Proposal For Vietnam Veterans Day

February 28, 2013

Mr. Burr (for himself and Mrs. Boxer) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To add Vietnam Veterans Day as a patriotic and national observance. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


a) Findings.–Congress finds that–

  1. the Vietnam War was fought in the Republic of South Vietnam from 1961 to 1975, and involved North Vietnamese regular forces and Viet Cong guerrilla forces in armed conflict with United States Armed Forces, allies of the United States, and the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam;
  2. the United States Armed Forces became involved in Vietnam because the United States Government wanted to provide direct military support to the Government of South Vietnam to defend itself against the growing Communist threat from North Vietnam;
  3. members of the United States Armed Forces began serving in an advisory role to the Government of the Republic of South Vietnam in 1950;
  4. as a result of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents on August 2 and 4, 1964, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Public Law 88-408), on August 7, 1964, which provided the authority to the President of the United States to prosecute the war against North Vietnam;
  5. in 1965, United States Armed Forces ground combat units arrived in Vietnam;
  6. by September 1965, there were over 129,000 United States troops in Vietnam, and by 1969, a peak of approximately 543,000 troops was reached;
  7. on January 27, 1973, the Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam (commonly known as the “Paris Peace Accords”) was signed, which required the release of all United States prisoners-of-war held in North Vietnam and the withdrawal of all United States Armed Forces from South Vietnam;
  8. on March 29, 1973, the United States Armed Forces completed the withdrawal of combat units and combat support units from South Vietnam;
  9. on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese regular forces captured Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, effectively placing South Vietnam under Communist control;
  10. more than 58,000 members of the United States Armed Forces lost their lives in Vietnam and more than 300,000 members of the Armed Forces were wounded;
  11. in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in the District of Columbia to commemorate those members of the United States Armed Forces who died or were declared missing-in-action in Vietnam;
  12. the Vietnam War was an extremely divisive issue among the people of the United States and a conflict that caused a generation of veterans to wait too long for the United States public to acknowledge and honor the efforts and services of such veterans;
  13. members of the United States Armed Forces who served bravely and faithfully for the United States during the Vietnam War were often wrongly criticized for the policy decisions made by 4 presidential administrations in the United States;
  14. the establishment of a “Vietnam Veterans Day” would be an appropriate way to honor those members of the United States Armed Forces who served in South Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War;
  15. March 29 would be an appropriate day to establish as “Vietnam Veterans Day”; and
  16. President Obama designated March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day under Presidential Proclamation 8789 (77 Fed. Reg. 20275).

(b) Vietnam Veterans Day.–Chapter 1 of title 36, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “Sec. 145. Vietnam Veterans Day … and that

The President May Issue Each Year a Proclamation —

(1) designating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day;
(2) honoring and recognizing the contributions of veterans who served in the United States Armed Forces in Vietnam during war and during peace;
(3) encouraging States and local governments to establish a Vietnam Veterans Day; and
(4) encouraging the people of the United States to observe Vietnam Veterans Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities that –

  • provide the appreciation veterans of the Vietnam War deserve, but did not receive upon returning home from the war;
  • demonstrate the resolve that never again shall the people of the United States disregard and denigrate a generation of veterans;
  • promote awareness of the faithful service and contributions of the veterans of the Vietnam War during military service as well as to the communities of the veterans since returning home;
  • promote awareness of the importance of entire communities empowering veterans and the families of veterans in helping the veterans readjust to civilian life after military service; and
  • promote opportunities for veterans of the Vietnam War to assist younger veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in rehabilitation from wounds, both seen and unseen, and to support the reintegration of younger veterans into civilian life.”.

(c) Conforming Amendment.–The table of sections for chapter 1 of title 36, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: 145. Vietnam Veterans Day –

Vietnam Veterans Day Senate Bill
posted by David Apperson

Tough Week for Marines

Sent by Larry Brown. Marine and member of Military Order of Purple Hearts.

