“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (hereinafter PTSD) is thought, by many people, to be an outcome of around the last 15 or so years of global warfare. But tales from my family’s history, going back to World War One, reveal it to be an old, old sickness that had not yet been recognized. And anyway, they thought it affected only a scattering of the returning veterans.
However, book after book, following our Civil War also tell the sad tales of men coming home after the War, as changed, and never again the same husband, son, or brother as the one who had left them to fight for either the Confederacy or the Union. Which ‘side’ didn’t matter, war is war and the returning men were ‘Never again the same men who had left’. Call it whatever they might have, we now know it was also PTSD.
Parley Goodall, my mother’s younger brother, ‘came back’ from France of WW 1, and retreated to his farm fields in the then isolated small town of Santaquiin, Utah, and never again left their peace and quiet. Not even, I understand to go as far as Provo, or certainly not to Salt Lake City. And now I realize he was a lucky man, in that he owned fields that he could retreat to and be able to support his family in that manner.
But Parley left us words that, a century later, remain part of the family lore and vibrate with his emotions. His words were: “If there’s another War and they ask me to serve again, there will be two men who will never go. Me and the man who tries to make me.”
My Uncle served in the French Trenches, which faced a similar line of German Trenches. Neither progressing, but neither giving up. A yard ot two won today, with a yard or two lost the next, but either way, thousands of lives were lost in that back-and-forth futile maneuvering.
After WW 1, both France and Germany built over 3,000 concrete Bunkers which faced each other and became known as the Maginot and Siegfried Lines. And no matter how well built to protect, and to even keep the men’s feet dry, those Lines were found to be utterly useless when Hitler began WW 2 and thousands of airplanes flew over those expensive, supposedly uncrossable lines, as if they were not even there.
But getting back to PTSD, those early vets never recovered from what finally became known in WW1, as Shellshock, and also from Trench Foot, caused by living weeks upon weeks with wet feet. It was said, there were no dry feet in the Trenches, giving those men a condition that would be theirs for the rest of their days.
One man I know served in that most horrible final WW2 Battle of the Bulge and has lived a very full and productive life, in all ways, of home, family, church and business, but is only now able to allow small phrases and words of that time, to be spoken or appear in his writing.
The veterans of Vietnam and the Korean wars were for a long time almost ignored or forgotten, for they were the leftovers of LBJ’S most unwise and unpopular decisions, but that did nothing to alleviate the post war sufferings of those men. Aromas of gun powder, sounds of explosives, whether back yard fire crackers, Fourth of July celebrations, or even certain foods that were brought back and made their way to our own tables. A man I once knew from Magna left his own family dinner table, trembling and crying out in utter terror when such a dish innocently appeared at a family meal.
But today, the men and more and more women, are returning and their suffering is now recognized. Our hospitals are full of them, and Kenneth, a most likeable, busy, man I’ve known since his childhood, is battling his way back from Afghanistan, to a normal life in Arizona, with as much help as the overcrowded hospitals are able to offer.
If I, in my really sheltered life, can know of at least one veteran from the last century of wars and suffering, I flinch at how many others there must be. Let’s be kind, loving and understanding of anyone who has served and then blessed enough to return home. Whether it shows or not, each suffers from what has become known as The Invisible Scar.
They received those scars as they fought for me, you, and those who have never even heard of those old fights. So, for all who will carry that The Invisible Scar, plus the additional thousands whose scars are very visible with lost arms, legs, and upon their bodies, May God Bless Every Single One Of Them.