No Strings Attached by John W. Carlson

51r8zikgdql-_sx331_bo1204203200_

John Bultman enlisted in the Marine Corps and arrived in Vietnam at age nineteen in 1967. He spent thirteen months as a courier for the First Marine Air Wing at Da Nang. He also helped defend the base perimeter as a rifleman during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Bultman’s courier runs to outlying posts by helicopter, Jeep, light aircraft, and river patrol boat exposed him to “war’s dreadful brutality,” he says. The sight of dead bodies, “especially women and children,” created his “most horrible memories.”

Later in life, Bultman talked fervently about the Marine Corps to John W. Carlson, a drinking buddy and a feature writer for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana. Fascinated by what he heard, Carlson has written a book about Bultman’s life called No Strings Attached: John Bultman’s War as a Marine in Vietnam, and Its Aftermath (CreateSpace, 78 pp. $10. paper).

This short book provides a lucid image of Bultman’s personality, depicting his weaknesses as well as strengths. Best of all, Carlson shows that Bultman has a sense of humor about the world in general and an ability to laugh at himself when appropriate.

As the subtitle suggests, Bultman’s war experiences fill only half of the book. The “Aftermath” focuses on Bultman’s playing the banjo and battling PTSD.

After the war, John Bultman bummed around on beaches near San Diego, worked with Vietnam Veterans Against War, returned to college but dropped out, and then discovered and taught himself how to play the banjo. Love of music led him to the love of his life—Janan—who played the piano, flute, and mandolin. They married, had two daughters, and enjoyed success in the music business until PTSD overwhelmed him.

Bultman’s years of treatment for PTSD included two months as an in-patient at a VA hospital. Survivor guilt haunted him.

267x267-2d1fdaa5-3bb0-474e-8476f194863d8de0“When John describes his treatment, it takes on the aura of sweaty, physical effort,” Carlson writes, “’Oh, shit,’ he recalled. ‘It was hard, hard, hard work. My life changed dramatically,’ he said, though he noted his treatment wasn’t exactly a panacea. ‘I was not as angry.’ Still, even in the face of success, he doesn’t take such good news, such progress, for granted. He admitted, ‘I’ve never met a Vietnam vet that wasn’t grumpy. Every day, it’s always something. It’s just that now the level is different, of course.'”

To me, these four quotes quietly explain that PTSD is a lifelong problem. Along the way, a VA doctor declared Bultman one hundred percent disabled by the disorder.

Carlson’s No Strings Attached is what it is. Basically, he adds another witness to confirm the severe damage incurred by young minds exposed to traumatic situations.

—Henry Zeybel

What Have We Done by David Wood

51nfom-gthl

In What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars (Little, Brown, 304 pp., $28, hardcover; $14.99, E book), David Wood, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and war correspondent, thoughtfully and often startlingly shows that men and women who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were well-prepared for “the art of war,” but woefully ill-equipped to deal with what the psychiatrist Jonathan Shay calls “moral injury” in his 1995 book, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character.

“The U.S. involvement in Vietnam was a watershed in our understanding of war trauma,” Wood writes, “but because several of the indicators of PTSD—anxiety, depression, anger, isolation, insomnia, self-medication—are shared with moral injury, it took time for therapists and researchers to unbraid the two.”

Wood’s interviews with deployed troops strongly illustrate what he calls “the loss of a warrior’s moral guidepost.” Describing Marine Cpl. Sendio Martz whose patrol was hit by a command-detonated device in Afghanistan, for example, Wood notes that men in the patrol suffered mild traumatic brain injuries and assorted other injuries. “But the moral damage was worse than that,” he writes, because Martz and his men broke an unwritten rule by befriending an Afghan boy.

Martz reported that “the boy eventually would turn in villagers’ weapons, and would point out places where IED’s had been placed. Then one day the boy disappeared—and a few days later came the IED blast. Soon they found out it was the boy himself who set off the charge.”

The moral repercussions of the boy’s betrayal surfaced later. “Back home at Camp Lejeune,” Wood writes, “Sendio found himself replaying the IED blast detonated by the kid over and over in his mind.” Wood has conducted many interviews like this, revealing the distinction between PTSD and moral injury.

Another distinction Wood discovered while with the Marines in Afghanistan centers on chain of command. Wood reports that “higher ranks (referred to, usually not fondly, as “Higher”) make strategy, write doctrine, and devise tactics.” The lower ranks, which Wood calls “the blue-collar, working class of the military,” are “mostly young, mostly enlisted soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines who are the infantry grunts, the trigger pullers, the wrench turners, the watch standers, the tank drivers, the helicopter crewmen, the medics.”

