Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest superhero of them all?

Smithsonian.com published The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories by Robin Rosenberg.

Rosenberg says, “As a clinical psychologist who has written books about the psychology of superheroes, I think origin stories show us not how to become super but how to be heroes, choosing altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power.”

Rosenberg says, “I’ve found that superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to.”

1. trauma

2. a life altering force is destiny

3. sheer chance

“At their best,” Rosenberg says, “superhero origin stories inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose.”

Reading Rosenberg’s piece in Smithsonian after watching “To Whom it May Concern, Ka Shen’s Journey” the previous night helped me understand his explanation. Ke Shen’s Journey was a documentary on the life of Nancy Kwan.

You may remember Kwan in “The World of Suzie Wong” (1960), or “Flower Drum Song” (1961). And in 1961, she won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer in film.

In fact, Kwan’s father was a hero. During World War II, he was a spy for the British and when the Japanese discovered what he was doing, he took his two, infant children and fled Hong Kong disguised as a Chinese peasant. Another Chinese spy working for the British in Hong Kong wasn’t so fortunate. He was caught and beheaded by the Japanese.

For Kwon, her life altering experience was the loss of her only child, a son from her first marriage. Bernie died at age 33 in 1996. He contracted AIDS from his girlfriend whom Kwan had cautioned him to avoid.

Bernie had unprotected sex with the girl he loved. He didn’t use a condom. The girlfriend died of AIDS first and Bernie stayed by her side and cared for her to the end. Eventually, when the virus threatened his life, he moved home so his mother and stepfather could care for him, and they watched the son they both loved die slowly over a period of three years as he wasted away.

Today, almost age 75, Nancy Kwan actively supports the study of AIDS and the promotion of AIDS awareness.

I think Rosenberg is right, because I’m convinced that what he explains is one reason why I joined the U.S. Marines and later became a classroom teacher in a barrio high school populated by violent street gangs. I made a choice. We all make choices, but why do we make such choices?

For me it wasn’t trauma—at least I don’t think so—that motivated me to join the U.S. Marines. I think it was the role models I saw in Hollywood films. For example, John Wayne’s movies. By the time I joined the Marines in 1964, John Wayne had been in 158 films. A few that stick in my head are: The Fighting Seabees; Back to Bataan; They were Expendable; Fort Apache; She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; Sands of Iwo Jima; The Horse Soldiers; The Alamo, and The Longest Day, etc.

Of course, no film compares to the reality of combat and coming home from war with PTSD and/or recovering from a severe combat wound. Those factors are also a life altering force.

It seems to me that there are a lot of people in America that are not inspired to be a hero or altruistic.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says that 8.1% of the U.S. population are veterans. In addition, the NY Times reported that less than 1% of the American population is serving in the active military.  What does that tell us about the rest of America—not counting the physically and mentally disabled, police, teachers and firefighters?

Discover John Kerry, Purple Hearts, PTSD and WMD

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

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PTSD and Homeless Veterans

In the Marines, we learned to never leave the wounded or dead behind.

I have lived with the symptoms of PTSD for forty-six years. I was fortunate. I was capable of holding down a job. I haven’t forgotten the homeless veteran I met in an alley early one early morning in Pasadena, California. I wrote about it in A Prisoner of War for Life.

The key is to learn how to cope. If you have PTSD, you will never get rid of it as if it were a cold or the flu. PTSD stays with you for life.

USA Today reported, “War might be making young bodies old. … The tragic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or battlefield concussion are all too evident. Even more alarming for researchers is emerging evidence that these newest American combat veterans — former GIs and Marines in their 20s and 30s — appear to be growing old before their time. Scientists see early signs of heart disease and diabetes, slowed metabolisms and obesity — maladies more common to middle age or later.”

Some veterans are so damaged from combat experience, that they become homeless.

The population of the United States is more than 314 million people. The US Armed Forces that protects America’s civilians numbers 1.458 million—less than one-half-of-one-percent of the total US population. In addition, there are about 860 thousand military reservists.

In fact, the number of military veterans in the United States in 2012 was 21.8 million—6.94% of the total US population.

It doesn’t matter the reason a US citizen joins the military—patriotism or a financial need—and fights in one of America’s foreign wars. The fact that he or she served and put his or her life on the line or risked serious injury in combat,  I think that the ninety-three percent of the population that never served and risked life and limb owes those veterans an obligation.

That also means supporting homeless veterans with jobs and shelter.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness says, “The nation’s homeless population … went from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 in 2011. … The only increase was among those unsheltered.”

