Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Viet Nam Experience
(Trying to Understand PTSD)

(C) James J Alonzo

I want to share this mostly with those who have not been there. I want to tell you things, and see in your eyes the sudden realization of the experiences of war. Then maybe you will understand.

I am merely trying to let you know what it was like for the Viet Nam combat soldier.
You had a family member that experienced these things. I hope to somehow let you know what it was like for them.

Vietnam was a savage, in your face war where death could and did strike from anywhere with absolutely no warning. No lines, no safe area, no green zone, every inch of soil a potential combat zone. The brave young men and women who fought that war paid an awful price in blood, pain and suffering. Those that survived were also exposed to Agent Orange, the then unknown killer that would complete it's mission years later.

I want to take you to this place, in a far off land, 10,000 miles away from home. The home of our youth, that we in Nam referred to as "the world". And while we were in Viet Nam, we called Viet Nam names like " Nam", "the land of Oz", "Gookland", and other unmentionable profane names.

While in Viet Nam, they saw the denigration of mankind's morality, chaos, ugliness, shocking sites. It is difficult in thinking of ways how to describe it.

I can try to describe the smells, but nothing smells like Nam. The combination of rotting jungle, leeches, snakes, booby traps, both man killers and man maimers, garbage, the rust metal smell human blood and animal and human wastes, gun smoke and cordite, and the smell of rotting bodies.

I can try to write about the colors, but there is no way to show comparison to the many shades of green foliage, the rust red clay soil, the color of blood, all in vivid bright colors.

The weather? Well it was the tropics, wet and hot, humid, heavy rains. Rains that sometimes fall out a cloudless sunny sky. The weather is hot, beyond hot and humidity as high as the temperature.

It is like wearing a plastic sweat suit and pouring hot Maple syrup down inside of it.
After a few days in country You finally give up wiping the sweat off your face and arms because it does not do any good. You have, mixed with the sweat, anti bug juice, that smells like OFF Repellent, but stronger (60 percent DEET), another carcinogenic. You learn to own it, the heat and humidity, the stickiness.
Own it and become it. Then it is bearable......almost.

The sounds, gunfire, explosions, the buzzing zing of a bullet passing your head, so many things. But my heart knows that unless you were there my writing about those things would only be words to you and you had to be there to experience them in a real way.

Vietnam, a place yes, but more then that. The Vietnam War was not just a place on a map
it was another planet, a different universe and yet, still is part of our very being.

So they came home, not to an appreciative country, but to hippies against them and the war, called baby killers!.

But to their loved ones, they are received happily. However, their loved ones see a quiet person, unemotional, almost cold. The loved ones see the thousand yard stare, but yet behind that stare was the clear sharp alertness, always ready to react. In that stare is sights that can not be talked about, sights of what they had witness. The doubt of the present, And further doubt of what his future held for him, if anything.

War takes the soldier to the very edge, where they must stop all reason, emotion, all caring, all feelings, to survive the experience. They had become desensitized to pain, suffering and death.

They had assimilated war's horror and continued on, having experienced too much death, seen too much destruction, Old men in young boys bodies, who will never…be quite the same,

You take his hand and sit for hours, just being there for him, hoping this will bring him back. You are trying to let him know you care. You hope the touch of your hands is all the words that need to be said. But you are confused, you really don't understand. This is not the warm, fun loving, and sweet person that left you for his Viet Nam duty. It is a stranger.

You tell him how much you love him, and hope hearing that will make him heal, and the hand in yours tightens a little, but is it from love or for understanding, for approval, or is he asking for forgiveness?


Anonymous said...

there is a plaque at the american legion in canandaigua ny that mentions what we left, our homes and family and what we left in nam, our hands our legs our souls and in some cases our minds. it has taken some of us years to get just pieces of our minds back. thank you for posting this so the rest of the world might try to understand what we endured. bless you.

Anonymous said...

Mr. DiCenza's descriptive summary of Nam experience is most objective non fiction one I've read. 173rd Airborne 2/503rd is unit served in 1969 (Tet Offensive)
by myself. Mr. DiCenza's article both provoked some good and bad memories in me. Thanks for defining a very complex, eoteric, experience mostly understood emperically by a few.

James J Alonzo-DiCenzo said...

Thank you for your kind words. Welcome home my brothers. James