Rough Week for Marines
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Marine Corps family this week. On Tuesday, an accidental mortar explosion killed seven and injured eight during a training exercise in Hawthorne, Nev., and three died yesterday in what is being investigated as a double homicide-suicide at MCB Quantico. VFW Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief John Stroud, who hails from Hawthorne, and local VFW Post 2313 led a memorial service Tuesday to honor the fallen and to pray for the injured and their families. More than 300 residents attended the service, and almost $3,500 has been raised so far for the families. In a letter to Stroud, MCB Twentynine Palms Public Affairs Officer Capt. Nick Mannweiler wrote: “My granddad served on Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Roi Namur and joined the VFW in 1946. The two greatest institutional loyalties he displayed every day of his life were to the U.S. Marine Corps and to the VFW.” Semper Fidelis, captain, and to the Corps.Larry Brown


As We Commemorate The 50th Anniversary of Vietnam War

This is where I had a complete initiation into war. Served with 1/7 Mortars. Was a Forward Observer off Hill 10. Much of it is now relegated to the amnesia file.

Operation Meade River: Marine Search-and-Destroy Cordon of the Vietnam War

Originally published by Vietnam magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006

Called “Dodge City” by the troops because of its shoot-em-up characteristics, the area 10 miles south of Da Nang was familiar ground for the Marines. It was about five miles wide and three miles long. “It was low ground,” says the official Marine Corps history, “criss-crossed with rivers and streams, honeycombed with caves and tunnels; each hamlet, with its bamboo and thorn hedges and its drainage ditches indistinguishable from fighting trenches, was a potential fortified position.”

Dodge City had been the site of enemy engagements since the Ky Lam campaign of 1966. Many battles of the Tet, mini-Tet and Third (summer) offensives of 1968 took place in the area. The northern boundary was the La Tho River; the southern was the Ky Lam. The eastern boundary was Highway 1; the western boundary was one mile west of an old bombed-out railroad. Hill 55 was in the northwest corner; the Dien Ban district headquarters bordered its southeast corner. Route 4, also called Route 14, bisected the area from east to west.

The major battles of Operation Meade River would take place in the two-square-mile center of Dodge City. The operation was a “County Fair” mission, utilizing a cordon technique developed by the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. When the Marines mission shifted from defensive to offensive, it became necessary for platoons, companies or battalions to completely and simultaneously cordon off an area and search and clear inward, literally foot by foot, because the Viet Cong (VC) had infested hamlets west and south of the vital Da Nang airstrip. The technique was refined and used often by the 9th Marine Regiment, which operated off Hill 55 in early 1966. Operation Meade River would be the largest mission using the County Fair technique during the Vietnam War.

Intelligence had determined that remaining elements of the decimated VC Doc Lap Battalion, which had operated in the area against the Marines for more than three years, along with other understrength VC units and several hundred NVA (North Vietnamese Army) troops, were again massing in the area. Going northward through Dodge City were two major enemy infiltration routes used by the NVA to supply and assist the VC in the rocket belt, whose main objective had been, and continued to be, the destruction of the Da Nang airstrip. Intelligence also had information that an all-out attack against strategically located Hill 55, the 1st Marine Division headquarters on Hill 327, or the airstrip itself was imminent with this many enemy soldiers staging rapidly in the area.

On November 20, 1968, at 4 a.m., Operation Meade River commenced. The monsoons for this part of Vietnam had started in October. Temperatures were dropping, and the Marines often found the nights cold. The conditions were miserable, and the rains, averaging one inch daily, added to the misery.

The entire helicopter assets of the 1st Marine Air Wing were required to support the operation. Colonel Robert G. Lauffer, commanding officer of the 1st Marines, was designated Meade River commander. He personally supervised elements of seven Marine battalionsthe 1st Battalion, 1st Marines (1/1), the 2nd and 3rd battalions, 5th Marines (2/5 and 3/5), the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines (3/26), and battalion landing teams (BLTs) from the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines (2/26), and 1st and 2nd battalions, 7th Marines (1/7 and 2/7). The Marines surrounded an area 24,000 meters in circumference, with fire teams no more than 15 meters apart. This initial movement of 5,000 infantrymen into a tightly established cordon would be the key to the successful completion of Meade River. Twenty-eight hundred of the 5,000 troops were helilifted; approximately 2,200 more were moved by truck and on foot from Hill 55 and other company and battalion areas from along the north bank of the La Tho River, Liberty Road (Ambush Row), Highway 1 and Route 4. With the troops in place by 8:25 a.m., the cordon snapped shut.

