From Nam to Normal by Richard A. Price

From Nam to Normal: Battle of the Demons (CreateSpace, 182 pp., $8.99, paper) by VVA member Richard A. Price is a passionate, practical, well-organized handbook for Vietnam veterans dealing with PTSD.

Price makes no claims to be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. But in 170 pages he describes a lifetime’s worth of suffering with PTSD. He also includes a variety of useful techniques to help veterans back to normal. But he warns the reader: “Don’t kid yourself; the journey isn’t easy. But what has ever been easy for the Vietnam veteran?”

Richard Price spent many years teaching secondary school and college-level courses at Ohio State and Kent State Universities. His true passion surfaced when he began dealing with his fellow Vietnam War veterans and their PTSD. He credits Vietnam Veterans of America with providing him much-needed support in his work with Vietnam veterans.

In his book Price uses an impressive style in setting out his experiences and journey to normalcy. Each of the twelve chapters compares an aspect of the battlefield with a similar situation back home. The chapter titles include “The Firefight: My Symptoms Surface,” “A Friend in the Foxhole: The Value of a Buddy,”  “Search and Destroy: Attacking PTSD.”

Price spent two tours in Vietnam as a Seabee. He arrived on the first day of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and led a machine gun squad defending the Gia Le perimeter. Following Tet, he began working on Seabee construction projects. At the end of his tour Price flew home on a cargo plane that turned out to be a full of caskets.

“No one can expect a veteran returning from combat to be the same person he was before,” he writes. “That was expected of us, and for that matter, we somehow had that expectation of ourselves.” Price compares his home-front reception to an ambush that destroyed his dreams, and also set the stage for his PTSD demons.

Price explains that veterans often are unaware that their personal reactions often stem from wartime experiences, and that damage can be done to familial relationships as well is to self and property. The results often lead to escape through alcohol and drugs. Self-awareness and wartime buddies can help a veteran navigate this minefield on the road to recovery.

“The majority of people think of intervention as a positive thing,” he writes. “They couldn’t be more wrong.” This statement can be confusing, but Price makes it clear that it is necessary to be very selective in using intervention methods. Interventions in his own life have helped him overcome depression, but Price says that he still deals with depression and is always on the lookout for the triggers that send him down that road.

The chapter titled “Operation Normal II: My Continued Quest for Normal” is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Price tells of his love and pride for his family, but he also writes about how his PTSD hurt his family. He admits that instead of working to repair and strengthen his relationship with his wife, he immersed himself in work, a common symptom of PTSD.

In “Cans on the Wire: Triggers and Depression” Price explains “triggers” and their role in PTSD. He notes that there are many kinds of triggers, and that can make the identification of PTSD difficult. To a Vietnam veteran, dreams, the comments of a friend, or even a path through a forest can be triggers that bring on the fight-or-flight syndrome.

Nam to Normal discusses the role of movies in creating the image of a returning soldier. World War II movies produced heroes on the screen, while Vietnam War movies typically created a very different kind of image.

Price says that in writing this book he often suffered writer’s block. Anyone who reads his book will appreciate that he worked through the blocks. His book will help many war veterans on the long march to normalcy for a long time.

—Joseph Reitz

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