Let me start out by introducing myself. My Name is Sergeant James Hayden, United States Marine Corps, Retired. I served one tour in Vietnam between March 1969 and March 1970. While I was in Vietnam I was stationed with Hotel Company 2nd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment. Yes I was what we call a Grunt or more commonly know as a Marine Rifleman.
I received credit for killing 10 enemy soldiers and was awarded the Navy Commendation with Combat 'V' for valor for my actions against the North Vietnamese. I am also credited with killing the Commanding General who was in charge of all enemy forces and enemy activities in and around DaNang before, during, and after Tet of 1968. I survived, what those of us who were there call, the Mother's Day massacre when we went from a Company reinforced which is about 180 men to 45 of us left standing during the 3 day battle in 1969. From what I understand from the North Vietnamese Government we did a whole lot more damage to the 5th NVA as there were only 5 of them who managed to crawl out and 3 of them died either on their way back north or shortly after they returned home. That was one if not the last major battle we were involved in.
After that we faced mostly booby traps, small ambushes, and an occasional sniper attack. We were doing what the United States Army, Air Force and the American Press kept saying could not be done and was impossible to achieve. We deprived the enemy of badly needed food and supplies and we devastated them so badly that it would take them a very long time to rebuild their forces to mount a counter offensive against us. We continued our attack against a very well entrenched enemy between July and September 1969 when we routed them out of their underground bases high in the mountains, which surrounded us.
The final straw which broke the enemy's effectiveness was when I killed their Commanding General. The North tried a counter attack against us with the 9th NVA Regiment. The 9th had been pulled back across the DMZ and was reinforced. They were given all new equipment and were given a chance to build back up to a very effective fighting force. After their leaders felt they were ready they were sent back across the DMZ, through the Army which was patrolling the DMZ at the time and hit us with everything they had. In less than an hours action we had totally defeated them and they were very surprised to find that the once legendary Viet Cong forces which had terrorized the area for almost 10 years was nothing more than an ineffective bunch of radicals who had been defeated and had given up. Unable to mount much of a Tet offensive the 9th NVA along with whatever Viet Cong that were left attacked the South Vietnamese and Vietnamese civilian forces.
During Tet of 1970 the North Vietnamese Government suffered it worse defeat of the War. Not only couldn't they mount any kind of an offensive against us but the South Vietnamese forces not only held their own but had a devastating victory over the 9th NVA and the Viet Cong forces. Now I don't know if the 9th NVA was totally wiped out by the South Vietnamese forces or what ever became of the survivors. All I know is that we never encountered them again. As the out right armed aggression subsided against us the number of booby traps we encountered everyday increased.
It was during this time that I was made a Corporal and was given a brand new squad to lead. I say brand new because all but one of them had been in country less than 3 weeks when I got them. On the first day I trained them in the art of spotting and disposing of booby traps and what to do in the event we are ambushed. On the second day we had perimeter patrol and we used up almost 16 satchels of C-4 (plastic explosive) blowing booby traps. Now the Company was on road security along what we called Liberty Road. It was a main road leading into and out of DaNang. On the third day it was our turn to sit on the Observation Posts. Now OPs as we call them are not that hard. We would go out set up a make shift tent and sit listening to the radio and playing cards all day till it was time to go back in for the night. That day I set my OPs and as I usually did I would point out potential dangers and told my guys not to go near them. When I set my last OP I noticed 5 sticks standing upright in the ground and I remember telling my men not to use them because they were booby trapped and that as soon as the engineers came through I would have them double check it for us and blow whatever was there. I then turned and walked back to where my Company was set up and began eating my breakfast when all of the sudden the earth trembled and the morning air was blasted by the sound of a booby trap going off. 5 men died that day and for the next 30 plus years every night I would see their poncho liner floating earthwards through a column of thick black smoke and dirt.
It was a very stupid thing they did using those sticks to tie off their poncho liner to after I had told them not to. A stupid stunt that sent me packing back here to the United States. I had stood tall against enemy fire. I had packed the remains of my fellow Marines into body bags to be sent home to their families. I had defied the odds and I knew no fear. The bush was my home and I felt safe out in the bush. Or at least I knew where I stood and I had a healthy respect for what was out there. For the first time in my life I knew true fear. It was not a fear of the enemy nor was it a fear of booby traps. It was afraid of my own men and I became ineffective as a leader after that and I was sent home.
Like most returning Combat Veterans I too stayed drunk. The more I drank the faster I would pass out. The more I passed out the less time I had to remember. The less I remembered the better off I was. It was then that my Company Commander recommended me for Marine Embassy School and I was sent to Washington, D. C. for 4 months of intensive training and total sobriety. I made it to the last screening board when I was dropped from the program and the first thing I did was go out and get passed out drunk. I tried my best to stay just as drunk as I could for as long as humanly possible. For 6 years that was my life. As long as I had my booze and my prescription drugs I was brain dead and very much numb to everything going on around me.
