Last Updated 8/30/2016
I served as a Marine Aviator — mostly in tactical jets — from 1962 until 1973. I did a couple of tours in Vietnam (’65-’66, ’68-’69). My first tour was in fast-movers out of Chu Lai. I held a staff position so I didn’t get as much flying as I would have liked, but I did participate in a number of missions where I had serious misgivings around some of the targeting. There was one mission in particular I will never be able to forget. My second tour (after a tour as a Fight Instructor in Advanced Jets) was as a TAC(A), i.e. (Tactical Air Controller (Airborne)) flying OV-10s. I had waived my Overseas Control date to get this billet, just so I would have more influence over targeting and what got blown away and what did not. As it turned out, this was very much a double edged sword. In any event, I ran a LOT air strikes (often, with our troops in contact, within 50 meters or less from the friendlies). I also ran medevacs, Recon inserts and [emergency] extracts, fired artillery and Naval Guns – the whole bit. Wherever I flew, I pretty much ran the war within a 10-15 klik radius of anywhere I happened to be. In addition to 8 months in VMO as TAC(A), I did a tour in the bush as ALO for 3rd Bn, 5th Marines (3/5). There were four Companies but only 2 or maybe 3 air controllers in the Battalion, so we ran with whichever Company was involved in an operation at any given time. I wore out at least 3 pairs of boots in 4 months and got virtually NO down time. I then went back to VMO. Apart from a couple of Special OPs with Recon, it was pretty much business as usual for the rest of my tour.
From time to time, things got really dicey. I watched myself die a couple of times. I saw a lot of shit. I saw shit happening that I had worked so hard to get this job so I could prevent it happening. I did shit that I had got this job to prevent from happening. I saw shit that if anyone else besides us (and maybe the English) did we would call “war crimes”. I heard of shit that was worse than what I saw. I also saw a lot of stuff that was the epitome of love and valor and commitment and duty. I saw a lot of young boys die – one of them bled out a few of hours after I made the decision not to evacuate him (the next day, it proved to be the right decision, but that has never helped). I saw and did a lot of things that nobody should have to watch or participate in. We all did. I came home the end of 1969 with a lot of pretty danglies on my shirt, something like 15 or 20 events a week of Nightmares and Flashbacks and a new baby boy,. Also some Agent Orange issues and lots of the less lethal but very unpleasant symptoms of PTSD. I believe the obscure psychological jargon for my condition is “Bat-Shit Crazy”.
It should be noted here that PTSD didn’t get ‘invented’ until about ten years after I came back from WESTPAC. I felt obliged to hide out. In the second decade of my tribulation, it was finally acknowledged and given a name, but was universally regarded as a “character disorder”. Hiding out was now proven a good idea, so I kept doing it. I was suicidal off and on from the late 1980s until about 2000: for periods ranging from a few days to weeks at a stretch, with severity ranging from 3 to 5 up to 8 or 9/10. At the end of my third decade, I was still having Nightmares and Flashbacks at a rate of about a half dozen episodes a week. I honestly don’t have a clue as to how I stayed alive. Pure orneriness I guess. I was totally determined to NOT allow my sons to be raised by my ex-wife without any influence from their father. Did I mention that PTSD people suck at staying married?. The symptoms persisted and I suffered the agonies of the damned for something north of three decades.
Sometime around the turn of the century, I happened to drop in on a symposium on NLP being given by a guy who I’ll love and admire forever. He lectured on the how’s and why’s and then asked for a volunteer (training aid) to demonstrate the modality that he was describing – someone who had “intrusive thoughts”. Now, intrusive thoughts are to Flashbacks sort of what an organ-grinder’s monkey is to a 900 lb gorilla, but I held up my hand. Ten minutes later, he told me we were done, sent me back to sit down and asked for another volunteer to demonstrate another modality. I was done with Flashbacks and Nightmares. They were just gone. With a few visualizations, he took the memories of unspeakably traumatic events, pried them loose from my frontal lobe/center of consciousness and parked them where they belonged next to the memories of my best friend in the fifth grade. And there they stay. I can look at them if I want, and then they go back where they belong. I run them now. They do NOT run ME.
Some years later, I was finally able to track the guy down and asked him what I have to study and get credentialed in to give to my brothers what he gave me. His answer: “Nothing! It’s in the public domain”. If you remember the script (like how could I ever forget it), you can give it to ten guys tomorrow, and they can each give it to ten of their own the next day. That right there boys and girls, is the key to the kingdom. That’s how I got started, and that’s where I’m going – what I’m going for the rest of my life. I know a way to help thousands of veterans to not have the kind of life I had, to live their life with benign dreams and pleasant, positive relationships. I can help my brothers help themselves and then help their brethren. I am a truly blessed (and grouchy and forgetful and raggedy-ass) old fart that’s thoroughly happy with my new mission