The Making and Un-making of a Marine by Larry Winters

Psychodrama provided the major impetus for Larry Winters’ recovery from PTSD. In The Making and Un-making of a Marine: One Man’s Struggle for Forgiveness (Millrock Writers Collective, 322 pp., $14.77, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle), Winters tells his life story, which was filled with anguish that began in childhood and continued into mid-life.

Winters’ father beat him repeatedly and, at times, unmercifully. Upon graduating from high school in 1967, Winters enlisted in the Marine Corps. “The way I saw it,” he says, “what could the Marines do that the old man hadn’t already done?”

His training at Parris Island answered that question. Many authors have described the punishing teaching methods used by boot camp instructors, but Winters offers a darker level of their physical cruelty than I had ever read.

After AIT and metalsmith training, Winters spent nearly two years stateside in a Marine Air Wing before sailing to Vietnam on the U.S.S. New Orleans. Exposure to the negative feelings of Vietnam returnees at home disillusioned him about the war’s purpose. He decided to go AWOL, but a traffic accident ended the attempt.

At Phu Bai and Marble Mountain, Winters joined what he calls the “dissident element.” He worked as a sheet metal repairman, spent three months on guard duty as punishment for the wrong attitude and misbehavior, and ended his tour as a CH-53 door gunner. He felt shame and guilt for serving in a war he did not believe in.

Discharged upon his return home, he married his high school sweetheart. Their happy marriage failed under the pressure of Winters’ difficulties with running his own business and failing to bond with a son his wife and he had carefully and lovingly planned for. He felt rejected in all relationships: parents, wife, child, and employees. Divorced, he drifted from place to place and job to job.

The book’s final section follows Winters (above) through his psychological rebirth. After he found Psychodrama, overcoming shame and guilt became his primary pursuit. Although taxing, the dynamic process of Psychodrama sessions shattered the emotional shield surrounding his PTSD.

The sessions fascinated me because of what they forced Winters to reveal. Part of his rehabilitation included a fatiguing trip to Vietnam where his travel group of veterans confronted and reconciled with NVA generals and foot soldiers. Eventually, Winters solved his own problems, and went on become a mental health counselor.

Originally published in 2007, the current book is a second edition. In a follow-on book, Live the Dream: No More Excuses, Winters explains his hard-learned strategies to gain financial freedom while maintaining balance between family, friends, and faith.

The author’s website is www.makingandunmaking.com

—Henry Zeybel

Brotherkeeper by Lawrence Winters

Lawrence Winters served as a U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War in 1969-70. The author of The Making and Unmaking of a Marine, he is a mental health counselor, and has returned to Vietnam to study PTSD in the Vietnamese people. He also has worked as Director of Veterans Treatment at Four Winds Hospital in New York.

Brotherkeeper (294 pp., $21.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle), Winters says, is a novel that explores “the relationship of veterans to their families and communities.” In 2013, Winters read the works of Jonathan Shay on Vietnam veterans and PTSD, and “realized moral injury had been the reason my soul would not return home.”  War’s affect on morality is a major theme in his book.

The main character is Jake Flynn, a Marine. He has not left his time in Vietnam behind and suffers from nightmares and flashbacks. He has a wife, Naomi, with whom he is not honest. Naomi wants Jake to be over the Vietnam War, which Jake cannot do. Naomi is very controlling on this issue. She allows Jake only “acceptable TV viewing, no VFW, no war discussion in his high school classes and no meetings with old Marine Corps buddies.”

Jake teaches high school, which seems a risky choice for a Marine veteran with PTSD. Disclosure: My father was a high school math teacher and a Marine Corps veteran—of Iwo Jima. He taught high school as a penance for having survived Iwo. I think perhaps Jake had similar motivations.

This is another book in which the characters keep secrets. “He’d been seeing Sam, the therapist, for three years, and hadn’t told him he was a Vietnam vet with a chest full of medals. All they ever talked about was his father.” I was so annoyed when I read that passage that I almost quit reading the book. But I persisted.

Another aspect of the novel that posed a serious problem for me was the frequent use of italics for no reason that I found justifiable. In Chapter 57, for example, there are twenty-three straight pages of italics. This is italics madness. A good editor would not have permitted this.

Larry Winters

One of Jake’s students wants to become a man by joining the Marines. He talks to Jake about that. Jake thinks that joining the Marines would be the worst decision he could make.

Another character dynamic is Howie Watkins, the Marine Corps recruiter in the small town. He’s so troubled by his job sending recruits into harm’s way that he attempts suicide. Howie says that his job makes him feel like a contract killer. Alma, Howie’s wife, is deeply concerned about Howie—for good reason.

A missing father, Shiloh, leaves behind a manuscript about his time in Marine Force Recon. That’s the 23-page section of the novel rendered in italics. Shiloh becomes an important part of the novel. Much is made of Indian sweat lodge ceremonies and their purification rituals. The sweat lodge ceremonies are accurately and respectfully portrayed.

Brotherkeeper is a complex novel dealing with war and moral issues. Aside from too much italics, there are also too many characters who smirk. And everyone in this novel seems to be related to a Marine, or was a Marine. I thought it was “the few, the proud.”

We get many of the usual clichés of Vietnam War novels: Marines don’t leave Marines behind, Agent Orange, Marines called baby killers, criticism of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for being “an Asian design,” and others. But they are appropriate to the characters.

Those looking for a serious novel about dealing with the moral injuries of the Vietnam War—and perhaps fans of the works of PTSD expert Edward Tick—will benefit from this book.

The author’s website is http://lawrencewinters.com

—David Willson