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
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.
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