The thousand-yard stare. A psychological melt-down.|
I saw it while covering the Korean conflict as a war correspondent for the old International News Service. The horror was then called shell shock. It later reappeared during my reporting of the revolutions in Algeria and the Dominican Republic – even among children caught in the midst of firefights. The illness spit out again among the blood-drenched jungle trails of Vietnam. Psychiatrists finally called the mental seizure post-traumatic stress disorder.
Few people realize that PTSD is still a mystery to most doctors and psychiatrists. This is despite the fact that they have treated thousands of GIs returned from the Vietnam war with one form or another of PTSD. Some without success.
I returned from Algeria with PTSD. My eyes were constantly blinking.
I was shaken to the core whenever I heard abrupt, loud noises. I would close my eyes to blunt a feeling of angry fierceness until the clamor stopped. On opening them, I could not face anyone. I was ashamed. Why? Because abrupt noises turned my mind back to when I was covering some wild scene in combat. I had leaped from the streets of Rome, where I was newly stationed, to some misbegotten corner of Algiers. With the help of my wife, Joy, and our family doctor, the blinking stopped after six months of rationalization and humble prayer.
I decided to study PTSD in depth. What better place to do it than Vietnam. ABC News, for which I was then working, assigned me to old Saigon. I soon landed with the U.S. Marines from the Mekong River into a jungle so thick that one could make out only the immediate squad in front and back. That was where I began my combat notes on PTSD. They would climax when I was later transferred to Washington where I interviewed various psychiatrists and wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere.
Losing self is the most common strain among victims. They challenge parents, brothers and sisters as well as close friends.
Some go berserk and strike out at their families. In desperation, the mother asks if her son should be confined to a state asylum. The entire family is ripped apart in what appears to be a hopeless situation.
Parents and others would be better off if they realized that their reactions are normal in abnormal circumstances. It takes time to understand and deal with PTSD. Timeless efforts are often critical.
In order for families and others to comprehend PTSD, I wrote a book called "INVISIBLE WOUNDS". It is a novel because most of those interviewed said they would speak more frankly if their names were not used. It was a reasonable request and I agreed.
The book is set in Algeria and Vietnam. The action is true. Only names have been changed. The blood, killing, revenge, and nightmares . . .are all there. The purpose is to explain the magnitude of combat to those who have never witnessed it. To cast a light on soldiers' deepest feelings – even suicide -- but, at the same time, portray the characteristics of battlefield heroes.
There are no clear answers about many who have lived with PTSD. Some GIs clean themselves of it while others fight the illness decades.
Counseling is one answer. A strong will is another. And for some souls, prayer has been the road of deliverance. So too is belief in America – wearing the flag inside your heart.
By Jack Casserly
Author's Note: While my book, "INVISIBLE WOUNDS", is now out of print, about 100 copies of the book are still available for $7.00, which includes free delivery. Please email me if you would like to order one of the remaining copies.
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