However, “The national rate of homelessness was 21 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population. The rate for veterans was 31 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population.”


PBS Documentary on Homeless Veterans – WORTH WATCHING if you have the time.

The Veterans Administration is the only federal agency that provides substantial hand-on assistance directly to Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Veteran homelessness is a problem of national importance. According to a count on a January night in 2011, there were 67,495 homeless Veterans. And an estimated 144,842 Veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program in a recent year. Because of this, in 2009, President Obama and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the federal government’s goal to end Veteran homelessness by 2015.

An estimated 144,842 Veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program in one recent year.

Many other Veterans are considered at risk of homelessness because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends, substance use or mental health issues, and precarious living conditions.

The VA has a hot line to support veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. That number is: 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-4243-838) Source: VA.gov/Homeless

In recent months, I have been editing a novel about PTSD and homeless veterans.  It isn’t my work. It was written by Alon Shalev, the author of  The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale.  His next novel is titled, Unwanted Heroes (to be published soon). It’s a story about healing and/or the failure to heal from PTSD. A love story is part of the mix too.

_______________________
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

Low-Def Kindle Cover December 11His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

One Never Forgets

It has been forty-six years since I fought in Vietnam, and watching two movies rebooted my PTSD interrupting my sleep pattern. For years, I usually wake at least once a night and listen. However, since watching the movies, I wake every hour and listen to the night sounds.

In Brothers, one of the two brothers, a captain in the US Marines, goes to Afghanistan on his fourth tour of duty and becomes a tortured and abused POW.  After he is liberated and his captors killed, he returns home suffering from severe PTSD trauma. Tobey Maguire plays Marine Captain Sam Cahill and does a convincing job playing a veteran that is severely damaged by PTSD symptoms.

Watching Maguire act his part reminded me of my first decade back from Vietnam when I drank too much and often woke once or twice and carried a loaded weapon around the house checking the doors and windows.  More than once, when overwhelmed by a burst of anger, I punched holes in walls with fists.

The anger comes fast—one moment you are calm as a rusty doorknob and an instant later an exploding fragmentation grenade.

In the Valley of Elah, Tommy Lee Jones plays a father, who was also a Vietnam combat veteran, searching for answers to explain his son’s death soon after returning from Iraq. In this film, we see how war strips young men of their humanity—that thin veneer that comes with so-called civilization.

From Brothers, I was reminded of the homeless Vietnam veteran I met in an alley in Pasadena, California one early morning. He had been a prisoner of war and similar to the character Tobey Maguire plays, was severely traumatized with PTSD symptoms.

The VA rated the homeless vet I met in that Pasadena alley as 100% disabled by PTSD possibly explaining why he was homeless—not because he could not afford an apartment.  The disability from the VA was more than enough to support him.  However, most of that money went for drugs and booze for him and his homeless buddies.

Then there was another vivid image of a Vietcong POW being tortured by South Korean troops during a field operation I was on.  The South Koreans hung that Vietnamese POW by his heels from a tree limb and pealed the skin off his body while he lived.

In the Valley of Elah reminded me of an ambush where a team of Marines I was a member of went out in a heavy rain at sunset and after an hour or so of slogging through the gloomy downpour, we stopped in a rice paddy with water to our necks and stayed there for more than an hour waiting for complete darkness before moving into position. We shared that rice paddy with a very large king cobra.

In the Marines, one does not question orders—we do or die—so we stayed in that paddy knowing a king cobra was in the water with us.

Both of these films are dramatic examples of what war does to young men and their families.

Some combat veterans avoid seeing films such as these two. However, I do not. I do not want to return to that time where I avoided talking and thinking of my part in the Vietnam War, because at night when we struggle to sleep there is no escape. We cannot hide from the monster that came home with us living inside our skin as if it were an unwanted parasite.

Discover A Prisoner of War for Life

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

From Memoir to Novel – the metamorphosis of a manuscript about war as hell – Part 1/3

I started writing my next novel “Running With the Enemy” in 1981 as a memoir of an American Marine serving in Vietnam in 1966.

In 1981, I was working toward an MFA in 20th century American literature/writing at Cal Poly Pomona where I earned a teaching credential in 1975 – 76.

I never finished the memoir and only wrote about 200 pages. In fact, the first forty pages took several months to write. It was on page forty-one that I arrived in Chu Lai, Vietnam by climbing down a boarding net into a landing craft in one of the Marine Corps last major amphibious landings.

