American servicemen and women, Memorial Day, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Suicide among American soldiers, Trauma of combat, U.S. Armed Forces, Vietnam War, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
Memorial Day 2012 – Long Beach – California – USA
As a high school teacher in Guyana, I worked for one year with Sister Barbara (fictitious name), an American Christian missionary in her late thirties. She was the first American I had met with a personal connection with the Vietnam War. My knowledge about the war had come from reading and the movies.
On Memorial Day, May 28, when Americans remembered the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, I recalled Sister Barbara and her older brother who had served in the Vietnam War.
When her brother returned from the Vietnam War, Sister Barbara had told me, he was no longer the caring and happy person she had loved and looked up to. He had become withdrawn and always on edge. Never a heavy drinker, he started drinking to drown the haunting nightmares. Within a year of returning home, he had died on the street. Sister Barbara did not share the details of his death.
Losing her older and only sibling had changed Sister Barbara’s life. Since she never mentioned her parents, I assumed that they had also passed away. That she spoke to me about her brother, over ten years after his death, indicated how much she still felt his loss. Perhaps, her missionary work in a poor, developing nation was her way of giving meaning to her life.
In 2009, more American soldiers deployed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had taken their lives than those who had died on the battlefront that year. Forty five percent of them were between 18 and 25 years of age (study done by U.S. Army Public Health Command). With the growing number of soldiers suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who have committed suicide, following their return home after deployment, it is important that we also remember their sacrifices on the battlefront. They are no less warriors than those who died in action.
That our warriors suffer the trauma of combat is a sign of their humanity. We were not created to slaughter our fellow human beings but rather to preserve and protect life. Engaging in warfare, in order to defend our nation and to protect our families and our way of life, requires that we release the dark, vile side of our human nature.
Our warriors who took (and will continue to take) their lives at battle’s end also died on the battlefield. They, too, should be remembered yearly on Memorial Day. Their despair in the face of atrocities and carnage on the battlefield should give us pause in our personal pursuit of happiness and freedom.