History and Highlights from the Military Writer’s Conference 2017

Recently, the Military Writer’s Society had their annual Book Conference and Awards Banquet in San Antonio, Texas. What is it about a conference that brings you back motivated, energized and ready to write?  Networking!IMG_2475

The MWSA is chocker-block full of fantastic talent.  A group made up of active and retired military, military buffs, historians, writers, poets, and educators. The group spans several generations.  The youngest author?  A lovely, young, military dependent all of age 12, Grace Remey! There were representatives from World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Navy, Army, and Air Force.  What a collection of talent in one room.

The program’s theme was World War I this time, but there were presentations not only relating to history, but panel discussions and “how-to”s.  I was lucky enough to serve on a panel discussing Social Media and its impact on book marketing and networking.  Members included MWSA Awards Director, John Cathcart; award winning author Jack Woodville London; historian Dana Tibbetts and was moderated by MWSA board member Valerie Ormond.  Valerie, a retired naval officer is one of AgeView Press’s Valerie Ormond Belle of Steel.IMG_2483

Set at a historic and supposedly haunted hotel, The Menger, the locale was a perfect backdrop for a conference group that loves history.  The Menger sits directly across from the Alamo.  Many famous authors have written at The Menger such as Robert Frost and Oscar Wilde.  One couldn’t help but be inspired, not only by the architecture but the hotel’s grandeur and reputation.

The three day event provided a service program to veterans at San Antonio Medical Center.  “Telling your Story” focused on writing as therapy for PTSD.  Just gives you chills doesn’t it?  While there, a load of books from writers of the MWSA were donated.   One of the most popular talks was given on anthologies, which are collections of stories, either by one author, one subject or multiple authors.  Examples and standards of how to run a writer’s group were also a part of that presentation by Navy pilot Jim Tritten and Pat Walkow from the Corrales Writing Group of New Mexico. IMG_2486

On Saturday, the premier event was the 2017 MWSA Book Awards.  There were approximately 79 books submitted for scrutinization and review.  Many didn’t make the cut. A select few made the lists as finalists.  Awards of gold, silver or bronze medals were awarded based on strict criterion.  One of my books, Eternally at War was awarded the bronze medal in the category of memoir.  Admist this room of excellence, I was humbled. IMG_2502

If you have an interest in the military and writing, this is definitely a group you should check out.  Warm, welcoming, and advisory – they uphold a superior standard of literature.

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A young Texas woman turns tragedy into triumph. Meet Belle of Steel #15 Emily Allen Colbert

It’s the doorbell that no one ever wants to answer.  “There’s been a horrific accident,” emily-colbertexplained the policemen.  “It’s your husband.” Emily, a young wife and mother of two fell to her knees on the floor. There had been a car accident on Highway 66 in Rockwall. “Oh my God,” she cried out through tears.  “Is everyone okay?” But everyone wasn’t okay.  A vehicle had struck her Garland Fire Department husband’s car from the side.  The impact caused it to spin violently and roll with their oldest child.  Rockwall Fire Department was on scene. Her husband Devon was trapped inside the vehicle. The jaws of life were being used to cut him out. The car seat of her child was covered in glass shards, but miraculously he was unscathed. In just an instant, Emily’s life changed forever.  It was seven days before Christmas, 2012.

Emily threw her things into a bag and frantically called her mother to drive her to Parkland, one of two major trauma centers in Dallas, TX.  According to the policeman it was controlled chaos and they were still cutting Devon out of the car. He was alive, but in critical condition.  In the trauma bay at Parkland, there were already thirty Garland firemen surrounding her for comfort.  “He’s gonna be okay. We promise.” But he wasn’t. Not totally. The next bad news Emily would hear was from the ER physicians.  Devon’s spinal cord had been sublux’d, or pinched at cervical spine number four. This dashing, young, strong fireman became a quadriplegic at age 29.

Emily’s mother, a nurse, knew what that would mean. Devon would never walk again. Never run again. Never be able to put out fires, the job he loved, again. He would live the rest of his life in a chair with wheels. For most young women, this would be the kiss of death to a relationship; just too large a tragedy with which to cope. Because at first, everyone is helpful. Everyone is there. But it’s the heavy burden of long term care. Bathing your husband. Toileting your husband. Helping him to dress. Finding uncomfortable challenges with intimacy. Helping him find meaning in life. Thank goodness for the brigade of Garland and Rockwall firemen who came to their aid.

