To read Broken But Not Abandoned: A Veteran’s Journey to Healing and Hope by Ronald L. Schwerman, (The Wordsmith, 226 pp., $14.99, paper 2013) is to watch a train wreck in slow motion. Because the book is written in the first person, the reader knows that redemption will occur at some point.
Schwerman’s story—which he tells with the help of David Aeilts and Grace Smith—reaches out and grips the reader on many levels. It is a page-turner.
Schwerman, who was born and raised in Minneapolis, often played around railroad tracks, sometimes hopping a train and riding for a few blocks with his friends. His father worked for the railroads, taught his son how to operate signals, told him railroad stories.
Schwerman’s dad was a veteran of World War II in the Pacific. The family home was a kind of battlefield involving fights between mom and dad, fueled with anger and alcohol. For anyone who does not know what it is like to live in an alcoholic’s family, this book is a must-read. Alcohol, it turns out, became a nemesis in the author’s life for decades as well. ‘
The book is clearly written, and Schwerman’s honest disclosure of himself is at a depth of which I have never before seen in a book. There is no doubt that such honesty was crucial to Schwerman’s redemption into a successful life.
On 27 February 1967, at Da Nang Airbase Schwerman, an airplane mechanic, was hit by a rocket. He lost both arms, one leg, and sustained critical internal injuries. After being hit, he was in such bad shape that a Navy corpsman pronounced him dead. For some reason, the corpsman who meant to throw his still-living body onto a pile of dead bodies, threw him onto a truck of wounded men instead.
The story of Ronald Schwerman’s journey from brokenness in mind, body, and spirit to a life with hope and possibilities has spanned more than three decades and in some aspects will continue for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he has now kicked alcohol off the train, and his faith in the power of God is his constant traveling companion. Schwerman, who closes some of his chapters with biblical quotes, writes that the divine power on which he relied manifested itself in the form of family, friends, and medical personnel.
His story includes two divorces and a third marriage. He alienated both of his daughters, who themselves spiraled into the darkness of drug addiction. His verbal abuse of his family is extremely painful to read.
Schwerman has now reached a level of healing and personal growth in which he can offer advice for a successful marriage, drive a van, and take trips with Eydie, his wife. Some of her thoughts on her husband’s life are included in the book.
Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 should be required reading for the families of veterans of any war, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These final pages provide information on PTSD and some clear direction for returning veterans.
“Waiting” is not an option, Schwerman says. “You have a problem that is affecting all of us. I have your back, and we will do this together, but you are the one with the services—you have to ask for the help.”
The author’s website is www.brokenbutnotabandoned.com