“The Things They Carried”

I am currently reading “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien and after some reflection I believe this title relates to everything I have talked about in my blog thus far.  This book is set during the Vietnam War but the story it tells can relate to every soldier at any time, in any war.  Before reading I thought of the title of the book and the image of a soldier with a lot of equipment and baggage came to mind.  What do soldiers carry?  They carry weapons, protection and survival equipment, all of which weighs heavily on each soldier.  But, soldiers carry much more then physical things that we can see on the outside.

They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die.  Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.  They carried shameful memories.  They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture.  They carried their reputations.  They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. (21)

Soldiers carry so much on their minds that can be just as heavy as any military equipment.  They have the stress of worrying about things left behind such as family, friends, pets, bills and so much more.  They carry with them their past beliefs, plans and dreams.  The unknown of what is to come is a lot to handle.

Throughout this blog I have mentioned the importance and impact of PTSD.  The issues and things soldiers carry during war time doesn’t just go away.  In the book two soldiers meet up after the war and “….talked about everything we had seen and done so long ago, all the things we still carried through our lives” (27).  When looking at old photographs they came across a picture of a fallen friend.

At one point, I remember, we paused over a snapshot of Ted Lavender, and after a while Jimmy rubbed his eyes and said he’d never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death.  It was something that would never go away, he said quietly, and nodded and told him I felt the same about certain things (63).

The things soldiers see at war ever goes away.  They carry with them the memories and images that haunt their lives.  For some, the pain becomes too much and they act out such as the shooter at Fort Hood or the other soldiers that have killed loves ones and themselves because of PTSD.  The book also talks about a soldier losing control as well.

It got to the point finally where he lost control.  Something must’ve snapped.  One afternoon he began firing and yelling, and it didn’t stop until he’d rattled off an entire magazine of ammunition (63).

For me this book has summed of the content of my blog thus far.  War leaves scars that don’t go away.  It affects every aspect of the soldier’s life and it affects everyone around them.

O’Brien, Tim.  The Things They Carried.  New York: Broadway Books, 1990.

Fort Hood Shootings

Fort HoodYesterday, November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas opened fire on the military base.  Nidal killed 13 and injured 30.  This is the worst attack to ever happen on a military base.  Earlier in the year Nidal was treated for post traumatic stress disorder.  I find it a little strange that someone who is suffering from PTSD would still be working with other soldiers.  Clearly, he still needs a lot of help!

After hearing about the shootings, I got to thinking about how quick the information was giving out.  The media quickly reported on Fort Hood and families were aware of what had happened.  Soldiers and family members were able to contact their loves ones and tell them what was happening and if they were okay.  This past week I have been reading letters that were written to soldiers during World War II.  Back during WWII communication was not quick and reliable.  One letter read,

Darling, come to me in a dream tonight and tell me that you’re alive and safe.  Please!  I know you want to tell me.  Maybe somewhere in a prison camp tonight you’re saying to yourself that tonight you’re going to try to tell me that you’re alive.  If there’s anything good in the world, they’ll let you tell me.

When this letter was written the soldier was already dead.  There were also numerous letters written to General MacAuthur pleading for any information about the state of soldiers from mothers and wives.

I could not imagine not knowing about such a tragedy for days, even weeks after it has happened.  Very rarely do we write letters anymore and that could later affect what information has been recorded.  But, at the same time we are very fortunate to have better forms of communication now, so that we can know the status of our loved ones when tragedy occurs.

On Tuesday, my cousin who I am very close too left for the Army.  When I heard about the shootings I called my Mom and made sure that he had not gone to Texas.  Thankfully he was not there but just the thought was scary enough.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and people who were affected by the shootings.  I have said it before and I’ll continue to say it…WE NEED MORE SUPPORT FOR OUR SOLDIERS!

Barrett Litoff, Judy and David Smith.  Since You Went Away.  Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas, 1991.