At that time no one had ever heard of Post Traumatic Delayed Stress let alone how to properly treat it. When I would go anywhere near a Veterans Hospital the doctors would hand me a prescription for a 30-day supply of pills. And when I tried to talk about what had happened to me in Vietnam I was told that Vietnam was not the rout cause of my problem but instead it was the way I was raised and everything was blamed upon my father. Everything was some how his fault. This lead to a great feeling of hatred in me towards my father.
Then in 1983 during one of their brain washing sessions through the fog of my burned out memory I began to realize that my father was not as bad as they were trying to make him out to be. Slowly over time I began remembering the good time I had spent with my Dad and how he use to take me fishing with him and he would do things with me. At first these vague memories was all I had to help me recall my past before Vietnam. I started cherishing every new memory and yes I still do today. My Dad feels sometimes that I may take it to an extreme but he doesn't realize that is all the Veterans doctors have left me with. That is until about 2 or 3 months ago when I started talking to guys who were in Vietnam with me. They helped me open up memories that I had long since forced into the deepest reassesses of my mind.
As a survivor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for the past 30 years I can now talk about its cause and effects. PTSD is in some sense easy to understand and how it works on the human brain. Whenever a person is put in a life-threatening situation there is a rush of adrenaline going straight to the brain. The more a person experiences this rush of adrenaline the easier it is to become addicted to it. When I was in Vietnam I survived many in a firefight. And with the mortars going off as they hit the ground around me and the bullets buzzing past my head. It is easy to understand for me at least, how PTSD is caused, exactly what it is, and why there is no known cure for it.
After years of psychological sessions and many hours of schooling I have heard just about every theory on PTSD and its causes. Not all of them of course made much sense but they all sound real convincing. Then one night after one of my regular trips back to Vietnam I was half watching a television program on one of the educational channels. There were several medical doctors talking about a little understood human condition called the adrenaline rush. They were trying to learn how it effected the human brain and why people were becoming so addicted to it. Now that caught my attention real fast. Addicted to adrenaline? I had never heard of anything so ridicules in my life. From everything I had been taught about adrenaline and adrenaline rushes they are momentary spurts of adrenaline which can cause people to do super human feats. Such as rip the doors off of a burning car. It is a normal reaction to extreme amounts of fear and anxiety. But that is it. A person may go through their entire life and never experience it and for those few who do it only lasts a few minutes and it is gone forever. That is what I was taught in college and by the Veterans doctors at the VA hospitals.
Now here on the Television were these medical doctors telling how they had noticed a chemical change in the make up of the brain of a large number of Americans. They stated how at first they were at a loss as to its cause nor could they find any kind of treatment for it. Then as they began to take a better look at this quote problem they began noticing a pattern. It effected parachutist, racecar drivers, skiers, etc. and very few of the general public outside these limited groups. The doctors went on to explain it this way. As people experience the adrenaline rushing to their brain a chemical is produced naturally which causes the brain to demand more. The more a person experiences this the more they want. The more they want the more deadly the risks they take. As the Doctors continued talking about this I began to realize a few things about myself that I had never noticed before. Such as, every night when I would go back to Vietnam I would feel a rush of adrenaline also. It is not a bad feeling but a truly great feeling which for years I was told was very bad to feel this way. After all a human who has killed another human is suppose to feel remorse for what they had done and are supposed to be filled with guilt over it. But I didn't. Even on those nights when I would be woken up out of a sound sleep, my heart racing, pounding like it was going to jump out of my chest, and I am in a very cold sweat. It felt very good to me. I really enjoy it. So why was I afraid to go to sleep and why were there nights when I would not be able to fall asleep.
That is when I realized that along with the good feeling of the adrenaline rush came the guilt. Yes guilt about the enjoyment I received from it and more importantly the guilt I felt for not doing something to keep my men from getting killed. Every night I would relive that tragic day and I would see that blasted poncho liner floating ever so gracefully towards the earth and I would be over come with guilt. Some people have labeled it survivors' guilt. In my case it is not the killing that has gotten to me. Nor was it that I survived when so many of my fellows Marines didn't. No for me it was the feeling that I had caused the death of those 5 men who their loved ones and their families had entrusted their lives into my care. I felt that I had let them all down by allowing their deaths. Sure I had many good marines fall at my feet either dead or wounded and it never effected me one way or the other. I was not responsible for them since I was just another Marine fighting to survive the unsurvivable. What made this event different was the fact that I was their Squad Leader and I was responsible for their safety. It was my first real command and it was the first time someone under my command got killed. Yes I have had other command positions and yes people whom I was directly responsible for got hurt both while I was still on Active Duty. Now in civilian life. I have come to realize that some people are prone to do really stupid things. I have also come to realize that when people do really stupid things someone is bound to get hurt. But that didn't help me deal with this particular event in my life until I was able to talk to other men who were there with me. It was only then that I came to fully realize that no matter what I would have done differently they still would have tied that poncho liner to those sticks and yes they still would be dead. I had done more than what was expected of me and only because of their own stupidity they are dead.
