Am I a Monster?
Daily, we are hearing and reading more about the suicide rate in the military.
In addition to those dismal statistics, it has become mainstream news that many people returning from one or multiple tours, from Iraq or Afghanistan, are coming home broken.
Many face challenges beyond their abilities to cope.
Many find family relationships frayed beyond repair.
Many cannot find employment.
More are showing up on the streets homeless and lost.
Many are wandering around inside their heads, trying to avoid the message that they became a monster over there.
Mike, a Seattle resident, faced the fury of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese when they swooped down on the South Vietnamese, American, and allied troops on 20 January 1968, forever known as the Tet Offensive.
Mike was part of the intensive fighting around Huế that lasted a month.
It concluded when the city was destroyed, as the Communists were executing thousands.
Mike spent another seven months slogging through the muck in pursuit of the VC.
After his tour and a rotation back to Pendleton, he left the Marines in hopes of putting it all behind him.
He never did-
Mike spent the rest of his life getting high and incredibly drunk whenever he could. He couldn’t hold a regular job, so he honed his skills working with stone. He was good at molding boulders to his will in the most remarkable ways. His talent brought him work, as his addictions burned up the money.
His relationships were destroyed.
His kids avoided him.
Four trips to 21-day rehab clinics did nothing.
He couldn’t find any peace.
He couldn’t stop drinking.
As the years passed, his military service became more irrelevant.
The monster that his inner voice created only quieted when he was out cold in an alcohol daze.
1968 might as well have been when the dinosaurs roamed.
Mike was irrelevant.
Mike was alone.
Mike was dying inside.
Iraq and Afghanistan got all the news.
Mike had a tough time talking about his experiences beyond clipped words that slipped out halfway down the bottle of Jack.
He knew I knew, so not a lot had to be said.
He experienced what I had not, but he knew I knew.
We hung out quite a bit.
Mike’s reactions, and integrations of his experiences, are not all that unique to many I know or knew who fought in Vietnam.
Many returned to live out “normal” lives.
Many did not.
Many still deal with the stink of the jungle and all it brought to their young souls.
Mike died of guilt.
Sure, his liver was shot from years of booze.
The docs also blamed Agent Orange, though that may have given him some last-day insurance coverage and to lesson his deathbed shame.
His family had gathered around his hospital bed though he may have never known it, as he never opened his eyes those last few days.
Mike was a good guy broken by more than he could ever carry.
The following quote, carried by the AP, is the truth, whether we want to accept it or not.
“… WASHINGTON (AP) –A veteran of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, former Marine Capt. Timothy Kudo thinks of himself as a killer – and he carries the guilt every day. “I can’t forgive myself,” he says. “And the people who can forgive me are dead.”
Mike, I’m sorry that there was no cure for you and no relief from your guilt.
I miss you-