Just prior to landing within the cordons boundary, a Boeing-Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight carrying one of the last elements arriving, a unit from the 3/5, was hit by enemy fire; it crashed and burned, resulting in six killed and nine wounded. In addition, as a truck convoy was moving toward the cordon, a command-detonated mine exploded halfway down the line of vehicles, destroying a 5-ton truck and wounding 19 men. Immediately, prepositioned dump trucks unloaded gravel and matting. The large hole was filled, the damaged truck removed, and the remainder of the convoy continued on into the area with little delay.

At 4:30 p.m. on the 20th, a recon team was inserted 1,000 meters south of the La Tho from the base on Hill 55 and immediately west of the cordon near Liberty Road to look for fleeing bands of the enemy. The team soon encountered enemy troops and opened fire, killing eight NVA and capturing an 82mm mortar from the enemy soldiers trying to escape the cordon. The recon team, with one wounded, was extracted back to Hill 55.

Later, it was learned from captured VC that news of the impending cordon and search operation had been received the previous day, November 19. The VC who reported this information were apprehended when villagers throughout the cordon were screened and sent to the refugee relocation center at the base of Hill 55. Fortunately, few enemy knew in advance of the cordon because of a breakdown in communication between the VC political arm and the Communist military unitsa mistake that cost the enemy many lives.

The Marines were fortunate to have trapped many more of the enemy than anticipated. Found in the objective area was a sizable, well-organized and well-trained enemy force that chose to fight, utilizing solid fortifications throughout the area of operations.

Numerous small elements of larger NVA and VC units located in the cordon, however, tried to slip away. As they found in several unsuccessful attempts, trying to escape was a deadly option, due to the tight, well-coordinated cordon. Throughout the operation, the enemy soldiers tried to conceal themselves underground until sweeping forces had passed. This tactic, however, was seldom successful, since the Marines would probe foot by foot. Throughout the area of the cordon, dozens of freshly dug enemy “spider holes” were found. To help find these holes, the Marines used several thousand metal probes manufactured by the Force Logistics Command (FLC). They were issued to all battalions, and usually one man in the fire team had a probe. The probes were one-half-inch round and 36 to 48 inches long, with a T-shaped handle and forged points. These probes facilitated in the discovery of numerous holes and caches.

Many NVA and VC would try to break the cordon along the northern boundary of the operation area and slip into the La Tho River, which ran along the base of Hill 55. The sniper platoon based at Hill 55 and expert riflemen from numerous combat and support unitsfield artillery, anti-aircraft artillery, supply and engineersmaintained firing positions day and night. These marksmen operated mostly from various sites that reached down to the river. Besides using Starlight scopes, the FLC sent two searchlight teams to the hill, which aided the American snipers. The searchlights would scan the river and the riverbanks, leaving little escape area for panicky enemy forces. The snipers kept a number of the enemy from escaping.

The first major contact of Operation Meade River was made on November 20 by the 2/7. While the troops were moving eastward and attempting to close in on the railroad berm, they encountered a sizable enemy force in well-deployed and fortified positions in the bend of a small river in an area known as “the Horseshoe.” A large-scale VC and NVA force had been caught in the cordon.

On November 22, Echo Company, 2/7, tried to maneuver its way across the river into the Horseshoe, but the volume of enemy fire was too heavy, and the 2/7 resumed its previous position. The 11th Marine Artillery carried out precision destruction missions against the enemy positions during the remainder of the 22nd. On November 23, the objective area was secured. The Horseshoe contained a multibunkered complex of fighting holes and trench lines that had apparently been a battalion defensive position. Many of the bunkers had been constructed by civilians and enemy soldiers using railroad ties removed from under the remaining tracks of the Vietnam Northù:South Railroad.

After the Horseshoe was secured by the 2/7, Delta Company, 1/1, was attached to the 2/7 to provide security for the engineers who were lifted in to blow the numerous bunkers and level the fortified positions. Many bodies were found in the bunkers in addition to a great deal of equipment and field gear and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Also uncovered were many sacks of lime and lime sprayers used by the enemy to sanitize and hasten the decomposition of dead bodies.

