I saw my grandfather tonight. I picked him up and drove him to my neice’s preschool program. We laughed. It was cute. When we got back to his house, I asked if I could talk to him about something. After many months of obvious blindness it all came together and dawned on me that a friend I care about very much might be suffering through the effects of his recent military service in Iraq. I have spent the last few days learning as much as I can about PTSD and treatments.
Because my grandfather served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, I thought he might be able to give me some insight into how to help my friend. All he could suggest was to be a good friend and a good listenter. It’s good advice. Then, he told me things I don’t think he has ever told anyone in the family before. He won’t talk about his wartime stories unless they are funny stories – something I’ve noticed in other veterans.
He told me he still sees their faces vividly. He recounted being in Vietnam where he shot a man in the leg with a tracer round and could see it smoldeirng in the man’s leg. The man was in pain and trying to scrape the round out of his flesh. He told me about seeing the man who they shot with a machine gun – from the dirt on up the man’s body.
He told me about what it was like when his tank crashed through the gates of a concentration camp in Germany and what he saw, what he smelled. They went to nearby homes and looted food and brought it back to the people in the camp. He described the ovens and the bodies piled up next to them like cords of wood.
He can’t remember what he ate for lunch or where he went yesterday, but the memories of his combat experience are as vivid as they ever were. I asked him if the memories of these things strike at random moments and if he is still having nightmares. He said the frequency of the memories has diminished over time and that he is sleeping well. Finally. He is 83.
The grand finale of my neice’s preschool program was a patriotic number. These innocent little children singing patriotic songs and waiving flags – I was having trouble holding back tears. What have we become as a country. Patriotism is not fasionable anymore. People who put their lives on the line and ended up scarred by their trip through the “meat grinder” are not taken care of as they should be. The things they have seen and endured most of us will never understand. It’s heartbreaking.