It has recently occurred to me that there is an issue which needs to be discussed concerning the process of Military personnel blending back into the society that they left. For years America has been at war and these wars continue to be fought by young men and women who have risked their lives so that you and I can enjoy the freedoms that have been preserved for years.
As you read this, try to understand that each of us who made our way through the military, all return with different experiences and stories that only we and a few others can relate to. Therefore it becomes a time healing logical process of how to bring those experiences and sometimes horrific memories to a life of normality without becoming a burden to ourselves or to others.
I do not claim to have all the answers and neither do you, because we have learned over the years to cope with things in different ways. With all the different reality issues it becomes a subjective issue and yet there are some answers which can be shared with each other that can help.
This information is just what I have observed through conversing with other veterans and the experiences of my own life and not from a formal research paper that has been accumulated and submitted to a college professor for the “great rubba stamp” A++. I’m just speaking from my heart in hopes that I can help.
As I watch our modern day military service personnel return, I’m beginning to realize that they too are being faced with many of the same issues which we of the Viet Nam war faced just a few years ago. It’s all about transition from being the kid on the block to an unbelievable surge of travel and adventure only to realize that your enlistment is up and you have it in your mind that you are now ready and prepared to go back to what you thought you left behind, only to find that it’s not the same as it was when you left home at 18. The quick answer to this is you have changed and grown up very rapidly while everyone else has pretty much focused on their routines that kept them alive in the neighborhood. As time at home marched on you look back and realize that the block is pretty much the same as you left it only now you see it in a new light. When you left you were a kid, and when you returned, you were a man with stories to tell and distaste for civilian mediocrity, or lack of discipline.
POW’S or MIA‘s are somewhat an exception to this because sometimes they have been written off by the community and have come home only to find out that time has taken a toll on everyone and everything . Sometimes loved ones are remarried and have families, parents have died and children who you left are now young adults that don’t know you or know how to handle your experiences. You are no longer welcome but have to start over on a long journey of readjusting to who you are and who society is in this world we live in.
Occupied by those thoughts
In my case, I left Viet Nam as a Marine Corps Sergeant E-5, my MOS was 0331 which was an M-60 machine gunner everyday for ten solid years I had thoughts about my experiences. Those thoughts did not haunt me but they would just pop in my head throughout the day, every day. Then one day it dawned on me that my thoughts were about the responsibilities that I had recently acquired by building a house for my wife and children. I had become so intensely occupied with my new house and all the layout of it and all the “who, what, when, where” issues with the contractors and permits through the local bureaucracy, suppliers and certificates and fee’s that Viet Nam experience was no longer a daily issue. Occupation with my new thoughts responsibilities was a ray of hope to the normalization of my thoughts.
As a rule I was one to sleep very lightly because I was trained in the Marines to be alert at all times. In a moment I had to go from a deep sleep to being ready to fight and defend myself and those around me. On the first night home I heard a disturbing noise in the back of my parent’s home just outside my bed room window. As I dropped to the floor to reach for my rifle my heart began to pound my blood pressure was being elevated from the adrenaline rush only to realize I was at home without my rifle. I felt a bit uneasy and helpless because I did not have a firearm to defend myself as well as my parents. As it turned out, it was a stray cat just looking for food in the trash can at 4 AM just outside my bedroom window. Does this sound crazy? Oh well it was my first night home. Four days ago I was walking through the streets of Vietnam with a loaded automatic weapon, but tonight I’m lying in my bed with clean white sheets and a fluffy pillow at my parent’s home where fear or the unknown was not suppose to be an issue.
I was determined to fit into society and to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb. So after about a week at home I decided to venture out and walk to a local clothing store. I purchased a pair of stone washed wide bell bottom trousers and a denim button down shirt with big pockets. Then I walked into the shoe store and purchased a pair of black tall platform shoes. I was convinced that I had selected and achieved the ultimate blend of modern day attire. As I left the store I started to walk back home which was about a mile a mile away. After about the first block I began to feel everyone who drove by me were looking at me with my short Marine Corps hair cut and my hippy attire. I felt like a fool for spending so much of my hard earned money on a hippy uniform and my decision soon became embarrassment to myself and my manhood as I awkwardly made my way home in high heels with my butt sticking up in the air . By the time I got home I had developed a back pain as well as a backup plan for my bad decision. As I walked into the house I continued to walk down into the basement where my Dad had his workshop. I promply took off the shoes and I cut off the platform heals. Then I realized that there was a steel flat piece of metal imbedded into the molded heel which I removed out of the honey combed heal. As a few days went by I found myself tracking mud and dirt into my parents home from the heals that would fill up with dirt. I finally made a decision to throw the shoes in the trash can, put a lid on it and move on. Later on when I got my first job which was a security job, the boss said the bell bottom trousers had to go. I agreed to it and explained to him why I had the crap in the first place. Eventually I wore what I wanted and everyone else would have to suffer. Being from Indiana clothing back in the day was purchased by mom and she had my interest in mind as well as the wallet. Now that I was home I figured I’d make a few of my own decisions and spend my own money. I soon realized I needed some help. Frog green sneakers and jeans didn’t exactly make the right statement either.