On November 23, the Marines had a second and brief encounter in the hamlets of La Hoa 1 and 2, where the enemy also had well-fortified positions. La Hoa village (a village consisted of several hamlets designated by numbers) appeared to be a site where the enemy consolidated its forces and equipment before moving on to better defensive positions. It was amazing that such well-fortified positions were present in and about La Hoa, since that area had been heavily patrolled by the 7th Marines from Hill 55 on a regular basis. It showed again how well the NVA and VC could conceal a position.

The 11th Marines did an outstanding job of saturating the cordoned area with artillery fire. Of the dozen artillery sites designated for this operation, five fired from Hill 55. Some 1,286 fire missions expended 27,513 howitzer rounds in support of Meade River. Eight-inch howitzers fired precision destruction missionssome called in as close as 200 meters from friendly forcesthroughout the cordon.

Delta Company, 1/1, was ordered to stay in the Horseshoe for the next two weeks to provide security for the engineers, but the 2/7 left the area on November 24, continuing its delayed movement toward the railroad berm. Troops of the 2/7 continued to meet heavy resistance all the way from the Horseshoe to the berm. As they advanced to within 200 meters of the berm, an enemy force commenced firing along their right flank from well-covered positions. This area near the berm became known as “the Triangle.” The 25th was spent reducing this position by artillery and ground attacks. On the 26th, the 2/7 secured the railroad berm, finding once again that heavy enemy bunkers had been constructed from railroad ties and cement. From the empty bags it was evident that the cement was part of the civic action supplies issued to area hamlets by U.S. military forces for building and self-improvement projects.

On the 25th, the 3/26 was spread out south of the cordon to screen and keep the enemy within. That day they killed a 15-man NVA unit that was making a desperate attempt to flee the cordon. Two companies of the 1/7 were assigned the same mission along the north bank of the La Tho, keeping small enemy bands within the cordon.

On November 27, elements of the 2/5 and 2/26 started a simultaneous coordinated move westward from Highway 1, probing and searching every foot of the way. Numerous fresh enemy graves were uncovered as well as a considerable amount of supplies, and the 2/26 found one cache of 180 anti-personnel “Bouncing Betty” mines ready to be emplaced within the area. Other finds included field gear, miscellaneous documents, tons of rice buried in the ground in urns and much more equipment. Meanwhile, Delta, 1/1, which was providing security in the Horseshoe for the engineers, continued to find scores of freshly dug graves and more equipment in that area. In addition, scuba teams searching throughout the cordon found weapons, equipment, ammunition and 122mm rockets submerged in various riverbank caves and in several 20-foot-deep bomb craters that had been collecting water since the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombings during the Tet Offensive.

The cordon diminished considerably in size as the troops inched inward. The north and south boundaries of the cordon continued to be covered by various units, which accounted for many of the kills. From 6 to 7 a.m. on the 28th, the enemy was offered an opportunity to surrender, the offer broadcast clearly and repeatedly for one hour throughout the cordon. The offer was ignored. The enemy chose to fight. An extremely heavy artillery and air bombardment commenced. In addition to the numerous heavy artillery barrages, fixed-wing gunships (AC-47s and/or AC-130s) were on station 72 hours during Meade River, firing 609,000 rounds of ammunition into enemy positions. Bell Huey helicopter gunships flew 884 firing sorties during the 20-day operation. More than 2,100 helicopter sorties moved personnel, cargo, casualties and equipment. The battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) fired 153 of its monstrous 16-inch, 1,900-pound high-capacity and 2,700-pound armor-piercing rounds against enemy bunkers throughout the cordon. The accuracy of the firepower is demonstrated by the fact that, despite the many friendly troops in the area, there were no reported friendly fire casualties.

During the operation, a platoon of deuce-and-a-half trucks, staged on Hill 55, continuously helped supply the troops via trails, roads and paths throughout the cordon. The platoon would set up “wagon trains” at different areas bordering the cordon. Many of the vehicles came under fire from small, frantic enemy units trying to break the perimeter. Often, drivers were instrumental in stopping bands of enemy soldiers who were trying to escape. Heavily armed deuce-and-a-half trucks were used to patrol Ambush Row and Route 4 day and night. In addition, 10 all-terrain vehicle “otters” from Hill 55, which was designated an LSA (logistical support area), were used to supply the troops deep within the cordon with food and ammunition.