The book includes statistics that may appear as dry as a Social Science textbook, yet behind every stat is a human element. Comparing this century’s conflicts with those of  previous years, Wood writes: “These new wars also threw young troops into legal and moral swamps that GIs of past wars could hardly imagine.” Even “attempting to follow the rules could lead to sickening self-recrimination.

wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

David Wood

“Lieutenant Colonel Rob Campbell commanded a cavalry squadron in eastern Afghanistan. One night, Campbell said, overhead surveillance showed what looked like a team of insurgents planting IED’s beside a road. Certain that [the Rules of Engagement] and international law had been satisfied, the staff called in a strike, killing the civilians who were actually farmers planting seeds. ‘It was horrible, something I’ll have to live with,’ Campbell said.”

Wood cites one instance in which a soldier who happened to be an atheist incurred moral injury almost immediately after an action in which he killed an Iraqi insurgent. “The soldier was near the end of his deployment so killing was not new to him,” Wood writes. “What was new was the circumstance. ”

The soldier “found the dead man’s wallet and opened it. Inside, a weathered snapshot of a man posing with several women and children. The man in the picture now lay dead at his feet. So he felt guilty about that.”

Atheist or not, this soldier suffered a moral injury, one of many masterfully recorded in this book.

The author’s website is davidwoodjournalist.com

—Curt Nelson

 

 

 

Tin Can Treason by Terry Nardone

41aqjlddjyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Terry Nardone’s Tin Can Treason: Recollections from a Combat Tour of Vietnam (CreateSpace, 159 pp. $12.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is a tell-all memoir about life aboard a United States Navy destroyer and the dynamics of the relations between crewmen. Worried about the draft and an infantry assignment, Nardone enlisted in the Navy the day after his eighteenth birthday in 1971. Despite getting his dream sheet fulfilled, he ended up on a ship that went to war.

“Are we men or boys?” Nardone asks several times while thinking through his Vietnam War experience aboard the USS Bordelon (DD881). As part of his treatment for PTSD and guided by “a diary of events,” he writes about his shipboard life in the voice of his younger self in a quest to understand the trauma he still feels nearly fifty years later.

Fear and depression played significant roles in the lives of men on the Bordelon during her round trip from Charleston, South Carolina, to the South China Sea between October 1972 and April 1973. Nardone describes attempts to sabotage the ship as proof that the crew hated the war and wanted no part of it.

Off the coast of Vietnam, the Bordelon primarily provided gunfire support for ground forces and took part in Operation Linebacker. Except for one engagement when he went topside, Nardone spent his combat time below deck setting fuses and moving artillery shells.

His contempt for the war peaked when the Bordelon bombarded and “killed about eighteen [friendly] Marines,” he says. He felt an equally tragic loss when he saw a close friend “cut right in half by the steam” from a ruptured 600-PSI line. In combat, tasks that stressed the ship’s structure made “the old beast feel like she [was] going to disintegrate,” Nardone writes, and the crew twice retreated to Subic Bay for repairs.

Nardone talks about the boredom of sailing long distances and says a few crewmen likened it to a prison sentence. He seemingly holds back nothing in describing stops that developed into orgies of drinking booze, smoking dope, and finding whores or girlfriends in port after port. A confessed self-abuser, Nardone nevertheless questioned his behavior, wondering if he “would still have nightmares and problems if [he] did not get stoned.” Frequently in trouble with the ship’s captain, Nardone once spent three days in the brig on bread and water.

The book’s title is deceptive: “Treason” is not clearly defined and might be viewed from multiple perspectives. Suspected of the most flagrant crimes, the ship’s captain was relieved of his command, confined to quarters, and arrested upon returning to the United States.

terry20nardone20-20mlk202016

Terry Nardone

You could call this a coming-of-age story except that Nardone was a world-wise young man who exerted significant influence on his shipmates. He makes an airtight case for the strength of friendships and confidences that develop among workers in physically restricted surroundings, such as the hundred men on a destroyer.

Reviewing something like a memoir a week for “Books in Review II” for the past year and a half, I have read few accounts of the Vietnam War written by sailors. Until now, the most memorable book I’ve read about the Navy was Brown Water Runs Red by Bob Andretta, which mainly covers action on South Vietnamese rivers.

Tin Can Treason differs by telling more about people and the ship rather than the action. Yet Terry Nardone clearly spells out the impact that the war had on everyone and everything.