Since I qualified for the GI bill and educational benefits, I felt obligated to go off to college because it was the thing to do. Family and friends insisted that if I didn’t get a degree (even in Basket weaving) I would never go anywhere.
It had been a long time since I had been to a formal school and knew that I had forgotten all the formulas and rules of math and English. When I was in high school back in the day, I really didn’t take academics serious enough because my goal and focus was pointed towards the military and world events.
As I recall my professors were not exactly pro-Vietnam war and the majority of students I came in contact with were stand offish concerning the military. In general society did not much care for prior military personnel and you could feel the glass wall between them and you. My military experiences and my everyday behavior, was perceived as “too intense and too focused”.
There was an anti-war sentiment that you could feel when you talked to others. People thought that I was one of the Vietnam War guys who were (according to their perception) “emotional, misinformed killers that could not be trusted”. My short hair and military bearing was an obvious contrast to the norm among the long hair hippies and cowards of the day .On occasionally one would say something totally uncalled for and at times I actually felt like I wanted them to strike out at me so I could beat the crap out of them.
I started my educational adventure by trying to decide what to study and perhaps chose the path of medicine and become a podiatrist. It was an honorable career path that I thought a lot about while I was in Vietnam when I saw a lot of hurting people and it helped me to make a final decision to not reenlist and to go back home and to go to college. If anything, you should come to my home and thank me for not pursuing this outlandish personal goal. God had already given me a talent and it wasn’t a carrier in the medical profession.
As I started off to college I found all sorts of obstacles to deal with such as trying to live on my own for the first time, making my own decisions about survival, cooking for myself, staying awake in class after working all night, studying without support groups, and the issues went on and on…soon I realized that I just wasn’t ready for the commitment.
I even got to the point where I was upset how colleges were promoting a degenerate society when one day when in sociology class the professor brought in two Homosexuals to answer questions and to be understood. I became upset about what I was hearing and when it was time to have Q & A, I decided to embarrass them buy asking them pointed questions. The professors gasp and asked me to refrain from asking embarrassing questions. I was fed up with it all…..and never went back. Instead I went to Australia and got a real job that paid well. I came home with 25,000.00 in the bank and was ready to get married.
Coming home and the dating dilemma…
Usually when guys hit the age of dating they check out the girls and I was no exception to the rules of nature. As I recall a girl I met at college informed me that she was dying of cancer, another turned me down at the last moment because she said she didn’t have socks that matched. I was upset. I said to myself. You little snit nose spoiled brat, you should be thankful you have feet to put socks on. Later I found out that she decided not to go out with me because I was a “veteran” and that she had heard some bad stories about guys who returned. Another went out with me and decided to get so drunk that I took her back to her parent’s house after about two hours where she belonged. I soon realized that just because a girl seemed friendly or smiled or was seemingly available it wasn’t the same as it was overseas . It was all about honor and trust but most of all I learned that finding my mate was really up to trusting in God and that I had to make it a matter of prayer to allow God to bring her to me. I’ve now been married 31 years and have raised 6 wonderful Christian kids, one of which followed my foot steps into the Marines.
“Who you are and who they are” becomes a challenge every day until adjustments can be made on both sides. Many times “Civilians” will anger you because of “their lack of discipline” or their slothful mannerisms, hands in their pockets, bubblegum choppin, bugger pickin, crap for brain ways which become an irritant to you . It could be small things that irritate you or something major as the news that hits the headlines about some petty issue that will cause your blood to boil, while everyone else is ranting about it like it’s some big deal!!!