The first few months were pure torture. Rollercoaster’s of hope and despair. Their tiny home was not wheelchair accessible. But it wasn’t just the pragmatic day to day. Emily was exhausted from the protracted hours at rehab and caring for their two small children. She was bereft of energy or strength. She missed her husband’s caress. She missed the way he made love to her. She felt alone and, at times, hopeless. She had only one thing – her faith in God. She trusted in God’s love to win the day.

Over months, Devon slowly gained the ability to power his chair with his hands and shoulders.  He regained some gross upper body movement. Emily gave in to the generous charity and time that people provided so that she could get meals on the table and care for her children. Through it all though, she never considered this her rock bottom.  This was just another challenge that God had laid before her.

For years ago, Emily had indeed hit rock bottom. She was a gorgeous young twenty-something. Her life involved parties and partying. She dabbled in drugs and had become an addict; even when she had first met  Devon. She was at her lowest low. “My only option was to go up. I wanted to leave a life story worth knowing and reading. Not a life story of worthlessness and addiction. I chose to ‘forget about it – and left drugs behind. I chose joy.”

Upon that decision, everything changed.  Emily had a new focus on life and chose living. So she channeled that same strength in overcoming Devon’s accident. It had to have meaning. So many people had given to them to help them survive a life of quadriplegia, she had to give back. Emily started The Colbert Project, a non-profit foundation which raises money to bridge gaps for other facing financial ruin from tragedies throughout the fire community brought on by illness or off duty injury. Their mission?  To do behind the scenes work so that all the glory is given to God.

At their first event, a silent auction and ball, the seed money was raised. Now three years later, The Firemen’s Ball is one of the largest fundraisers of its kind in the Dallas area.  They have raised thousands of dollars to assist three families on a large scale and helped countless others with hospitalization care packages, gas cards, grocery money and so much more.

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Emily believes that because God blessed her little family, it is her job to return the goodness.  As a mere high school graduate, “Never in a million years would I have seen myself where I am today.”  She is a mother of two lovely young boys; the wife and life-long partner to a husband with quadriplegia; Chairman and CEO of The Colbert Foundation.  “This is a path that God chose me to tackle. I want to be remembered as a warrior doing good for others, not someone of stature in society.”

The people in life that most inspired her and mentored her to overcome are her grandmother and her parents.  “They are beautiful, unique creatures inside. That’s what counts.”  Despite her success, Emily is extraordinarily humble.  “I’m no one special. I’m just me. I live minute by minute, day by day. I never expected to face the challenges in life that God sent me.  I’m living and screwing up just like anyone else. I really don’t see myself as a Belle of Steel, although I am honored.  I just walk in hope each day. In that hope, I pray to kick some ass along the way.  Maybe that’s what makes me a Belle of Steel. Bam!”

For these reasons and seeing/watching with joy as another strong women overcomes, AgeView Press is proud to celebrate Emily Allen Colbert as its fifteenth Belle of Steel.

You survived Vietnam, but what about its aftermath?

Four decades after the Vietnam War, many veterans are still questioning why me? Some still suffer form post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. For many honorable service men and women, it is a condition that just won’t go away.  According to one veteran, “we all came back with some form of PTSD, some were just more affected than others.”

As a trauma nurse, I have seen this over and over in my patients. As a writer, I have heard this over and over from my military colleagues, whether they were in the air or on the ground. This issue was called shell shock in WWII. It was worse after Korea and continued it’s increase post-Vietnam. And now is horrific according the number of cases from our Iraq and Afghanistan vets.  In fact, the type of PTSD being seen in many of our current combat veterans is so bad, it is called moral bankruptcy. Our military are being asked to do and see such horrific things, going against the very fiber of their being for what they know to be just and right, the consequences are catastrophic.

