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What’s Luck Got To Do With It? PTSD

November 15, 2012

We left Stateside heading for Vietnam in a 707 that had been refitted so that there were 3 seats on both sides of the aisle for the entire plane and each seat was filled.  Obviously it wasn’t a comfortable trip for several reasons.  Mostly it was the unknown since I would guess all of us were thinking and wondering if we would ever return home.   Just as we were circling the Bien Hoa Airport for landing, one of the guys in the back yelled out, “At least it won’t be this crowded coming home!”  I often wondered if he ultimately  became one of the absentees.  It all was just a big crapshoot.  It didn’t matter if you were smart or dumb, rich or poor, young  or older there was no guarantee of survival.

This was part of the disconcerting effects of the War.  Two stories that come to mind are not verifiable so I will just relate them, as close as possible, to how they were related to me.    The first was one of the first War stories I heard after I arrived for processing.  We were in Saigon in the compound.  The Tet offensive was in its dying throws, when I arrived, and you could still hear gun shots in and around the city.  One day I heard that someone in the compound had been killed the night before.  When I asked the details the person told be that it was a fluke.  Apparently some guy, just like me, had arrived and was writing a letter home.  He was sitting by a window while he wrote.  A stray bullet had come into the compound had gone through the window and had killed him as he wrote.  The story was that it was a bullet that was on it’s downward flight and was so weak that it didn’t even get all the way through his body.  What were the chances?  A stray bullet comes into the compound, finds an open window and strikes a guy who was sitting there minding his own business not engaged in fighting at all and still he was killed.  No rhyme or reason to it.

The second story came later in my tour.  I was stationed a Tai Ninh. About once a month we would get a mortar round lobbed into our camp.  This was not the beginning of an attack although we always had to react as if it were.  They came at night while we were sleeping.  The mortar would arrive, explode and we were all awakened and had to go to our assigned bunkers and wait for the all clear.  Then we would go back to our beds and go to sleep.  We all lived in Quonset huts which were basic building which had corrugated tin for a roof.

So the story goes, there was a guy who was “short” (that is close to going home).  He had become increasingly concerned about the possibility of a mortar round landing on the roof of any of the buildings, where we slept, but especially his own.  If this would have occurred it would have had tragic outcomes since the tin roof would be destroyed and shards of tin would cascade down onto unsuspecting sleeping soldiers.  Because of this, this soldier decided that he would not sleep in the hut but would take his bedding and sleep in his assigned bunker.  These are fortified and it would take a direct hit on one to do affect him and the bunkers were significantly smaller than the sleeping quarters thus harder to hit.

Well, if you haven’t guessed the ending already, one random night, as was normal, a mortar round came into the compound and we all went to our bunkers but one group had to scramble because their assigned bunker had been destroyed by a direct hit.  There was one unlucky casualty.

Of course there are other stories, some which may not have involved such incredible odds but, none the less, luck played a big part of the life and/or death of 40,000 young men and women who woke up in the morning of the day they were to die and never awoke again.

This luck made putting the pieces back together that much more difficult.  We live in a cause and effect World. What did I do right and they do wrong? The puzzle didn’t fit together the same way that it once did and the year long experience had either added different pieces to my puzzle or took some away and probably a little of both.  PTSD is part of the unwanted pieces in the puzzle and trying to figure out ones own puzzle is impossible.  If you are a PTSD sufferer, seek help as soon as you can.  The longer you wait the harder it will be to cope and the more likely it will be that side issues will occur.