When I returned from Vietnam in 1971, I was not the same young man who entered that war with determination, patriotism and a positive attitude. There is nothing glamorous about war. It is a miserable life filled with experiences of unimaginable horror, with moments of burning fear and with the crushing emptiness in your soul because of your dead friends.
Each soldier fights his own war against the enemies that face him in combat; each man brings home memories based on his unique experiences. When he tries to merge into civilian life, he discovers that he is always alone even when he is surrounded by others. They cannot understand where he has been, what he has seen and what he must carry around with him for the rest of his life.
With the memory of two wars, I have known many fellow warriors who have come home to face their families as well as the demons of the mind. Even within this last year, my job as a police officer has brought me into contact with recent war veterans. Some are doing fine; others have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and they are not adapting very well to life back here in the “world”, as we said in Vietnam.
Some of the troubled souls among us once stood tall and proud in their uniforms, they faced the enemies of their country with courage and fortitude and they did so with honor and integrity. When I meet these veterans, I try to remind them that they were once the elite members of their nation’s warrior class, that segment of society that is tasked with protecting everyone else. When they took off their uniforms, they didn’t remove the warrior spirit from their souls.
I haven’t been immune to post-war effects. My first two years after Vietnam were spent as a wanderer with little or no purpose. I lived responsibly sometimes, but I was often irresponsible. My wife Debbie came along like a rose after a storm and she helped me realize there was so much to be grateful for.
My training as a Ranger has always made me a hard-headed person. That training also taught me to never quit. Like almost everyone else, I have been knocked to the ground and I have endured both success and failure. We seldom know what we are made of until we fail or endure tragedy. Then we must get up, dust ourselves off and move on. It is this renewal that makes all the difference in life.
To my fellow warriors who cannot seem to find the way to cope with the memories of war, I ask them to remember who they were in battle. Reach into your soul and extract the essence of your warrior spirit. Put away the drugs and alcohol, stand up and move ahead with your life.
As you face a new day, you must re-awaken the pride you once had in yourself, you must stand a little taller and you must become a warrior once again. If you need help or someone to talk to, your fellow warriors will stand by you now just as they did in combat.
Nothing defeated you in battle and you will allow nothing to defeat you now.
You will never, ever quit.
SFC Chuck Grist