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a USMC pilot who believes he went to Vietnam with a form of PTSD. He arrived there in 1968, interestingly enough, during the TET offensive. During fifteen months, he flew over 275 missions. While in Vietnam, his squadron VMA-311 flew 54,625 sorties dropping over 9 million tons of bombs. That record will never be broken.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, USMC

Lathrop returned seemingly unscathed until ten years after the fact. That delay in the onset of PTSD is common in vets. What started as nightmares and cold sweats, quickly progressed to anxiety and hallucinations involving the flames of napalm. Desperate to hold onto his second marriage, he and his wife initially sought counseling. Luckily,  a female psychotherapist up on the latest research broached the touchy subject – she suggested that Gene was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially he balked at the thought of treatment. But further conflict with family and an incident as work provocated his admission for in-patient treatment at American Lakes VA center.

During the 1980s, therapist and psychologists were treating the disorder the best way they knew how.  Oftentimes opening up a damn of emotion which release a hurricane of feelings for which the patient was not prepared.  Sessions were intense with profound rage, grief, tears, and sorrow as veterans were encouraged to bring out long repressed memories.  When the emotions became unmanageable, the answer was medication.  Heavy sedatives, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs were the fixers. Or so they thought.

Through the love and support of his wife, Gene endured this therapy, its aftermath, and finally experienced an evolved standard of care for those with PTSD. In the research for the completion of his memoir ETERNALLY AT WAR, I came across many veterans who told a similar story. Much of this material came from the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, the largest national repository of oral histories, photography, film and literature that has been converted by the graduate students into digital format such that the memories of those involved in Vietnam, from doughnut dollies to pilots can be preserved.eternally-at-war-ecoversmall

According to Dr. Richard Verrone, previous Director of the Oral History Project, “The archive is invaluable for many reasons but especially for preserving the history of the Vietnam War and, in the process of doing so, honoring those who served.  We tried to make sure our work was thorough, accurate, personal, and beneficial to future researchers. And, of course, our work was a way to honor those people we interviewed. It was incredibly rewarding to me to be able to help veterans with their PTSD issues as we did the interviews, if that was a possibility.  I certainly made the effort to broach the subject if they were willing, and I wanted to get it out there, to remove any layers that were there, to help those who would research in the interviews better understand this terrible condition.  As an instructor here at Texas Tech in the Department of History, I have had in my classes over the years many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Their PTSD issues mirror almost exactly those in the Vietnam interviews.”

Some veterans had coped by simply forgetting the past and moving on. Even talking about the war, brought heavy emotions back to the surface. Many of those interviewed for my research could not complete the process. Although some veterans find comfort in hanging out with their peers in the form of reunions or gatherings at a local VFW,  Lathrop found comfort in dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam through the written word. His powerful and frank poetry in THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN and now his brutally honest memoir are a brilliant window into the atrocities of a controversial war and the survival of its aftermath. He believed that society has a responsibility to care for all veterans when they return to peacetime and aid them to recovery after their sacrifices. “We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made. But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation. We have to do better than we did for Vietnam,” according to Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. AgeView Press agrees and therefore is honored to produce Lathrop’s works.

 

 

The Forgotten Victims: significant others trying to cope with a partner’s PTSD

Almost forty years later, many veterans are still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the form of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, over a quarter of a million Vietnam Veterans have in one form or another (Handwerk, 2015). For their significant others, the caregiver burden is at times overwhelming.  It is the atrocity of war that simply won’t go away.  These caregivers are the forgotten victims.ptsd1

When living with a traumatized veteran, it is often the spouse or significant other that must pick up the yoke in managing the household.  Coping with the emotional outbursts, nightmares, negativity and lack of intimacy of their PTSD afflicted partner takes its toll.  A number of studies revealed that veteran’s PTSD symptoms negatively impact family relationships (Calhoun et al, 2002).  So much so that these negative relationships actually inversely impact and sometimes exacerbate the PTSD.

As therapists explain, therapy, in order for a PTSD affected person to improve, is two-pronged;  establishment of close relationships and the ability to spend time with those also involved in the same type of combat, for example at VFWs or squadron reunions.  When one of these two processes is broken, many times the PTSD only worsens producing compromised relationships, family violence, divorce, sexual problems, aggression, depression, and increased caregiver burden (Mikulincer et al, (1995).

Impaired relationship functioning produces a high rate of separation and divorce in these veterans. In fact, about 38% of Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of the veteran’s return from Southeast Asia. Rates of divorce for veterans with PTSD were two times greater than for those veterans without the disorder.  Those with PTSD were three times as likely to divorce two or three times. (Kulka et al, 1990).ptsd2

Many of the impaired relationship aspects involve communication and intimacy. The PTSD veteran simply can’t relate to everyday living. A sense of anxiety exists around intimacy which can lead to sexual dysfunction and decreased couple satisfaction and adjustment.  They simply feel they don’t know each other anymore.