However, later in the 1980s, I brushed the dust off that unfinished manuscript and enrolled in UCLA’s extension-writing program. My workshop instructor was Marjorie Miller and she recruited a few of her students into her off-campus workshops held in a small room above an Italian restaurant in Westwood near the UCLA campus. For several years on Saturday mornings, I drove 135 miles round trip to attend Miller’s workshop

There was a big difference in the quantity and quality of writing among twenty or more students in a UCLA classroom and the five or six writers around that table in a rented room above an Italian restaurant—same instructor with fewer writers meant more time for each writer.

After I read the first chapter of my Vietnam memoir, Miller said it was not going to work and I should consider writing it as a novel.

Miller was a tough taskmaster with a short fuse. She was NOT an advocate of fluffing up a sense of false self-esteem with warm fuzzies and was not into, “Let’s all have fun and follow our dreams.”

She was a tough and sometimes harsh critic. Miller understood that for most individuals to stand a chance to achieve his or her dream would require dedication and discipline in addition to never stop learning the craft of writing.

I recall that I revised one chapter more than thirty times and Miller lost patience more than once with me for taking so long to fix the problems in that chapter.

Moreover, I wanted to include as much reality as possible in the novel, so I borrowed from my experiences in Vietnam, the experiences of my fellow Marines, and what I discovered about the war later.

For example, early in 1966, a Marine in my unit, a cook, murdered the father of a Vietnamese adolescent that he either raped or paid to have sex with him. The cook claimed that he found the girl working in a rice paddy and offered her fifty US dollars to have sex with him. He said she agreed and while they were in the act, the girl’s father caught them. Later, the girl would identify the cook as her father’s murderer in a lineup, and he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years to life in a federal prison. At least, that’s what we were told, and then the cook was gone—shipped out.

That cook wasn’t the only American soldier to rape and/or murder innocent Vietnamese citizens.

Continued on June 21, 2012 in From Memoir to Novel – the metamorphosis of a manuscript about war as hell – Part 2

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

The Recon

I was one of four Marines in two jeeps. We were Marines but we were not Recon Marines. Two of the four were officers. One was a staff sergeant, and I was the radio operator with equipment so old that the three spare batteries had a better chance of being dead before me. Heck, they were feeding us twenty-year old C-rations. The sides of the boxes were stamped 1945 and it was 1966. Proof that the Marines don’t waste anything.

What was more dangerous? The food we were eating or the Vietcong. It’s good to be stupid and nineteen—not knowing about botulism. Besides, I liked the ham and limas.

The 1st Marine tank battalion was involved in a field operation with a South Korean unit—the kind of soldiers you want on your side. The US Marines and the Koreans, along with an ARVN unit, were forming a box to trap a regiment of North Koreans.

We drove ahead of our troops to check the depth of the rice paddies making sure our tanks wouldn’t be bogged down. Every mile or so, we would stop and the officers, a major and a lieutenant, would take a long pole and poke a paddy.

Once we were fifteen to twenty miles ahead of our lines, I lost contact with our people.  I switched batteries until I’d tried them all. Then we rolled through a recently deserted village where I saw the Vietcong flag and radio antennas sticking from the top of a tree.  Food was still cooking on open flames inside empty huts.

I pointed them out, and the staff sergeant said, “Don’t tell the officers. They don’t need the worry.”

Thirty miles in front of the lines, the officers were busy poking a rice paddy when I spied a line of muscular men in peasant clothing coming toward us. I was squatting behind the second jeep watching our rear holding a fifty-caliber Ingram submachine gun. I was dressed in camouflage, the jeep was olive green, and I was squatting in shadows. These guys were approaching from the rear and the staff sergeant and officers didn’t know.

I felt like an orphan about to be molested.

When that line of men reached the dirt road and climbed from the rice paddy, I stood so they could see my weapon and me, the skinny Marine who had gained twenty pounds in boot camp and was no longer invisible if he turned sideways.

A fifty caliber Ingram submachine gun with a fifty-round clip will cut small trees and men in half. Once you pull the bolt and let go, the entire clip empties.  There was another clip taped to the first one. It’s a quick change.  You aim to the left of the target and the recoil swings the weapon in an arc to the right.

They saw me and, still walking military fashion, crossed the road, went down the other side into the next rice paddy and kept going. No one shot at us on that recon, but this kind of memory causes you to wake sweaty at three in the morning listening. I remember thinking that maybe my hands were too slick with sweat to pull the bolt and fire.