On December 1, the hardest fighting of the operation thus far commenced as the 3/5 encountered a large enemy bunker complex along its right flank, in what would become known as “the Hook,” and received devastating fire from small arms, automatic weapons, grenades and 60mm mortars within the bunker. There were many casualties. The enemy fire came from well-entrenched, reinforced bunkers, and the 3/5’s advance was temporarily halted. On December 3, even after the 11th Marine Artillery had spent most of the previous day and night conducting heavy, precision destruction missions into the Hook, the 3/5 continued taking casualties from well-entrenched enemy fire. On December 3, most of the troops of the 3/26 were moved from their screening positions along Route 4 in order to help the 3/5 in the attack against the NVA entrenched in the Hook. After repeated airstrikes with 750-pound bombs and napalm canisters, the Marines of the 3/26 fought their way into the southern portion of the Hook. By nightfall on the 4th, they had worked around to its rear area. There, the 3/26 and 3/5 called in additional air and artillery strikes very close to their own positions.

On December 5, the enemy was once again given an opportunity to surrender. This time, the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) commanders broadcast surrender-or-die messages to the enemy in the Hook. As before, the hard-core Communists chose to continue to battle. Later that day, when a final assault secured the Hook, more than 100 enemy dead were counted. Fifteen POWs were pulled out of their partially destroyed bunkers and tunnels and numerous weapons were uncovered.

Also on December 5, the 3/5 separated from the 3/26 and started a turning movement north, then commenced a sweep from west to east across the top of Dodge City. On the 6th, because of other commitments and after much heavy fighting, the 3/5 ceased to participate in Operation Meade River. However, Bravo, 1/5, which had been with the 3/5, remained at the northern boundary of Dodge City to keep what was left of the enemy confined and to search the area.

On December 6, the 3/26, having thoroughly mopped up the Hook, also moved on to positions at Dodge Citys northern boundary. The cordon remained intact, but the final, most furious battle had yet to be fought. Elements of the 2/26 and 2/5, in their careful and deliberate search of the cordons northern boundary from Highway 1, ran into a heavy concentration of enemy troops at 2:45 p.m. Those units regrouped and remained in close proximity to the last objectivethe northern bunker complexthroughout the rest of the day and on through the night, forming a blocking position to ensure that the enemy remained trapped within the cordon.

In the meantime, the 3/26 was joined by additional forces. Colonel Lauffer had attached three additional companies to the 3/26Alpha, 1/7, Hotel, 2/5 and Delta, 1/1giving them the mission of completely destroying the remaining bunkers in the Hook and then continuing a full attack into the northern bunker complex. Company E of the 2/26 was relieved of its blocking position at first light on the 7th and crossed the La Tho to join the 1/1, assigned for this assault. The 3/26 was joined by an ARVN cavalry unit, whose APCs (armored personnel carriers) were light and provided mobility for the 3/26 in the final attack. A tight line was drawn surrounding the northern bunker complex. Throughout the day the 3/26, reinforced by attached units, cautiously moved forward, literally inch by inch, maneuvering the APCs toward bunker after bunker and directing small-arms fire against the enemy. At one point, late in the day on December 8, Company I of the 3/26 moved to within 20 meters of what was thought to be the last in the series of in-depth bunker positions. But from those final hidden positions, deep within the northern bunker complexan area that had been heavily carpet-bombedcame unexpectedly accurate and deadly heavy automatic-weapons fire. Despite suffering heavy casualties, Company I silenced those machine-gun positions. The final assault was executed the next day, and a brutal fight ensued that included hand-to-hand combat against a tenacious enemy that refused to surrender. More than 300 enemy bodies were found, and this time the enemy was unable to bury its dead.