Information regarding the Shootings:

Fort Hood

Fort Hood Shootings

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Military Relationships

Relationships take a lot of work.  Even if you live close and see each other often it still takes commitment, good communication and many other elements that go into a good relationship.  When you add distance into a relationship it adds a lot more stress.  Military relationships can be very difficult no matter what stage the couple is in.  I am currently reading “Since You Went Away,” which is a collection of “World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front.”  When I began reading the letters I felt I was invading someone’s privacy.  The letters were to boyfriends, fiancés, and husbands who were away at war.  The letters that were written then can still relate to many issues that couples still worry about today.  One letter said,

….I don’t like the idea of being so unsettled about my future.  But I spose everyone feels that way, too (15).

I think many military couples feel unsettled about their futures because nothing is for certain.  Where will they be stationed?  Will they be deployed?  What if something happens while their away?  It obvious takes a strong relationship to deal with the stress and uncertainty of military couples.

Distance and long periods of separation can also be really hard on relationships.  One letter I read summed it up perfectly.

Sometimes I get to feeling that if I can’t see you right now I’ll go stark raving crazy…. I feel so funny about us.  I have never stopped loving you for an instant but it’s just like straining desperately to hang on to something.  In the last month, for the first time, it has seemed that the Pacific Ocean is actually separating us.  Darling, I’ve tried so hard to keep our love what it first was, and it’s worked out pretty well.  But, I keep feeling that if something doesn’t happen pretty soon, I’m just going to break…. (52).

Obviously, military relationships can work but there will be issues just like any other relationship.  One letter I read was quite brutal and direct.

When I get married, it’s not just to sleep with a man, because I can find plenty of bed mates, without being married, and remember for the past 10 months, I haven’t even had a date or kissed a fellow.  Perhaps I am not normal, that’s why.  And I don’t want to marry the type of man you represent.  But, damn it, you men are all alike.

Surprisingly, this couple actually ended up getting married.  I think military relationships can definitely work but they just need to have a strong commitment, trust and communication.  I also found a link that people talk about military relationships through a discussion board.  Communication is much different now and it is much easier then waiting for letters.  Maybe in forty years there will be a book of Facebook messages and wall posts between military couples.  Be careful what you say, it might end up in a book for everyone to read one day!

 

Barrett Litoff, Judy and David Smith.  Since You Went Away.  Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas, 1991.

Military Relationships Discussion Board

Pure Ignorance

Throughout the past two weeks I have been reading books about the Holocaust.  Such as Maus I, Maus II by Art Spiegelman and Survival in Auschwitz: If This is a Man by Primo Levi.  Learning about the horrors of the Holocaust is heart wrenching and eye-opening.  I love learning about the Holocaust and history because I believe it always relates to something happening in present-day.  When I learn about the Holocaust I am dumbfounded when I think about how people still try to claim that it never happened!  There are still people around who lived through these horrific times.  I think it’s completely disrespectfully and ignorant to say that it didn’t happen.  Though to many of us it may seem like so long ago but for others it still haunts their lives.  Families of Holocaust survivors have to deal with the lasting effects.  For Art in Maus, he didn’t always understand his father’s ways but it was clear that his was changed because of the things he went through.

I decided to search blogs dealing with the Holocaust and I came across one that really upset me.  In New Zeeland, five schoolboys visited a Holocaust museum and kissed a swastika and bowed to Nazi symbols.  They completely disrespected veterans and their families.  Though they viewed it as a joke, millions of people were massed murder, and nothing is funny about it.  The students had to make an apology to the museum, veterans, their school, and country.

They apologized to all the people they hurt, including all the people of New Zealand, which I thought was a brave thing to do, and it made me think that they really understood the magnitude of what they had done.

There was also another incident that took place with 15 college students who went to a party dressed as Nazis and victims from concentration camps.  It’s shocking to me that people can take something as serious as the Holocaust and turn it into a joke.

It might seem a long time [ago] to them, but it’s still in the lifetime of young survivors.

I think it’s very important that we learn about the Holocaust and to be sensitive to other feelings.  I plan on teaching and I would be embarrassed and disappointed if my students acted in this way.  People need to learn to think about how their actions are going to affect others before they do it.  What if that would have been their families members that were murdered?

Racism clearly still remains in our world and when people act with such ignorance it’s hard to ignore.  If we keep passing on these ideas of superiority and prejudice views, we will never change.

