Vietnam, Iraq Vets Recall War Experiences
(November 13, 2009)
Nov. 11, 2009 -
Retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert H. Shumaker is a famous U.S. military veteran who coined the term “Hanoi Hilton” when he was a prisoner of war from 1965 to 1973 in North Vietnam. Any person –- civilian or military –- who thinks they may have emotional problems should seek professional help, he said.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2009 – Generations of American servicemembers braved and
survived the din, destruction and uncertainty of war to return home to enjoy the
freedoms they helped to preserve for their fellow citizens.
Yet, returning veterans also can experience troubling wartime memories after the
Robert H. Shumaker, a tall, erect 76-year-old retired Navy rear admiral with a
shock of silver hair and bright blue eyes, is a famous U.S. military veteran who
coined the term “Hanoi Hilton” when he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
Shumaker was shot down Feb. 11, 1965, while flying his F-8 Crusader jet during a
combat mission over North Vietnam. A faulty parachute caused him to break his
back upon reaching the ground, and he was captured by the North Vietnamese.
Over the next eight years, Shumaker said, he and other captive American
servicemembers were held in several prisoner of war facilities, where they
experienced beatings and torture. He was released on Feb. 12, 1973, and retired
from the Navy in 1988.
Shumaker was at George Washington University's Marvin Center on Veterans Day
yesterday, watching volunteers write letters to servicemembers and their
and assemble care packages for troops.
“It is really uplifting seeing the patriotism of people and the compassion of
people to do this,” Shumaker said. The event was sponsored by military-support
organization Blue Star Families and ServiceNation, a national campaign that
encourages volunteer service, in partnership with Target and the Public
Broadcasting Service. |
Shumaker said he is participating in a PBS documentary series that looks at how
people, including military members, deal with stress and depression to achieve
resilience and happiness in their lives. Titled “This Emotional Life,” the PBS
series is slated to premier at 9 p.m. Jan. 4-6. Check local listings, as the
time may vary in different markets.
“I'm in the happiness and resiliency” portion of the documentary, Shumaker said,
noting he appears in the last segment of the program.
Another of the human stories presented in the six-hour series, Shumaker said,
involves the emotions experienced by a couple who lost their daughter in the
April 16, 2007 shootings on the Virginia Tech campus.
Shumaker was asked how he was affected by his experiences in North Vietnamese
“It was pretty tough,” Shumaker said, noting that he and his fellow prisoners --
who at one time included U.S. Sen. John McCain -- “were tortured a lot.” He
acknowledged he'd undergone counseling to deal with the psychological
repercussions of his wartime imprisonment.
“I think professional people can assist that [healing] process and speed it up a
lot,” Shumaker said. People with traumatic memories and injuries, he said,
require “a lot of understanding by the people that surround them to bring them
back into the fold.”
Any person –- civilian or military –- who thinks they may have emotional
problems should seek professional help, he said.
“I think for too many years we've viewed psychiatric disturbances with aversion
-- you know, as a kind of a scar you don't want to reveal,” Shumaker said. “I
think through the years, and particularly now, we're starting to emerge” from
At age 26, former Marine Sgt. Brian Friend considers himself “one the luckiest
men alive,” having avoided death during two duty tours in Iraq. He served 20
months in Iraq during his four-year enlistment.
Friend now attends Portland State University in Portland, Ore., on the Post-9/11
GI Bill. He recounted his hair-raising Iraq experiences on Veterans Day to an
audience at George Washington University during his monologue in “The Telling
Project” performance that features military veterans and family members.
Since February 2008, The Telling Project has produced 10 performances across the
Pacific Northwest. Friend said he became aware of the project through his
school's student veterans organization.
Friend came away with a concussion and a ruptured eardrum after experiencing 19
enemy improvised explosive device attacks during convoy duty over the last six
months of his final deployment in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
“I'm still alive. I'm still in one piece. And, for the most part, I am still
me,” Friend told the audience.
Upon his military discharge in September 2007, Friend took a year off to
assemble funding to complete his college degree. He also discovered that he
carried psychological wounds from his Iraq service.
“During that time, I actually went through one-on-one counseling and group
therapy for [post-traumatic stress disorder] for nightmares and stuff,” Friend
Participating in Telling Project performances, Friend said, has helped him to
deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. The monologues also educate people
about what veterans can experience after they return from war, he added.
“It is like a weight off my shoulders,” Friend said, when he shares his war
experiences with audiences. “It is very therapeutic.”
Article and photo by Gerry J.
American Forces Press Service
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