The severity of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms correlated with the severity of physical and verbal aggression family outbursts. One study reported that 92% of veterans with PTSD had committed at least one act of verbal aggression against their partner.  In the same study 42% admitted to at least one act of physical violence.

Because of this data, Veterans Affairs PTSD programs and Vet Centers are now offering groups, couples, and individual programs for families of veterans with PTSD.  This is a huge relief for caregivers and partners who were shell shocked themselves at the behaviors coming from loved ones that just don’t make sense.ptsdvets-with-ptsd

Joy Lathrop, the wife of a USMC pilot who served in Vietnam described guilt and frustration in her inability to manage the outbursts.  Ten years into their marriage, which was a second for both of them, the nightmares began in her spouse.  Then followed his tears and inability to control his emotions.  Friends and family at gatherings complained about the repetitive stories of Vietnam.  Her teenage daughter was embarrassed and began to spend time away from home with friends.  Neighbors complained about his erratic behavior. There were times when she herself thought she was going crazy dealing with it all.

But Joy was determined to not become another divorce statistic. She scoured the library for books and research.  She educated herself about the disorder and how best to overcome its manifestations, which is key to caregiver survival (Johnson, 2002). She sought out couples therapy and support groups. But mostly she tried to remind herself every day that the man she married was still in there.  In her heart, she knew he was still her husband.  It was the PTSD that was to blame.  The verbal assaults and then his own guilt over it was what made him seem so distant and aloof.

Joy, like the others in the studies did what she could to maintain a sense of normalcy with household up-keep, family relationships, and general day to day life.  She found tasks for him to be involved in that capitalized on his strengths, like small projects and planning historical travel.  She was patient with his hours at the typewriter, excising his demons through verse.  She attempted these strategies with little or no expectation for their outcome.  Thus, when something worked, it felt like a success.  She also took time to care for herself to renew her own spirit and will to continue.

Her husband’s book of poems, THE DARK SIDE HEAVEN, recently published by AgeView Press, was the source for him expressing the conflicting emotions of carrying out the missions required during Vietnam.  He found writing so therapeutic that he also penned a memoir, ETERNALLY AT WAR which is due to be published in 2016. In addition, he completed an oral interview with Texas Tech University Vietnam Center and Archive which allowed him to relate his journey.TDSH ecover

Theirs was a success story.  But as the research shows, many others are not. The most important message for families living with a traumatized victim is that they are not alone.  These emotional struggles, although difficult and painful are normal (Price and Stevens, 2010).  Social media now abounds with free support groups.  Just like in the veterans, talking about it helps.  Seeking out support, education, and therapy will help improve family relationships and overall mental health.

“We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made,” says Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation, and we have to do better than we did for Vietnam.”

There are several excellent resources:

VA Caregiver Support:  (1-855-260-3274) provides caregiver support those caring for a loved one with PTSD.

National Center for PTSD

Coaching Into Care: A VA program that works with families who become aware that their loved one has traumatic issues post-deployment and finds resources for help. (1-888-823-7458)  CoachingIntoCare@va.gov

Twitter:   @ptsdPLUS  @VA-PTSD_Info  @Help4VetsPTSD

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/PTSD-Support-And-Recovery-275580472648386/?fref=ts

Back from the front:  combat trauma, love, and the family.  Matsakis, A. (2007). Sidran Press, ISBN 188698187.

After the war zone: a practical guide for returning troops and their families. Slone, L. and Friedman, M. (2008). Da Capo Press, ISBN 1600940544.

References:

Calhoun, P., Beckham, J. & Bosworth, H. (2002). Caregiver burden and       psychological distress in partners of Veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15 (205-212).

Handwerk, B. (2015). Over a Quarter-Million Vietnam War Veterans Still Have PTSD. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/over-quarter-million-vietnam-war-veterans-still-have-ptsd-180955997/?no-ist

Kulka, R., Schlenger, W., Fairbank, J. Hough, R., Jordan, B., Marmar, C. et al. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War generation:  report of findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Mikulincer, M., Florian, V., & Solomon, Z. (1995). Marital intimacy, family support, and secondary traumatization: a study of wives of veterans with combat stress reaction. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 8 (203-213).