Discover The ambush; the king cobra and the water buffalo

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

The ambush, the king cobra, and the water buffalo

Often, the memories wake me in the dead of night, and I listen carefully to every sound. Sometimes, I remember one rainy night with the King Cobra and the water buffalo.

If you have never been in combat, you may not understand what happens for a soldier to develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress). I wrote about one event in the short story, A Night at the Well of Purity. I’ve written about others here and in a few of the poems I’ve posted on Authors Den.

It was 1966, and the rain was coming down hard as we left the safety of our base camp. The First Tank Battalion sat on a hill centered on the First Marine Division’s perimeter at Chu Lai, a spit of sand jutting into the South China Sea. Concertina wire, bunkers, and a platoon of flame tanks protected the camp. There were two adjoining hills. One held an artillery company. The third held a company of Ontos, a self-propelled, lightly armored anti-tank vehicle that mounted six M40 106 mm recoilless rifles.

Military intelligence had reported that there might be several boatloads of Vietcong moving down a canal that night near our hill. On our way to set up the ambush, we avoided the villages and moved through rice paddies instead of walking on land. The idea was to stay out of sight. As the radio operator, I was situated in the center of the column of poncho clad Marines.

When a Vietnamese farmer was seen working in an adjacent rice paddy, we squatted with the dark paddy water to our chins and propped our weapons on our helmets. The rain was coming down in sheets. That was when I saw the full sized King Cobra. It was moving parallel to our column about ten feet from my position. Its hood was open as if it were ready to strike. I watched as the head dropped into the water among the bright green shoots of rice and vanished. The King Cobra is the world’s longest poisonous snake and can reach a length up to 5.6 m (18.5 ft). It can easily kill a man with a single bite.

We had to stay submerged in that rice paddy, so I imagined that King Cobra moving below the water toward me. Every inch of my body tingled, and I wanted out but I did not move. Time slowed to a snail’s crawl.

Later, we slipped into position on the dike that ran along the canal with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) on each flank. Hours went by. Marines fell asleep, then the world exploded with the roar of those BARs. Everyone joined in, and the night was filled with glowing tracer rounds.

At dawn, we discovered one tough water buffalo staggering around full of holes. There was no sign of any dead Vietcong, but that was not unusual. The Vietcong often took their dead with them.

Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Booze, the Veteran and coming home

I drank a lot after returning from Vietnam. One night during the thirty-day leave home, before reporting to my next duty station at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, I stopped to buy a fifth of cheap vodka at a local drug store. I drank that vodka straight from the bottle at a friend’s apartment waiting for him to get off work at two a.m. He was a cook at a twenty-four hour coffee shop in West Covina.

Around two, Doug called and said his car wouldn’t start. He asked if I would pick him up. By that time, I’d finished two thirds of the vodka and was feeling no pain. I hadn’t had anything to eat for hours, and I’d already made two trips to the bathroom to dry heave before drinking more vodka.

Doug lived with his six-month pregnant girlfriend. Luckily, she went with me.

At two-thirty in the morning, I was driving on the San Bernardino Freeway through West Covina having trouble staying in one lane. Speed wasn’t a good idea, so I kept the car between twenty-five and thirty while weaving back and forth across three lanes. No one was passing me.

Then the flashing red lights came on behind me, and a West Covina police cruiser pulled me over. When the officer told me to step out of the car, I admitted I was drunk and said I would have trouble standing.

However, the officers wouldn’t let me stay in the car. Once outside, I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket. My military papers were there too and they fell to the ground. I didn’t know I’d dropped them, but the second officer saw the papers and picked them up. While I was leaning on the hood trying to steady the dizzy world around me so I wouldn’t fall over, the second officer was reading that I had just returned from Vietnam.

The officers talked while I leaned against the car to keep from falling over. They asked Doug’s girlfriend if she could drive, and she said yes. They didn’t ask to see a driver’s license. That was a good thing. She didn’t have one. With her driving, we got Doug and returned to his apartment where I crashed on the couch.

It was early January, 1967. No ticket was written. All these years later, I think those two West Covina Police Officers understood the kind of trauma war dishes out and must have felt that one drunk Marine just back from combat didn’t need to end up in jail on a drunk driving charge.

During all those years of protests against the Vietnam War, I would see this type of behavior from the police in other cities. I don’t believe many police sided with the war protesters. They understood what it was like to be under fire and how it messed with your mind.

Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”