Fight dem back! (Blog referenced)

Uncertainty….

Life is full of uncertainty.  We think our lives will turn out a certain way and everything will fall into place perfectly.  Well, as we grow up and enter the “real world” we quickly realize that things don’t always go the way we had planned.

Today I found out that my friend Josh who joined the Marines right after high school is being deployed to Afghanistan.  For the past year or so Josh has been stationed in Japan.  He will be back home for a few short week before heading back to Japan to prepare for deployment.  Josh and I were born only 13 days apart.  We beat on each other as kids and grew up together.  We went to the same high school and have remained friends since graduation.  Josh knew that he wanted to join the military early on and he knew he would most likely be deployed.  It’s hard to believe that this guy I have know my whole life will be going to the front lines very soon and again no one can be certain at how his deployment will go.  I can’t imagine how his family and recently new bride will deal with him leaving again.  Japan was one place but Afghanistan is a whole different situation.  I will pray everyday that Josh comes back home safely.

When I received the news about Josh I was reading the book Maus I by Art Spiegelman.  This book is a graphic novel discussing the story of one family’s experience with the Holocaust.  Some might not see the connection between deployment and the story behind Maus I but for me the theme of uncertainty stood out.  In Maus I the family is constantly have to relocate to hide from the Nazi’s in order to try and save themselves from being sent to Auschwitz.  The Jewish families were terrified not knowing what would come next for them.  I think that the theme of uncertainty and not knowing what is to come is very relevant to military families today.  Military members often have to be relocated which means that they have to pick up their lives and being a new life in a new spot.  Families and soldiers often wonder what will come next.  Will they be deployed? Will they die at war?  There is no way to know what is to come.  You have to be a strong person to deal with life in the military.  I personally get freaked out when thinking about how uncertain everything can be.  Like the characters in the book, all we can do is fight to survive and not give up;  stay strong for our love ones and hope for a better day.

Spiegelman, Art.  Maus I.  New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1986.

Life After War

After the completion of the last post I started to think more about our military men and women.  I began to think about how life must be for them when they return home.  I personally couldn’t imagine being away from my loved ones for 12 to 15 months at a time.  Plus, adding on the stress and trauma that comes with being in a war zone.  I know that a lot of Military veterans suffer from PTSD yet it never really hit me how big of a problem this can be for not only the veterans, or the families but society as a whole.  I know it may sound ignorant but I did not realize that suicide rates for veterans are at an all time high.  The U.S. Army alone listed 96 active duty suicides within 7 months.  Veterans are coming back with PTSD and don’t tell anyone in fear of loosing a chance for promotion or because they feel ashamed.  However, by not getting help it causes much more problems.

Kim Ruocco noticed that her husband had begun to change when he was away for deployment.  She noticed that he didn’t write home as much, stopped attending church and didn’t find interest in things he once loved.  Kim’s husband was schedule to come home within a few days of him committing suicide.  On paper he looked fine but in reality he was preparing to take his life.

In another case a soldier has come back and had not been able to return to civilian life.  On September 30, 2009 Iraq war veteran Joseph Carrera was in a stand off with police.  Carrera had been on 3 tours of duty to Iraq.  He was sitting in his apartment armed with a rifle and tons of ammunition.  Thankfully, he surrendered and was taken to get help.

My cousin’s husband has served 2 tours of duty in Iraq and then Afghanistan.  She told me that he called home one night and asked her if she was happy and if everything was okay.  She was of course concerned and wanted to know where these questions were coming from.  He said that another one of his fellow soldiers had just received a “Dear John” letter.  Many of his friends had received letters from their wives saying that they had cheated and they wanted a divorce.  These men then had to be put on suicide watch.  In my personal opinion I don’t know how anyone could do that to someone they loved especially when they are on deployment.  The stress of war is a lot to handle but when you add in family issues it makes it much worse.

These are just a few cases of PTSD and life after war that we know of.  I am sure that there are many more veterans that are suffering that we don’t know about and might never know.  We need to make it our responsibility as a country and as citizens to help our veterans.  Life after war can’t be easy.  We need to do it to protect them, their families and ourselves.