On December 9 at 6 p.m. Operation Meade River was terminated. Units were returned to their parent organizations after 20 days of vicious, intense fighting. The 1/1 took over and mopped up the northern bunker complex for two more days. During this post-Meade River period, the 1/1 found additional bodies and killed some 50 NVA who had remained in the bunkers, refusing to surrender. It also recovered numerous enemy individual and crew-served weapons. Although preliminary reports of enemy casualties varied from 1,000 to 1,500, the final count was 1,325 confirmed enemy casualties. More than 360 well-dug entrenched log, railroad-tie and cement bunkers were destroyed, and many more must have been caved in by the bombings. Of the 1,325 confirmed casualties, 1,025 were killed and 300 wounded. Only six enemy troops chose to surrender. It is estimated that 200ù:300 more bodies went undiscovered, and many more were probably obliterated by the accurate, heavy bombardment from artillery, battleship and fixed-wing aircraft, all of this in an area measuring only three miles by five miles. But this successful operation was not without cost to the U.S. military. One hundred and eight Marines were killed and 513 were wounded.

Despite all the death and destruction wrought against the NVA and VC force in the Dodge City area, it was only a matter of weeks before squad, platoon and company firefights against NVA forces that had re-infiltrated the vital area started once again. Fierce sporadic engagements in Dodge City would continue through 1969 and 1970. The last combat patrol of the war (in August 1972, by the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry; see the February 1991 Vietnam) would include Dodge City.

George A. Hill served in Vietnam as a Marine NCO. This article is an excerpt from his book Heart of the Third Sector.

For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today!

The Realities of PTSD: Symptoms Are Survival Skills

Patience Mason is a friend of my wife and I. We are also members of the International Council of War Veteran Ministers.

The Realities of PTSD: Symptoms Are Survival Skills

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By Patience Mason, Mon, March 11, 2013

Is PTSD normal after war? Yes, it is. Right after a single trauma, according to one study, everyone gets all of the symptoms of PTSD. Some of them seem to heal, so it is a disorder of healing.

Our society seems to be set up especially to prevent healing from trauma. Everyone wants you to be over it in a week. I remember hearing a woman who barely got out of the Trade towers on 9/11 saying a week later that her friends were asking her why she was still upset. After all, she lived.

It is illegal in this country to feel pain. We are all supposed to be fine. FINE is an acronym to some of us: F-ed up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical, which fits those people who think, “It wouldn’t have affected me / didn’t affect me / shouldn’t have affected you.”

PTSD Symptoms Are Survival Skills

All of the symptoms of PTSD start out as survival skills, which are built into the brains of all of us. No one is exempt. Those who seem to have been exempt, like John Wayne or Rambo, actually sat out their wars and were never exposed to combat.

Increased Arousal Not Present Before Trauma

The first survival skill set is called “symptoms of increased arousal not present before the trauma” by the diagnostic criteria. One problem with this is that, if they were present before the trauma, it probably means you were traumatized earlier. Beatings, emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse… when these happen to a kid, they are more traumatic – not less – and kids react by becoming very wary and very fast. This makes them better soldiers. It is what basic training is designed to reinforce because these behaviors will keep you alive.

The first PTSD symptom/survival skill is an effective (not “exaggerated”) startle response. Others include irritability and outbursts of anger, inability to fall or stay asleep, hypervigilance, and “inability to concentrate,” which is actually the inability to concentrate on anything that is not survival information. These keep you alive. This is the fight / flight / freeze capacity built into all of us that enables us to react before thought.

Our brains are designed to scan for danger and react instantaneously. Since this capacity is based in what they used to call “the reptile brain” in high school science, it doesn’t speak English (that’s in the frontal lobes, the last part of the brain to develop) and can’t tell time, so you can tell yourself you are home and it is over, but the message does not get through to this part of the brain for a long, long time – sometimes never.

Numbing and Avoidance

The second survival skill set is called numbing and avoidance. Our brains are designed to pay attention to threats, which means extraneous stuff like emotions go into a box. The brain is also designed to rapidly adapt to whatever is going on, which means the first dead person is very upsetting, the second, not so much, and by the third, you may be numb as a stump. This keeps you able to keep fighting and doing your job, saving yourself and others. (In medicine, this is called professionalism.)

Trauma/combat happens so fast that you can’t take it all in, so you may forget all or part of some particularly horrific incident, which is your brain’s way of protecting you. Unfortunately, those details remain in the emotional/non-verbal parts of the brain and may cause you a bunch of trouble later.