I recall one day I was with my Dad, who by the way was a former Pastor, Father of six, WW-2 in the Navy in the Pacific, Bombed by kamikaze pilots, lots of experiences as a world traveler and yet, I did not have a clue what he had been through in his life. He was a quiet man who liked to work in his shop in the basement at home. I recall trying to find a wood screw in a tray that he had under his bench. In frustration I said to him, “if you’d had previously sorted these out by size you could find what you’re looking for quicker”. His reply to me was, “well Mark that sounds like a good job for you”. Now many years later I too have my tray of unsorted screws. As a matter of fact I have several of them.
Who you are as a military person required many life changes and hours of intense training and discipline. As a military person you automatically wore a cover whenever you went outside, you were required to wear a patch to show everyone what your rank was, you were required to wear a uniform and it had to be presented in such a way that it was up to Marine Corps regulations. It had ribbons and awards displayed in a proper way which basically showed everyone that you had tasted war and participated in the big challenges of the modern day military. You saluted Officers without hesitation and walked behind them to show respect. When you went around them you announced, “by your leave sir”. All of these things are embedded into your daily regimentation and it was a lifestyle that became a part of your routine. If you screwed up they would make your life so miserable that you’d get the picture real quick that if you disobey, you will pay.
Now that you are home you are faced with a whole new set of standards and a new set of rules. You become irritated at civilian life because of the lack of discipline and you become judgmental about everything you come in contact with. You see disorder, and the stupid things people say or do. You resist sometimes to a point of anger and take it out on people who are the closest to you such as loved ones, family and friends.
I recall once where some guy in a Blue sports car expressed his anger at the fact that I pulled out in front of him on the road. At the stop sign he was fingering me in the window so I jumped out of my truck and approached his car. As he started to get out of his car and stand up to the challenge I smashed his leg in the car door until he cried and his girl friend screamed to leave them alone. I hadn’t been in a good fight for a while and decided to update my skills in a good street fight. “Jerk, you mess with me and I’ll rearrange your face”….i got back in my truck and drove off. The truth is, I was wrong in every way. I had a knee jerk reaction which could have cost me my life or it could have landed me in jail for ever. I was intolerant and wasn’t going to take any crap from anyone. Just writing about this makes me want to use four letter words but I know better. The other side of the coin was when I went in the Marines I would have never been that aggressive but at this time I didn’t take anything from any one and I felt that I needed to set the record straight, (Wrong attitude)!!!
Civilians who also have tasted War
The interesting thing is, civilians are made up of people from every walk of life and some of them have paid their own ultimate sacrifices for the life they live. In Viet Nam 55,000 Americans sacrificed their lives so you and I could have freedom. Many more carry the physical and mental wounds until the day they die. VA hospitals and mental institutions house soldiers and loved ones who have become mentally disabled because of the pain and sufferings of war.
For each one of those precious lives that were laid to rest in a flag draped casket, there was a loving parent or spouse who went through hell adjusting to the fact that their Son or daughter was not coming home, only their remains could accompany their memories. No more hugs or greetings, “Hello Mom”, “Hello Brother or sister” or neighbor….but the memories of them lingers on forever. They paid the price for you and I to have freedom. The relatives of them are civilians who have also paid the price of the loss.
It reminds me of Jesus who paid for our sins and went to the cross so you and I could have eternal life. Somewhat like many service personnel who returned home after sacrificing their time and freedom only to find out that no one seemed to care, and they were spit on and jeered at and scorned by the masses just like what happened to Christ as he was crucified on the cross. To this day people try to make fool out of our Lord. But His response is, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
It is true that ignorance plays a big role in this picture. People don’t really have a clue of what war is like or even its demands. However this is where you have to learn how to forgive and be the bigger person. It’s important to both sides to be able to trust each other with your thoughts and irritations. Keeping it inside only prolongs the confusion and lack of understanding.
As I went about my daily life, my mind was constantly processing and evaluating everything I come in contact with. Some things I couldn’t share because it was personal or it could be offensive to others, or perhaps I just want to make sure the audience is going to receive the information in such a way that I was not going to be misunderstood. As an example, when I was in Vietnam I came across the remains of two decomposed (skeleton) pilots that had been shot down. Myself and another Marine both picked up a leg bone and saw the destruction which was caused by the decomposing process. As we stood there we didn’t fall to our knees a wail because we had no connection to the pilot. So as we picked up the leg bones and we compared them to ours and then challenged each other in a sword (Leg bone) duel fight. As young Marines we really did not have desecration or disrespect on our minds but we also did not feel anyone could handle this story because of the nature of the event. By the same token I am not going to go around for the rest of my life beating myself up for doing something stupid that I regretted as I look back on it. The past is over and gone but as we move forward and blend into society we learn to be careful and diplomatic and sensitive to the hallowedness of such issues and not to offend others. We give respect where respect is due and we give honor where honor is due. In so many ways the military experience makes you calloused towards pain and sufferings of others. It’s your way of dealing with pain. You just simply learn to ignore it and deal with it like it’s an external issue.
