PTSD By Jon Larson

As heard on the Good Stuff with Jim Thompson - - - - - - - - - - - 

I was a Staff Sergeant in the US Marines stationed at Marine Corps Engineer School, Courthouse Bay, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It was 1979 and my last year in the military. One of my co-workers was Gunnery Sgt. John Doran. We worked together, went for runs over the noon hour together (my stamina was better, his speed was better, so we both pushed each other through our weak areas), and often had a beer or two together after work. We were friends.

John had served two tours in Vietnam and got shot up pretty badly towards the end. He spent six months in bed, first on a hospital ship then in VA hospitals stateside. He told me once during one of our runs that getting off the morphine was harder and more painful than recovering from the wounds and the subsequent rehab. In 1978 he married a widow and adopted her two grade school aged children, a boy and a girl. He was doing all the right things, getting his life together after a horrible period of combat, injury and addiction. 

I don't want to give the impression that all was well. It wasn't. John would go on the occasional weekend bender, but then we all did from time to time back then. The thing is, over the two and a half years that I knew John his benders gradually became more frequent and more epic, sometimes affecting his job performance the next day. We'd laugh it off, give him some good natured ribbing and cover for him. We took care of each other, band of brothers, camaraderie stuff. 

A couple of months before I reentered the World, John came to me asking to borrow four hundred dollars and offered to pay back half with each of his next two paychecks. His car had broken down and he was broke, having just bought furniture and stuff for the family. I loaned it to him with no qualms or reservations.  The next payday he gave me back two hundred bucks, just as we'd agreed. I'd expected nothing less. When the next payday rolled around, he gave me the other two hundred bucks, thanked me for helping him out, and left. I later learned that he took the rest of his paycheck to a pawn shop in town where he either purchased or reclaimed from pawn a handgun and ammo, then he went home and killed his wife and kids. 

WWII had shell-shock. Today's warriors have PTSD. Vietnam era guys had issues that we self-medicated. I don't blame the military. I don't blame society. I don't blame our government. It simply was what it was. Looking back it's obvious, the signs were all there, but none of us knew how to interpret them. I still blame myself, I can't help it. If you read this please please do NOT come back and tell me that it's OK, it's not my fault. I know this. I understand this. I was 26 when this happened and lacked the tools to either recognize or prevent this, but the mind and heart don't always compare notes so they frequently disagree.

I called back to old co-workers a couple of times over the next two years, but nobody ever knew any details. We'd been told to go on with our lives and let the civilian and military authorities handle it. Over the last year I've spent a considerable amount of time online looking for answers, but it's as if it never happened. I can find no record of the killings, court proceedings, anything. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if the case had been handed over to the military who quietly put John in a cell somewhere and squashed any news. It was easier then. I've gotta say that the lack of a resolution, the absence of closure doesn't help.

I write this in large part to try to work through my own feelings. Sometimes writing it down, seeing it in black and white, provides a little clarity or understanding. We'll see. What prompted me to write this was the outrage of veterans over the news that the VA might require psychological testing of veterans returning to civilian life and that the results of those tests could prevent some from being allowed to own firearms. To my knowledge, nothing ever came of this proposal but I can't say that I'd be totally against it. Since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars more Vets have committed suicide than died in those wars. I don't know how many killed others instead of themselves, some information is still hard to get. I do know that it happens because I was there when it happened, and Vets are trained to kill others while surviving themselves.


I have no answers. The questions I come up with just spawn more questions. I do know one thing: wars fought on foreign soil don't stay there, they come home with the participants.