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memories of combat
healing the wounds
by lucy lediaev

To most of us in the United States, Memorial Day symbolizes the beginning of the warm months leading into summer. In the Midwest, lilacs and peonies put out their earliest blooms. Racing fans root for their favorite drivers at the Indie 500. Workers look forward to having a long weekend to relax and to enjoy friends and family at picnics and outdoor barbecues. Unless we have close relatives or friends in the military, we tend to forget the original intent of the holiday; the meaning is lost amid our celebratory activities. We wish each other “Happy Memorial Day,” forgetting that the day was initially dedicated to honoring our war dead.

I’ve lived through two Memorial Days now with a friend who is a well-decorated retired Army officer who saw combat during the Vietnam War. He is one of thousands who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by depression, flashbacks, emotional ups and downs, and many other symptoms. He experiences Memorial Day as a parade of ghosts—ghosts of the men and women he commanded and who joined him in harm’s way. A few of the ghosts still walk this earth, but many have passed on.

He is an officer who was out on the front lines with his subordinates; he has a purple heart to show for it. He was tough, did his job, and did everything he could to keep his people as safe as possible in a combat zone. Nonetheless, as a commanding officer he planned many funerals and memorial services for those he could not protect. He planned the services, but could not bring himself to attend them.

He goes to the Veteran’s Administration once a week for group therapy with other soldiers who suffer from PTSD. The meetings help, but as the senior officer there, he often finds himself once again in a supportive, mentoring role for others in the meeting. Worst of all, he finds himself observing a massive influx of young people returning from the Iraq war with the same PTSD symptoms he and his cohorts experienced during and after the Vietnam War.

He’ll assure you that he did his job, and did it well. He says he would do it again, but he also decries the senselessness and stupidity of war. It’s clear that he foresees the development of another group of “lost” young people--young people who will struggle to sleep at night, who will have trouble maintaining normal family relationships and friendships, who will fall into bouts of deep depression, who will have suicidal thoughts, who will be haunted by the faces of those who did not survive, and who will have survivor guilt, because they lived and so many others did not.

For the first time in over 30 years, he has begun to mourn outwardly for the fallen, for others who suffered losses, and for himself. He can’t talk much about the actual experiences that have brought him to the place he is today. But, he is starting to talk about his feelings. My only hope is that relating feelings and mourning losses will have a cathartic effect and let him, finally, begin to heal.


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

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lucy lediaev
5.29.08 @ 12:40p

From Yahoo News 5/29/08: The number of Army suicides increased again last year, amid the most violent year yet in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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