Links to Sources:

Preventing Suicides in the Military

\” 7-Hour Iraq War Hero Standoff Ends Without Bloodshed\”

PTSD

Could you imagine seeing your best friend lying on the ground beside you gasping for his/her last breath?  Or watching your friend be brutally killed before your eyes?  It sounds morbid but many soldiers have these memories that haunt them everyday of their lives.  It might not even be someone they know but seeing a person killed is bound to change you.  Can you imagine shooting someone and seeing them die before you?  My guess would be that no sane person would want to do that.  However, in war time things change.  It’s no secret in war it happens all the time.  Soldiers are just doing their job and doing what they have to do to protect themselves and our country.  No matter how strong you think you are war can change anybody.  In war time no solider is safe.

We all think we’re special, at first, that we’ll get through this, that we can’t possible get killed- not us, not now.  But this war can end anyone, at any time.  It’s the supreme democracy, you know.  Everyone is equal here, regardless of class, nationality, or religion.  You could be the best soldier in the world, or the fittest athlete; but as soon as the whistle goes and you scale that ladder you’re the same as everyone else.  You have exactly the same chance as surviving the next ten seconds as the man next to you. (16)

Soldiers can leave for war thinking that they will be fine and it will be a new interesting experience sometimes forgetting the impact war can have on a person.  People change when they are at war.  In a play I was recently reading called “The Ghosts May Laugh” by Stuart Lee; one of the characters named Jones stated, “I can’t even remember what I was like before all this started” (pg.15).  He was referring to being involved in a war.  It is not uncommon for a soldier to come back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It’s important for family members and friends to notice the change and not just ignore it.  It can be very serious and hard to discuss but sometimes help is needed.

Sgt. Major Samuel Rhodes killed himself from being depressed after returning from war.  It was noted that Rhodes had been dealing with PTSD for awhile and had planned to kill himself.  Many soldiers struggling with PTSD feel scared and embarrassed to talk about it.  They need to have a place to talk about what they went through and not be ashamed. “I watched body parts go everywhere. I was devastated,” Rhodes said. “You never want to get close to people, because then it’s going to eat you alive,” he said.  The things that people see in war can be traumatizing.  Having an outlet and help when they return home is very important.  Family members will play a very important role in their healing.

For military spouse the change can be very difficult to handle.  Their spouse left as one person and came back as another.  In the play Jones recalled watching his wife as he left on deployment:

It was only as we were heading out of the gate and over a small hill that she broke, and began running towards us, trying to catch up.  She stumbled and fell over, I saw it, but I couldn’t do anything.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t get out of the cab and help my wife, my own wife, to her feet, the woman I love, because I was duty bound to stay in that cab and get to the station. (pg. 50)

Just the stress of being away from your love ones can be a lot to handle.  In the article I read a man who was married for 26 years stated, “While I was there (in Iraq), I kept telling myself, I don’t want to be married anymore, because my family now was the war.”  PTSD is not something that should be taking lightly. Our soldiers fight for our country and we should help them heal even when the scars aren’t obvious.

If you know someone who might be suffering from PTSD you can contact:

“National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at 800-296-6300, or Military One Source: 800-342-9647, or logon to http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org or http://www.militarymentalhealth.org”

Click  PTSD to learn more.

Soldier Reaches Out to Veterans Suffering from PTSD Article

\”The Ghost May Laugh\”

False Alarm

I personally know many people who are in the military.  I have a few family members that have been on multiple tours of duty.  In 2006 my uncle was away in Iraq and decided to take his leave the week of my cousin (his son) and my high school graduation.  After returning home from the airport my cousin asked if his Dad wanted to take a ride in his new sports car.  Still in his Army uniform he said “yes.”  They were only gone for about ten minutes when we heard sirens ringing from all directions.  A minute later we get a call from my cousin saying, “We were in an accident, meet us at the hospital.”  He was going to fast around a corner and caught some dirt and slammed head on into a tree.  The car was totaled but both of them were okay.  They were pretty banged up.  An officer told my uncle that if he had not had on his army boots he probably would have broken both of his legs.  It was a very scary experience for my family.  We had been worrying about him in a war zone for months but he almost lost his life in a car on the first day back in the United States.

