After that battle the whole company walked back to base camp. We were given three days off because we had been on patrol since Christmas and hadn't been back to base camp for almost four months. When we got back to base camp I went into isolation from everyone and everything. I was finally in a safe environment where I could mourn the loss off my dear friend. I just sat alone in my bunker and cried for hours.
I had a tremendous feeling of guilt – I blamed myself for Ladd’s death. I thought that maybe if I had acted differently he might not have walked through those hedges. I felt bad that I was angry during our last conversation and that I had walked off.
Three days later my company assembled at the exit base to go on another patrol. At that point I was almost a ‘short timer’ – I only had thirty-five days left. Minutes prior to leaving I informed the Captain that I was having problems with my teeth and that I wanted to stay behind to get some dental care. I did have a toothache, but it wasn’t that bad. The truth is that it still had only been three or four days since Ladd’s death. I blamed myself for his death. I also felt guilty that I couldn’t help the radio operator that had died in my arms. I just didn’t feel ready to go out and lead my company.
While I was in the dentist’s office I got word that my company had walked into an ambush. They had walked down a rail road track with hills on both sides. They were sitting ducks – the Viet Cong opened up on both sides. If I had gone out I would have likely been the point person, as usual, and I’m sure I would have been killed. But to be honest it probably wouldn’t have mattered where I was positioned. By day end, only 27 out of 126 comrades were standing.
After I got out of the army I was a misfit. Not that I was up to trouble, but literally that I no longer fit in. My values and views and mentality had changed. I wasn’t worse, just different. I could no longer take racial insults. Before, if someone called me ‘n*****’ or ‘boy’ I would pay them no mind. But I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t take the insults down south, so I moved north.
I got a job at a pharmaceutical company in Pearl River, New York. I was in the men's locker room when some college interns found out I was a Vietnam vet. They called me a baby killer and walked out. Some people spat on Vietnam vets. No one saw us as saviors. No one wanted to be around us.
Vietnam vets got a bad reputation for being unstable and violent. But the Vietnam vets I knew didn't seek violence, they sought to be alone. Sometimes I would just sit alone in my car and reminisce about all the things I felt guilty about – mostly I felt guilty about Ladd dying.
I tried to ignore my thoughts. I didn’t think of it as PTSD. I thought that the only soldiers who had PTSD were the ones who did something they shouldn’t have done during wartime. I was so bent on trying to hold my head high. I was overcompensating – I didn’t want people to think I was mentally distraught.
But I realized I never stopped thinking about Ladd. I never stopped feeling guilty for his death and replaying the events of that day in my mind. I came out of the service in 1970 but didn’t seek treatment for almost forty years. In 2010 I went to a VA clinic in Rockland County and admitted that I had a serious case of PTSD.
On the admission form I wrote down what had happened when Ladd got killed. Just doing that was helpful in itself. I was accepted into the program but I only completed half of it. I regret that. As I stand here telling this story I realize that I need to go back and finish the program.
The VA has been very helpful with helping me understand PTSD and how to treat it. I’ve been fooling myself to think I can be cured without finishing the therapy. But the treatment is helpful. I’ll go back and complete it one day. One day I know I’ll be cured.
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