My grandma’s A/C went out yesterday, so I headed down to her house and she called the A/C repair guy to come out and take a look. The repair man showed up and introduced himself as P.D. He was an older man, he had a pretty solid vice grip for a hand shake and throat cancer made him sound like Clint Eastwood with a sore throat. Some how I sensed a distrubance in the veteran force, and I was certain he was a vet. He was too young to be a WWII vet and too old to be Vietnam vet. That left the Korean War but I just assumed he served. I went out back with him and watched while he tore an A/C apart with a kind of effiecney you don’t often see anymore. He looked up at me across the A/C and asked, “So When’d ya serve boy?” Apparently, I am not the only jedi. I said I had gone to Iraq and Afghanistan and was now a reservist. I asked if he had, he kind of grinned the way you expect the grim reaper to smile at you when you ask if its your turn. “I did 13 months wading through shit and rice paddies in Korea.” He asked a me a couple of questions, it was kind of an interrogation for about 4 minutes as he made his judgement of the new generation of veterans and then at one point he seemed satisfied, deemed me fit, and he started telling me stories.
Now, all of us veterans have stories. We have our favorite ones, they are usually funny, or dumb, or involve some incredible story of luck and fate. We tell them when we get a couple beers in us or when amongst our brother’s in arms. We don’t often share them with family or people we meet off the street. This man, P.D., shared some of his favorites with me. That filled me with a very strong sense of pride, that the old man who has been through a type of warfare we can’t readily imagine had deemed me fit to know his most prized possession from war, his stories. What was incredible about the stories was the speed and clarity at which he recalled them. Korea was 1950 if my high school education serves me well, that means that if he was 18 when he went, he is now 78 years old. He was spouting out these stories with such gusto you would have sworn they happened the day before. Some of the things this old man had done in his youth makes Rambo sound like a sissy with a swiss army knife. Now with what little experience I have, strange how your perspective of your own experience changes when in the shadow of another’s incredibly vast wisdom, I was able to tell when he would skirt a difficult memory or cut a story short so as not to offend anyone. P.D. has 60 years of practice at something we’ve only been doing for a couple of years and lemme tell you he is a master at it. Had I not done some of the same things in the past, I would have never picked up on the subtle details he gave when something viscious came to mind for him. It was really very impressive. He seemed so happy, to be talking to another vet, that the pain of dredging up the old memories was worth it. He told me he thought we had it worse than he did. He said that our generation of vets were getting screwed in a way that is nothing short of sinister. Which was the most absurd thing, in my opinion, I always feel that the wars before ours were infinitely worse than ours. So I sat and listened to everything he had to say. I studied the way he moved and how he talked. He was a warrior 60 years ago and it still seemed that if he felt like it he could snatch the life out of somebody. But with being a warrior comes the burden of the knowledge of war and horror. This realization that the nightmares and the pain of war were still there in his mind just as vivid as the day they were so violently installed, shook me. P.D. was living proof that PTSD left unopposed could survive and thrive for decades. It was strange because it filled me with a sense of urgency to get cracking on fixing this junk in my head. Somehow in P.D.’s situation I had seen that there is a time table on the PTSD thing before it becomes ingrained and accepted as normal. It was unequivocal proof that not all wounds will heal with time or by themselves. Left me with a feeling that was not at all positive. With all that said, P.D. was a scary looking dude. Every inch a killing machine of antiquity. He didn’t give a damn that he had PTSD, didn’t even acknowledge it, it was just war he reasoned and if you made it back without being messed up, you were nuts in the first place. He was the end state of the thought process that most of us have when it comes to PTSD, kind of a shrug and forget or ignore attitude. Well, my friends that ain’t gonna work.
Do you think that PTSD has a time table? How do you think the culture has changed in regards to PTSD? Are we weaker than the older generation, is that why more of us are diagnosed with PTSD or are we just paying attention? What has your best experience with the older veteran generations been?