By Jan Davis
Carl didn’t want to enlist, but surrendered his freedom to choose when Uncle Sam called out his number in the lottery of 1969. With the turn of a drum, he became a soldier in the U.S. Army.
He left behind a young wife and 9-month-old daughter and boarded a cargo plane for Vietnam. Carl celebrated his 21st birthday in the jungles of Vietnam. Christmas soon followed. A helicopter dropped the military’s idea of a feast, as he observed the holiday with comrades. Christmas cards from home hung precariously on a bush next to hand grenades. Care packages represented gifts from friends and family and laid under the so-called tree. This small brigade replaced family that Christmas.
In combat, Carl became accustomed to kill or be killed. A near-death experience left him with shrapnel scars on his back from a landmine. The guy behind him lost both legs. He received a Medal of Commendation for sustained acts of heroism. When questioned why, his response was, “I saw them first.”
His comrades carried Carl inside a medical tent as a high fever ravaged his body. He spent weeks in the infirmary in and out of consciousness. While his life hung in the balance, a young woman in Oklahoma wondered why the letters stopped.
Because of malaria, Carl finished his tour of duty in Saigon and fought a different enemy. One more subtle but as deadly as the Viet Cong. This adversary dragged him into the depths of hell. Deeper than any foxhole, prescription drugs became his archenemy.
In his absence, the young wife learned to face reality. The responsibilities of home, work and an infant demanded she meet life head-on. Carl learned to escape the realities of war.
The pills offered a diversion from the nightmares. They provided a crutch to survive another day, another death and faded memories of home. The nightmares, flashbacks and self-inflicted guilt were buried deep in the crevices of his mind.
Carl did not come home in a body bag, but a walking casualty of war. A real part of him died in Vietnam. A husband and father perished, replaced by a stranger. Similar in outward appearance, but different in so many ways. His wounds were not physical and were hidden from the naked eye. They could not be treated with antibiotics, surgeries or bandages, but the pain was none the less real.
He repeatedly asked, “Why didn’t I die in those jungles?” In the ‘70s, PTSD was unheard of. Unaided, he struggled alone. No support groups, counseling or treatment were available. His dependency on drugs and alcohol increased as he withdrew within the confines of his tortured mind.
Carl’s death after years of torment offered the elusive freedom he fought so hard to protect. Separated from his buddies, he fought his personal battle and the victory was now his to celebrate.
Carl was my husband and this is written in honor of one man’s struggle. Left undiagnosed and untreated, thousands of soldiers still suffer with PTSD. They elude a hero’s death and die in quiet seclusion an unknown casualty of war.
“Oh Death, where is your sting? Oh Hades, where is your victory?” — I Corinthians 15:55 (NKJV).
I love you, but Jesus loves you more.
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