He closes his book with a history of the Bordelon from its 1945 commissioning to its 1977 sinking as a target.

—Henry Zeybel

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

51bzseqlenl

I first read Sebastian Junger’s important essay, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Twelve, 192 pp., $22, hardcover; $12.99, e book) in a shorter form in the June 2015 Vanity Fair under the title, “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield.” Junger is best-known for his 1997 creative nonfiction book The Perfect Storm. and for directing the Afghanistan War documentary, Restrepo. Tribe, a small book with large margins and big print, is moving and important beyond its size.

Junger is that messenger who brings bad news. Bad news we need to hear and to listen to. Bad news that brought tears to my eyes in the reading.

As Karl Marlantes, the former Vietnam War Marine lieutenant who wrote the novel Matterhorn, says on the jacket: “Sebastian Junger has turned the multifaceted problem of returning veterans on its head. It’s not so much about what’s wrong with the veterans, but what’s wrong with us. If we made the changes suggested in Tribe, all of us would be happier and healthier. Please read this book.”

Junger brings to light several aspects of modern military service that differ markedly from how it was during the Vietnam War when the military draft was a fact of life for every young American man. Voluntary service today, he writes, “has resulted in a military population that has a disproportionate number of young people with a history of sexual abuse.” He goes on to explain that military service is an easy way for young people to get out of their homes. One result is that the military draws an imbalance of recruits from troubled families.

“This was not true during the draft,” Junger says. And this state of affairs, Junger and others believe, has driven up the military suicide rate.

 

storyimage-image-10438

Junger

Speaking of PTSD, Junger notes that even “among the regular infantry, danger and trauma are not necessarily connected.” Rear-based troops, on the other hand, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War “had psychological breakdowns at three times the rate of elite front-line troops, relative to the casualties suffered.” That’s because, he says, the troops with rear-echelon jobs did not get intensive training nor the exposure to danger that creates unit cohesion and therefore generally did not develop strong emotional bonds in their units.

Junger also directly addresses the problems that infect America today—the vast gulf between two sides in a culture war. “It’s hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic boundary,” he writes, with “rampage shootings happen[ing] so regularly that they only remain in the news cycle for a day or two.”

As Karl Marlantes advises, read this little book for advice on what we can do to remedy what has afflicted America. There are no easy answers.

Junger’s website is sebastianjunger.com

—David Willson

Crazy Me by Thomas Bixby

51gm7j6cwjl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Most autobiographies are written to inform readers about the events in the life of the author during a defined period of time. In that respect, Crazy Me: How I Lost Reality… and Found Myself (Micro Publishing Media, 204 pp., $15.99, paper) follows that practice.

The reader, however, once engaged in reading this book will find that it is not presented chronologically. The book begins in 1970 when Bixby’s symptoms of psychosis were at the worst. It then goes back to his Bixby’s childhood experiences, before returning to 1970 when he first sought psychological help.

The rest of the story is told chronologically, although Bixby goes back to his earlier experiences as they came up in the therapy process.The book finishes with chapters on life in recovery.

Tom Bixby, a member of Vietnam  Veterans of America who served as an MP and helicopter door gunner in the war, provides a very detailed account of the causes and history of his mental illnesses, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the descriptions of his life experiences are extremely graphic and unsettling. 

I believe this book would be excellent required reading material in an academic setting for a class leading to a degree in psychopathology. It is not a book for relaxed reading.

—A.R. Lamb

Russell’s Purple Heart by Russell D. Ward

41r7xdi4yfl-_sx390_bo1204203200_

Russell’s Purple Heart: Memoirs and Musings of Russell D. Ward, Purple Heart Recipient and Patriot (CreateSpace, 210 pp. paper; $4.89, Kindle) delivers exactly what its title offers. Russell D. Ward (with the help of Colleen Fitzgerald McCoy) tells his life story in the first three-quarters of the book. The rest consists of Ward’s explanation of his solutions to a dozen current worldwide problems.

Drafted into the Army in 1966, Russell Ward went to Vietnam the following year as a machine gunner on an armored personnel carrier. After six months, he was reassigned to an infantry company. Shot during the battle for Hue in 1968, Ward was shipped home when his wound did not improve “quickly enough.” Shortly before he was wounded, he recalls that “there were only three of us left of the twelve who started out in my third squad.”

The Vietnam War provided Ward with grisly and long-lasting memories. He describes the mutilation of enemy bodies in detail and wonders “why we had to act like such barbarians.” He talks of the deaths of comrades and the resultant punishment that battle survivors meted out against villages and people suspected of being Viet Cong.

