Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Phone Call From Greg

    This morning I received a phone call from Greg, a Vietnam vet who worked in a mortuary function. Greg, who is reading Shade It Black, was kind enough to chat with me about his wartime experiences and his transition back to civilian life. The mortuary work then was much like it is now, but different in some respects as well. The same is true for the transition home. The process is the same, but different. Once home, Greg couldn’t travel more than 15-20 miles from home without experiencing serious panic attacks. Only drinking beer, smoking pot, and fishing gave him a respite from the now inordinate pressures of everyday life.  When Greg finally went to the VA for help –some 15 years after returning home, they told him his problems had nothing to do with his Vietnam service. Much later he met another Vietnam vet, a counselor and a Marine, who helped Greg to understand that while he had come home physically 23 years earlier, he had not yet come home emotionally. He immediately saw the truth in that statement and reached for the box of Kleenex that had been given him at the start of the counseling session, when he wondered to himself, “What am I supposed to do with these?” Jess, Greg said, has written his story and he wants to tell her so.  And he soon will.
    Have you or a relative worked in a mortuary affairs platoon during wartime? If so, will you consider contacting me?


  1. I am Greg's daughter. I am so happy he has had the opportunity to speak with you. He was happy and I can hear the excitement in his voice when he is able to make these connections , though it is related to a horrible, life altering experience. I have always wanted to express briefly from a daughter's perspective how the war experiences that Jess, my dad, and many others have experienced affected me in different ways. In the end I will try not to write my own book in your comment section. There may be some humor intertwined in the memories I have, but know I do not think anything you have had to endure is funny and I hope you are able to begin healing as my dad has.
    I want to note that dad did not receive help for his PTSD until I had graduated and moved to New York. He carried such a burden for so many years, and I wish he could have those years back and not have had to suffer for so long. I always look at the amazing, giving, and sensitive man he has become, and wonder would he have become this person without the journey he has been on.
    Though as a child I did not understand a lot of his actions or behaviors, and at times I did not like them, I clearly understand why he behaved the way he did now. I remember mostly that he would not travel. Other families would go on vacation, but never ours. Going a couple of hours from the house was a big deal. I saw the struggle but did not understand why until later. It took him four years to come visit me in NY. Now he is such a champ in NYC, I would have never guessed he would ever get to that point. What makes me sad is that when it comes to traveling he still struggles with new situations. I have been trying to get him to come out here alone, and I still have not mastered this but I have hope that it will happen one day. He needs to work through what he needs to and I understand that. When he conquers the hurdles that seem to prevent him from doing what he truly wants I see how happy and free he feels. Dad I am routing for you to conquer this hurdle before the end of summer.
    He was also gruff and not what I would consider patient, and I felt that it was just who he was. He swore so much when he was not in a patient mood. Luckily I am able to filter my mouth in most professional situations but otherwise I am not too proud of my swearing capabilities. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it did scare me. I know that is not truly who he was, and I am so glad I get to see the "real dad" now.
    We were never to pretend we had a gun or ever have a pretend gun, even water guns. I never understood this, but even as a child I could see the change in his face if we started playing cops and robbers with pretend guns. To this day I get anxiety if I see my son or kids pretending to have guns. It is obvious that my dad's reaction had a profound effect on me. I am glad that it had that effect on me, though I did not understand it then I do now and am happy that is what I learned.
    As we got older we were studying the Vietnam War in school. It was taboo to say the words, "Vietnam War" in our house. I remember being confused because at that point I may have known that dad was in that war, but I did not understand the impact it had on his life. What I love now though is my dad is an open book. I can ask him anything and talk about it freely, which means he is healing. I am so grateful for that!
    He also had and has a huge startle reflex. I understand that now. What I don't understand is why he loved to scare the shit out of us kids. This led to my brother thinking it was funny to scare me also. In other words I had no chance of living very many days without being scared by someone.

  2. I survived, and I guess maybe that was his way of coping with what he was feeling or he probably just thought it was funny. All I know is I get very angry if someone scares me now.
    These were just a couple ways his experiences in Vietnam and the resulting PTSa may have made life different. I look at these couple examples of how his PTSD effected me, and know that he was in constant turmoil when we were kids. He still did what a dad was supposed to do most of the time. I have a lot of great memories with him growing up, and he really made us work around the house. At the time I didn't always care for cutting firewood and taking it to the house, getting up in the middle of the night and taking care of the sheep, mowing our huge lawn, or picking up the endless sticks in the yard, but now I have many memories with my dad that I will never forget.
    Another great memory I have with my dad is hunting for nightcrawlers and going fishing. We spent a lot of time fishing, I could always see the peace come over my dad as we waited for a bite. Then the peace would quickly fade as my brother or I would get our line stuck in a tree or heaven forbid we accidently stepped on our poles as we were goofing around, and then the swearing would begin. It was never at us, it was the situation we created. Again now I can laugh at it, and I do a lot. When I do things with my son that I did with my dad I always end up laughing because I will remember something that happened with my dad.
    I wanted to write this because I want to thank my dad and Jess, and all military women and men for enduring the trauma they have for the good of the country. I am sorry you have had to go through so much pain at such a young age. I am so proud that my dad did become strong enough to deal with the hurt he endured, and did not give up.
    Jess I have your book sitting next to me and will finish reading it tonight, I will have a better understanding of what my dad also endured. Thank you for writing this, it is important that the message gets out about what is truly happening in Iraq and what military men and women are having to endure. I hope that you will also heal over time as my dad has, and I hope writing this book will aid in your healing. What a strong woman you are! Stay strong and conquer those fears, and know you have a lot of people rooting for you and your recovery.

    Thank you,
    Kelly(Greg's proud daughter)

    If this is too long or personal feel free to remove comment.