For people who have loved ones away at war they can be constantly worried about how they are doing and if they will come back to them.  I am currently reading “Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain.  Unfortunately, for Vera her fiancé Roland didn’t make it back home to her.  He died the day he was suppose to come back on leave.  It’s sad to think that such a young life was taken when he had so much more ahead of him.  However, it’s the sad truth and it happens all the time.

I recently read an article about a false report to a family of a soldier dying in Afghanistan.  The father of Staff Sgt. Jesse Jasper received a call from a military support group informing them that their son had been killed.  However, they called the wrong family and thus left a family believing that they had lost their son.  Thankfully, their son was alive.  This was a huge mistake and a horrible thing for a family to have to go through.  Yet, many people do get a visit from a military official informing them that they have lost a loved one.  I can’t image the pain I would feel if I found out my love one had died at war.  No matter if it happened in 1915 or in 2009 the impact it has on the family changes them forever.

“…Perhaps it will brighten the dark moments a little to think how you have meant to someone more than anything ever has or ever will. What you have striven for will not end in nothing, all that you have done and been will not be wasted, for it will be a part of me as long as I live, and I shall remember, always.” -Vera Brittain

This past Friday marked the eighth year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th.  The memories and images of September 11, 2001 will be something I will never forget.  On that day Americans grieved together and patriotism was at an all time high.  Many people rushed to join the military or volunteer in any way to help with the relief efforts.  Now with 8 years pasted and a war going on, a lot has changed.  Yet, for many the effects of that day still continue to affect them on a day to day basis.  The families who lost love ones on that day, families who have lost love ones in the war, and families of soldiers who are still fighting for our country have not forgotten.  Though many people’s opinions have changed about the war over the years we can not deny how much it has impacted our world and our country.

In the months following the attacks of September 11th is was clear that many military members would soon be sent overseas.  In the past eight years many parents have had to leave their children to go help with military efforts.  In a news article I read \”Day of Service To Help Military Kids Communicate\” AmeriCorps Volunteer Whitney Pesek said, “We spend a lot of time thanking members of the military, but we don’t think of their families at home—especially kids who are going on without a mom or dad.”  Some kids might be old enough to understand why their parents are away but for others it might be very confusing and frustrating.  I could not imagine how hard it would be to have a parent gone in a war zone.  Whether the parent is out on deployment or if they are at training, it has to be hard on a child no matter the age.  In a blog I’m following\”Tiffany The New Army Wife\” Tiffany talked about seeing her Husbands graduation and said,

After pictures, hugs and congratulations, he had to get on a bus and go back to his barracks. Cameron left with my mom and it was hard to see him leave after hardly any time with his dad. They spent a few minutes together and as always, Caleb made him smile when they talked about us coming up to see him at AIT.

It has to take a lot of strength for anyone involved to deal with having a family member in the military.  I know for my little cousin having her Dad gone for 14 months was extremely hard on her.

The spouses of military soldiers also have a lot to deal with on a daily basis.  Whether they have been married for 1 week or 12 years deployment is hard.  In\”The Coffee Free Chronicle\” the writer stated,

During my husband’s first deployment that it occurred to me that I had two options:
1) Spend my time in the fetal position, surrounded by hundreds of crumpled up Kleenex, as the house falls apart around me; or
2) Prove to myself that I am not a true “dependent” (those of you who are not familiar with the military, this term is given to spouses and children of active duty members).

Having a long distance relationship is hard enough but when one is in a war zone it makes it much harder.  While preparing to write this blog post I was also reading Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.”  Even back in 1915 relationships that involved the military were challenging.  Like wives and girlfriends of soldiers today, Vera constantly worried about whether the man she loved would make it back home or what would come next for them.  Vera wondered what her future held or if she even would have a future with Roland.  Military life can be full of uncertainty but having strong support from your family can really help.

Brittan, Vera.  Testament of Youth.  New York, New York.  Penguin Books, 2004.

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