Podcast: Play in new window
In this episode which is during the holiday season of 2014, we discuss what the holidays meant to the combat infantryman of the Vietnam War — especially Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s. And because it was during the Monsoon season, the added climate of wet, muddy and dirty constant rain added to the misery of combat during the war.
As you will hear in this audio episode, the term ANNIVERSARY takes on a different meaning, as the Vietnam Veteran today may suffer from intrusive thoughts, nightmares and depression from the memories that arrive — whether flashbacks or triggered by an image, a thought, a sound or an experience from the media.
The Anniversary for the combat infantryman during that war could be the Thanksgiving holiday — as was the case for me, personally — if entire companies or batallions were extracted out of the jungles, then inserted the next day, just for the sake of a commanding officer saying that every man of his unit received a hot, Thanksgiving day dinner.
But what about the casualties in such major extractions and re-insertions by airmobile assault? Somehow, in my opinion, the bragging rights seems to diminish in value and bring only the memories of enemy fire during the arrival and departure of the Hueys as they came in and out to either deliver the men or recover them.
As you know, the most dangerous moments during a Vietnam War Airmobile assault was the arrival of the helicopters, as they either hovered over the LZ (landing zone) for a second or two as the troops jumped out and ran for cover. And the Monsoon climate made it even worse, as foot-deep or knee-deep mud areas buried the combat infantryman or filled the barrel of his weapon with wet dirt and mud.
Or it could be the Christmas day holiday, also during the Monsoon season. For me, personally, it was an experience of misery during the wet rain and mud where our ambush unit was almost killed by friendly fire in the night due to an error of miscommunication with Cobra gunships.
Whatever the ANNIVERSARY may be, the misery of the wet and constantly rainy Monsoon season only meant cold and filthy conditions that always kept the combat infantryman feeling more muddy and abandoned.
However, the misery of the monsoon with the anniversaries they bring with them as baggage from the wartime experiences are not for the Vietnam Veteran alone.
The Monsoon and jungle misery also extends to the WWII veterans who fought in the Pacific — like my old unit, the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) in Cebu, Bougainville, Guadalcanal and the Philippine Islands. And other units who fought in New Guinea and other islands shared the same misery during conventional war from either an entrenched enemy or one that fought as strike-and-run guerillas.
However, thanks to the counseling and treatment given to Vietnam Veterans for PTSD and other disorders, many sessions have been oriented to focus on the Anniversaries and how to cope with them to minimize the depression and trauma that they bring back –especially by the latest peer counselors, who are themselves Vietnam combat infantry veterans.
Perhaps now the family members and loved ones that could not understand earlier why the Vietnam Combat Infantry Veteran got the “jungle-jitters” during the Holiday season with rainy climate can appreciate the strained relations of miscommunication due to the mental anguish when Anniversaries (such as holidays) are celebrated by civilian non-combatants, but avoided by those who suffered during the war.
Select this link to listen to the audio episode in another window.
Copyright (c) 2014, Matrix Solutions Corporation. Photos, copyright (c) 2014, VIETNAM magazine, Oct. 2014 – Bettman/Corvis and Feb. 2015 cover, and Carl Jacobs, Americal library, 2014, 196th LIB).