I recall once that I was stabbed by a Marine who came up behind me while I was preparing some food for myself and stuck his finger in my back to simulate a gun. I chanced it by defending myself and turned around with a butcher’s knife to his throat. At this point he said, “if you ever do that again I’ll stab you”. A half hour later his pride got the best of him and he repeated his act and I repeated mine. Unfortunately I took a k-bar Knife into my left arm and he laid it open with blood spewing out everywhere. Naturally we both crossed the line and now had to deal with the problem so he took me to a doctor and had it sewn up. I decided not to make a big deal out of it because of the unwritten Marine Corps bond that we possessed.
Coming home, when we see pain or suffering with those we love we tend to blow it off like it’s no big deal but there may be occasions when certain things grip our hearts and the tears begin to flow.
Feeling emotion as an Honored American
I recall one time when I was at a football event and the national anthem was played before the game. As I listened to the music and saw that great flag waving in the sky my eyes began to glass over and I got choked up to see old Glory and all of her splendor being displayed only to realize that it stood for my country, and my freedoms and for those who sacrificed their lives for me and my family. Wow what a gripping moment…I felt Honored to be an American in this land of the free.
This same feeling comes across me when I see people who come to know Christ. And they know that they have finally come to a point in their lives where they can lay down their burdens of this world and be forgiven. They also know that they have real hope in this world of confusion. They also know that they have eternal hope for life after death.
There is something in each of us that grips our hearts and our emotions are a reflection of what is in our hearts. There is a soft spot and it should not be regarded as a weakness.
We tend to hurt those who love us the most
This is one of those things which we regret because it has life time implications which have to be dealt with.
One evening I was driving down the road and I saw a man repeatedly punch his wife in the face as he was driving. I was so angered by it that I wanted to chase him down and rearrange his. The traffic was so intense that I could not switch lanes fast enough so I had to let it go. People who abuse their loved ones do it out of frustration, bitterness, anger and many other issues which are so numerous that there’s not enough paper to write about it. Intolerance needs to be replaced by forgiveness and patience and gentleness. It takes a bigger person to forgive and say I am sorry for what I’ve done, than it is to harbor anger and bitterness and to take it out on others. Only through Christ can you truly become a forgiving and loving person. Your Children are your heritage and your spouse is more than likely supportive of you and your decisions. Unfortunately trust can be removed from your relationship by saying the wrong things at the inappropriate times. The memories of those nasty moments will be remembered for a long time.
Talk it out
For some reason we tend to think that our situation in the military was so unique than no one could ever understand. In God’s word he says, “he that hath an ear let him hear”. Without taking this completely out of context I would like to remind you that your loved ones care about you and want to hear some of the issues that you are dealing with in your transitional period of becoming acclimated into society. Let them hear some of it. If it’s good enough for your buddies to hear over a beer it should be good enough to share with your wife even if it’s on a limited basis. She is after all your best friend and the one you said I love you to.
The next thing is you are a responsible person and if you find yourself in constant anger or frustration, it’s time to get professional help through the VA. Many times fellow veterans who are older such as a retired master gunny type or officer are a good source of wisdom in dealing with such issues. The VA. has allot of experience in dealing with vets and it’s your responsibility to get help if you need it.
The healing factor
40 years have passed and as I look back on it , I had it made at the young age of 18. I lived a life of travel and adventure, free cloths, food and a place to sleep. I had a steady job and had the world by the tail. I carried an automatic weapon and went off to serve my country. When I came home I had a story or two to tell only to realize everyone was tired of hearing about it. So I learned to shut up, lead a quite life and work with my hands. I kept my thoughts to myself and learned who to and who not to tell my stories to. I even had people who ask questions and before long they were checking their watches to see what time it was. Bottom line is no one really cares except for your loved ones. Most people just want to be entertained because they can’t relate to what you went through.
As a healing factor God cares about you and his people care about you. Therefore it is up to you to help make the transition smoother and shorter. If you are having a hard time adjusting back to the civilian culture seek professional help and most of all Christian help and know that there are those of us that care. Christ said come unto me and I will give you rest. Unless you have the peace of Jesus Christ you will never have true peace within yourself or with friends.
Hopefully this was somewhat helpful.