So what is the answer to PTSD? Realizing just exactly what it is and how it effects a person's brain. It is nothing more than an addiction to adrenaline that causes a chemical dependency for which there is no known cure. So the best thing to do is to readjust a person's thinking and to get them to realize that there is nothing wrong with feeling good after a night of combat. It is a normal thing for us to experience and we have no reason to feel guilty for enjoying it as much as we do. Second is the survivors' guilt. That is what is really killing us. We all have that one single event we wish we could change. That one event that forever has changed our lives. For that there is a cure. It is called talking about it with other people who were there with us when it happened and don't stop talking about our war experiences. Openly and honestly. We do not need to make up any stories about what we lived through. We have more than enough to go around. No it does not take any large sums of money nor does it take years of psychotherapy for us to start feeling better about ourselves. Who and what we are and what we have done or not done. All it takes is for us to be honest with ourselves and to finally be able to look this monster in the face and to over come it.
Yes every year I still have a hard time during Mother's Day. Not because of those men who died during that 3-day battle. I was new in country at the time and I really didn't have a chance to get to know any of them. No for me it is the memory of the other 44 men who were left standing amongst the piles of dead and mangled bodies that I remember. 44 men just like me who for whatever reason or set of circumstances survived the bloodiest battle of our war in Vietnam.
Recommended Treatment for PTSD and Survivors Guilt.
Establish Rap Groups. Here we tried getting men and women together to talk about their war experiences with other Vets who were not in their units. That is a really bad way to go. We need to talk with the men and women we were with during our tour in a combat zone. We already know each other and we already know what each of us has lived through. That right there is the main difference. We all build walls to protect us from the pain we feel. When we are in a group of strangers no matter how close we may get to be they will always remain strangers to us and we can not trust a stranger. Therefore we need to talk with people who we know were there with us at the same time we were and who are not strangers to us. Those we lived with during our combat experience.
I myself have been talking to some Vietnamese who live near by or who go to school with me. As well as to those men I served with over the net via e-mail and ICQ. I feel a whole lot better after spending 5 minutes with one of my comrades who served with me then I ever did after years of groups with strangers and/or individual sessions with the doctors.
Several years ago I had a friend who would place a single round in his .38 cal revolver and after he spun the cylinder he would put the gun to his head and he would squeeze the trigger ever so slowly. No he was not deliberately trying to kill himself. It was the only way he could get the adrenaline pumping through his system. Well one day while he was not at home his wife switched bullets on him. She replaced the live bullet with a dummy round so no matter how many times he squeezed that trigger the gun would not go off. Now I don't know if he ever found out about it or not but at the time I felt it was a very good idea. I have seen far too many guys take their own lives in this manner. I know that once we realize that this kind of act is our need to feel the same feeling we experienced when we came under heavy enemy attack. That old adrenaline rush. That we can start looking for safer ways of satisfying that need. Yes I am an adrenaline junkie and I am loving every minute of it. Yes I still kill VC and NVA every night in my dreams and yes there are nights when I wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding like crazy but I no longer feel guilty about enjoying it. And there have been some nights when I have seen the dreams through to their final conclusion just so I could get the full enjoyment out of it. Sound insane. Well not for a combat Veteran it isn't. Just like the race car driver who does nothing but thinks, eats, and dreams about racing or the sky diver who dreams about sky diving every night during the week and jumps out of air planes over the weekends. It is all right for us to relive our combat experience over and over and over again. Oh but we killed people and we should feel some guilt or remorse for that. First off. If I didn't kill them first they would have killed me and think nothing of it. I was just a little quicker on the trigger or my aim was a little bit better then theirs or I just happened to see them before they saw me. That is why they are dead and I am still alive. Guilt and remorse. Why? I am a United States Marine and I did the job I was trained to do. I am very good at what I am trained to do. I kill people. There is nothing there to feel guilty or remorse for.
Insane? That is no more or less insane then a person who clutters his or her walls with all of the dead fish and dead deer they have killed nor is it any more or less insane then the race car driver who keeps his or her trophies displayed in a cabinet or on a shelf.
The point being that yes it is perfectly all right for a person to feel good after an adrenaline rush no matter what the source. The problem for those of us who are combat Veterans is the guilt that goes along with it. Guilt that we can overcome by talking with those people who were there with us while we were in combat. We can relive the good times we had while we were there and yes we can deal with the deaths of those who were killed. Whom we knew as our friends and our comrades. We can remember the way they laughed and the way they had that certain look just after they had done something they knew was a little bad or mischievous. We can learn to remember the way they lived and not so much as the way they died. We cannot do that by telling war stories to strangers who never knew them but by sharing their memories with those people who knew them the same way we knew them.
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