“I have heard that a man is only as good as what he has gone through—that his life experiences form his character,” Ward writes. “This statement makes me believe that we, as veterans of war, who fought for our country, experienced these things for a reason and for some good purpose. At the very least, our experiences have taught us to be tough enough to keep on surviving. No matter what. I know that I have had my heartbreaks, just like everyone. But through all my struggles and heartbreaks, I have believed in myself because of my trust in the Lord to overcome the low points in my life. Vietnam taught me that.”

Early in the book, Ward paints picturesque scenes of growing up in West Buffalo, New York, during the 1950s and early 1960s. He takes pleasure in remembering fist fights with rival neighborhood gangs and pegging the speedometer of his ’58 Chevy. In every way, he enjoyed taking chances.

He returned to Buffalo after the war and found it difficult to cope with the changing social values. He fell back into the habit of taking chances. He experienced business and marital problems, depression, residual pain from his wound, and drug abuse. “My brain,” he says, “was cooked at the age of twenty-seven.”

bio20back20wo20text

Russell Ward at the Williamsville, New York, Purple Heart Monument.

Ward’s emotional burden lightened during his passage through middle age as the result of a successful second marriage and a quarter-century career with the U.S. Postal Service. Following retirement, he found a calling in promoting the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

This book was difficult to read because Ward’s suffering often resulted from his own mistakes, which he admits. He repeatedly fell for get-rich-quick schemes that I found frustrating because of their transparency. Nevertheless, I admire Russell Ward’s ability to restart his life after repeated crashes.

The author’s web site is www.russellpurpleheart.com

—Henry Zeybel

PTSD and Me by Richard M. Czop

PTSDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

One fact about war is that many survivors are forever wounded. Evidence is all around us. Wounds are visible on the ribbons veterans wear on their uniforms. Missing limbs and scars are proof of the horrors of war. But some of the most grievous wounds are not visible to the eye, and many who do not bear physical scars are still terribly wounded.

Earlier wars gave rise to the terms shell shock, battle fatigue and soldier’s heart. It wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychological Association officially adopted the term post-traumatic stress disorder–a mental health condition triggered by going through or witnessing terrifying events.  In  PTSD and Me (Schuler Books, 209 pp., $16.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) Dr. Richard Czop relates events that highlight his personal journey with PTSD. The book is also an indictment of the inadequate psychological treatment and understanding that was available to Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.

As a young, patriotic American, the author was a college student with many high school buddies serving in the military. After learning of his friend’s second wounding in Vietnam Czop decided to join up. He quit school and volunteered for the draft.

After Basic Training at Fort Knox, Czop was assigned to the Army Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston. While there he received word that his friend had been wounded a third time, leaving him paralyzed. In the ensuing months Richard Czop was able to spend a fair amount of time with his friend. While on the surface this contact may have seemed like a good thing, in truth it dragged Czop deeper and deeper into the abyss of guilt.

In his angst, and perhaps feelings of guilt, Czop took steps that eventually led to his assignment as a medic in Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division. Life in combat further exposed him to the fertile ground from which the seeds of PTSD grow. The book in vivid detail identifies the events—including the author’s own wounding—that led to his decades-long battle with PTSD.

Upon his return to the United States Richard Czop  graduated from college and medical school.  He was divorced twice and married three times, further evidence of the personal difficulty that exists when dealing with untreated PTSD. He also raised a family and had some problems raising his children.

Dr. Czop set up his own family medical practice and appeared to have a semblance of normalcy. But the normalcy was shallow and short lived. After hearing a speech by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Czop had what could only be called a PTSD attack. This event might not be medically described as such, but to this reviewer it influenced the progress of Czop’s PTSD.

li_czop

Dr. Czop

A series of political events surfaced Czop’s long-buried hostility toward the U. S. government. That culminated with a questionable government lawsuit, and made Czop realize that he had PTSD. The lawsuit bought Czop into contact with a lawyer who became a stabilizing voice in his life and greatly helped him come out of the darkness of PTSD.

Others helped, too, each one contributing something different. This validates the idea that there is no single pattern for PTSD.  Individuals manifest unique reactions to those around them. Triggering mechanisms include flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.

Czop’s book, I believe, would be valuable for those who have PTSD, for the PTSD sufferer’s friends and loved ones, and—perhaps most importantly—for those who help treat those who have  PTSD because of their service to their country.

—A.R. Lamb