Once you have been in combat, you may not be expecting to live long. You know, on the most basic level, that life can end in an instant. You’ve seen it. You will also probably feel like other people can not understand, that you are different, so you get detached and estranged from people. Part of this is because after your buddies are killed, you protect yourself by not attaching to new guys, but it is also a reality you are going to face for the rest of your life.

Your brain has been changed by combat. And OTHER PEOPLE CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH. I learned this when I came out of the movie Platoon and said to my husband, “That was so awful!” He looked at me, almost puzzled, and finally said, “It’s worse when it’s real.” That statement hit me hard, and I realized I will never know. I may want to understand, but if I am honest, I know I can’t.

On top of this, people say such shitty things to combat vets – “Did you kill anyone?” “Why aren’t you over it yet?” etc. – that you know they don’t understand.

Then you start to avoid things that remind you of the trauma. You avoid thoughts and feelings that remind you of the war, so if you were happy and your squad got hit, you may decide you will never be happy again. If you feel it was your fault, you may decide you will never be wrong or feel guilty again, which will make you self-righteous and argumentative and critical of others. If you love your buddies who died (and soldiers in combat are closer to their buddies than anyone) you may decide never to love anyone again. Next you avoid activities and situations that remind you of the trauma: driving, cookouts (burning flesh), crowds (bigger target), sports involving blood (hunting, football), movies, reunions, etc.

Avoidance behaviors are survival skills in that they help you avoid triggers which can cause strange, embarrassing behavior. And triggers can have children and grandchildren so that if a car backfired while you were watching kids play and you hit the dirt, the sound of kids playing can become a trigger too… The progression of triggers can get you to a point where you can’t leave the house. Avoidance is also a survival skill because it keep you from feeling a depth of pain that most people cannot imagine, a depth of pain that is quite illegal in America, the land of the “fine.” Once you are numb, it is much easier to stay numb. The commonest way to do this is alcohol, although almost any substance (drugs, food, booze, etc) or behavior (sex, gambling, internet, religion, shopping, TV, workaholism) will do.

Unfortunately, your brain also wants to figure out what happened, so you will also start re-experiencing the trauma. This is what brought PTSD to the attention of shrinks who were determined not to see it back in the 60s and 70s (the American Psychiatric Association’s denial and delusion period) so they think it is a weird re-experiencing disorder with associated weird behaviors. I’m lucky in that I knew my husband before he went, and after I found out there was such a thing as PTSD, I began to look at why these symptoms developed and how it would happen under the hammer of war. That is why I see PTSD as normal, meeting the need to survive built into all of us. (By the way, others who think like me include John Briere, PhD, and Sandra Bloom, MD, and some of the ideas I have mentioned here came from their work.)

I think the most helpful thing I can do for our returning vets and our vets who are being re-triggered is to blog about my take on PTSD as a normal response to war. If you take nothing else away from my blog, remember it is NORMAL TO BE AFFECTED BY WAR. NORMAL. NORMAL. NORMAL.

This article is a guest post from Patience Mason’s PTSD Blog. It was republished at Veteran Veritas with permission.

Free Mindfullness Classes For Veterans Start Soon

Good news from Purple Mountain Institute and
The Mindful Veterans Project.
The next MBSR classes begin in a few weeks. (MBSR – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – is a manualized, evidence-based, 8-week program.) Due to popular demand and the great need, we will be offering 4 classes. Classes on Monday and Wednesday are open and free
to any veterans (and their partners). The Friday class is only for women veterans,
and there is a Thursday class at Comin’ Home which is only for vets living there.
MBSR for Veterans - Monday

and Their Partners

MBSR for Veterans - Wednesday

and Their Partners

MBSR for Women Veterans
Thank you for your participation in and/or referrals to the MBSR classes.
Ask me about another program we offer – Mindfulness in a Round Pen.

Dr. Teri Davis
Purple Mountain Institute



Purple Mountain Institute has entered a contest to win a booth at Netroots Nation 2013. This is a large conference where we would have an opportunity to increase awareness of our program and perhaps find funding to allow us to continue growing.
Please follow the link, scroll down,
and LIKE Purple Mountain Institute.
Contest ends March 12.