Home Front: Viet Nam and Families at War, by Willard D. Gray
When my nephew Chase called his grandparents from Iraq, he would ask my mother, "Gigi, what kind of car do you think I should buy when I come home?" She believes that he was trying to assuage her fears--the worst of which arrived August 7, 2005, when my sister Laura delivered the news from our brother Mark who simply couldn't tell our parents. The Marines had come to him in the middle of the night with the message that no family should have to bear.
George Bush has said during a recent press conference that our troops will remain in Iraq as long as he is president, a statement denying the mounting sentiment against the war. Soon after,an announcement was made that thousands of Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve have been ordered back to active duty.
If Chase had returned home in October, uninjured from his first tour, he could be in Iraq now. Some from his battalion are.
"Maybe we didn't try hard enough to talk him out of enlisting," my mother says over and over.
"What if" is something else we ponder.
And, of course, there's the abyss of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Would the experience of war have changed Chase? How could it not?
I am half way through the powerful book Home Front: Viet Nam and Families at War sent by its author, Willard Gray, who began corresponding after reading some of my articles. Gray's work is a tour of duty and dedication to the truth of military combat. He tells the stories of 12 families forever changed by the experience of Viet Nam, families who either lost a loved one to death or to a war that has never left their lives. If a son, husband, father, daughter, wife, mother (It is estimated that about 7,500 women served in Viet Nam) returned alive, he or she brought the horrors of warfare home, suffering and portioning out pain to those desperate to recover what was there before war. Some committed suicide after years of self-medicating; others were diagnosed with illnesses that resulted from Agent Orange exposure. Regardless of the symptoms, physical, psychological, or a combination of the two, war was the genesis.
Take Frank Hayes. His family watched and participated in the battles he fought after returning from Viet Nam. Gray, writing about Frank's son Joe, says, 'He talks about alcohol and rage, abuse and defiance. He talks about no ground beneath him. About spiritual free-fall. He talks about chaos.'
In the book, Frank is quoted, '...every day is a struggle to suppress memories and keep anger down.'
Gray writes about Frank:
Viet Nam has left him with a healthy skepticism of the U.S. government, especially its actions abroad. He's not adverse to the occasional conspiracy theory. He makes no bones when it comes to his own country's hypocrisy.
'In America,' he pontificates, 'everything is backward. The Christians are screaming for war. The priests are molesting the flock. Dissent is an act of cowardice. Conformists call themselves patriots.'
Willard Gray, himself, is a casualty of the Viet Nam War. His oldest son served more than two years as a Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) trained medic and came home a completely changed man. Plus, Gray is a casualty of another conflict--World War II, having joined the Army in 1944 with the promise of life-time health care.
That promise was a lie:
More precisely, they, along with the other branches of the service, under the direction of the original War Department (later designated the Department of Defense), made promises they would not be able to keep except as Congress legislated.