Monday, June 17, 2013

Post-War Stress: Following Up on My Dad's Story, With Segue to Vietnam*

Home from Vietnam: Exiting one struggle, to face others.
Yesterday I posted about my Dad and his struggles with PTSD from the war in Korea. In 1971, when he lost his struggle, post-traumatic stress was not yet a recognized syndrome.

Not officially, that is. The grip of PTSD was well known to veterans. At the time, those returning from Vietnam were the latest in a long line of warriors to feel its effects.

How did society come to recognize the syndrome that we attempt to treat today?

Through the efforts of Vietnam veterans, who returned home from war to an ungrateful, ignorant, and/or overtly hostile society (yes, former "peace" activists and many news chroniclers; this means you). 

In 1981, the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program (VVLP) began its important work to counteract the pervasive myth of the whacked-out Vietnam vet. The VVLP dispatched its members to work at a grassroots level, under a national umbrella. But while this key organization reached out broadly to the public, others worked quietly in their own way. One of these "silent angels" was my old friend, "Brown Water Randy." 

This is his story.

I met Randy in the early 1980’s, shortly after PTSD was identified but before American society knew anything about the syndrome. This was in the days when a lot of men still hid their service medals under the bed, and didn’t talk about Vietnam for fear of being branded a “baby killer.” In the public's eye, every Vietnam vet was Rambo, who had a certain coolness, but also was very deeply disturbed and just a tad bit ridiculous.

Randy owned a shop near my house. He caught and sold his own fish. He was a friendly-gruff, in-your-face Vietnam veteran. Unlike many other vets I encountered, Randy was proud of his military service. He displayed his flags and patches on the wall beside his cash register. He also suffered from PTSD, and he didn’t care who knew it. He laughed at the notion that he might “go Rambo” at a moment’s notice, but he openly talked about personal problems stemming from post-traumatic stress. “It’s something I have,” he said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

When I met Randy, I was editor of a small town weekly newspaper in Dixon, California. Randy knew I had served briefly in the Women’s Army Corps, and that my then-boyfriend was a closeted Vietnam vet. So Randy thought I might be interested in hearing – and writing – about his newly formed outreach group for vets with PTSD.

Randy was not the only one working to help his fellows. At the time, the VVLP was just getting off the ground. Its founders, many of whom went on to become national leaders in their own right, aimed to teach the public that the overwhelming majority of Vietnam veterans were well-integrated, successful men who were proud to have served their country.

But Randy had a different vision. He wanted to help the vets who were not so well integrated. He wanted to raise awareness of PTSD. He also wanted to offer fellowship and support to others who struggled with trauma-induced problems.

NEXT: Brown Water Randy and LZ Woodland

* Naturally, the Vietnam Rule does not apply to this post.

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