Price, J., and Stevens, S. Partners of veterans with PTSD:  research findings. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/partners-of-vets.asp

You HAVE permission to engage – meet Belle of Steele #14 Vernice “Flygirl” Armour

What does it take to become America’s first African American female combat pilot?  For Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, it was going from Zero to Breakthrough!  She believes that harnessing the mindset of mission accomplishment no matter what the barriers, or perceived barriers, may be is the breakthrough mentality required to accomplish whatever you set you mind to.

Vernice

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

By refusing to settle, even in the smallest moments and demanding a breakthrough in every challenge, Vernice flew to new heights.  She remembers a conversation that became the catalyst for her own new flight plan and mission for life.  Humbly relating that she was “just doing her job” when she used pinpoint accuracy in her Cobra fighter helo to destroy a building housing an enemy mortar position in Iraq, she shared a story.  A few years after returning home from the war, she met a man who’d been in that same battle. He approached her and said, “Ma’am, you saved my life that day.”  He had been one of the soldiers under attack.  It was the deployment of Denise’s missle that took out enemy warriors who had been attacking his platoon.

Vernice completed two tours of duty in the Gulf, earning an Air Medal with a star of Valor, thirteen Strike Flight awards, a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, a Navy Presidential Unit Citation, and load of other awards, decorations, and public recognition. She’s been featured on Oprah, CNN, Tavis Smiley, NPR and numerous other TV and radio programs.  According to Oprah Winfrey, Vernice has “no shortage of accomplishments” describing her as “awesome girl…awesome!”  But despite this notoriety, her sole purpose is igniting the flame of passion within our youth to improve their productivity and commitment to achieve personal accomplishments within our society.

As a pioneering pilot, Vernice used her commanding role in technology and engineering to achieve what many said she could never do – become a combat pilot.  She ignored any naysayers along the way. She believes that women and men from all walks of life have the potential to achieve higher levels of success if they can only create the right flight plan.

Meeting the Commander-in-chief, President Obama

Meeting the Commander-in-chief, President Obama

As such she took her mission on the road, writing the book Zero to Breakthrough.  Her vision for an America that maintains greatness one accomplishment at a time, is for individuals to create their own flight plan designed to take them to new heights. Vernice describes a seven step, battle-tested method for accomplishing goals that matter. Today she works as a coach, national speaker, consultant for large entities such as Bank of America, NASA, the Secret Service, and Comcast. She is very clear in her message that she doesn’t believe in being average, striving for mediocrity, or just fitting in.

When interviewed, she related to me that she never focused on racism or sexism. According to Vernice, who found herself surrounded my a majority of males in her chosen professions, she stayed focused and did her job. Just like the boys. She never demanded special privileges or favors.  In fact, her journey and education started with her becoming a police officer. At one point, she even played women’s professional football. But once she achieved that, she was spurred on to further greatness.  In 1994, attended Middle Tennessee State University and participated in Army ROTC. She trained as a Marine officer in 1998 at Quantico Marine Base. Her first deployment in the Marines was with Marine Air Craft Wing MAG-39, in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, learning to fly the Cobra.

Vernice uses some of her military jargon to motivate others. One of her slogans is “You have the permission to engage. You are cleared HOT!”  In other words, give yourself the permission to begin; to start steps toward achieving one’s goals and aspirations.  When flying in the middle of combat and needing to engage the enemy, pilots have to ask for permission to shoot their weapons. The magical phrase needed in order to protect Marines and Soldiers on the ground is ‘Cleared Hot.’  That means, go for it.  All clear.  One of her tenants is “acknowledge the obstacles, DON’T give them power.  There will be many times that barriers, such as racism or sexism are present. Financial barriers, societal barriers, or even doubts within ourselves may threaten to thwart plans.  But no matter what the roadblock, she encourages focus to come up with solutions. She emphasizes that how we react versus respond to barriers is the answer.

In her seminars, she has people think of themselves as an attack helicopter.  “Who needs a runway?” she questions. “Take off from where you are!” she motivates. “As soon as you add power (with a solution) and take off, you’re flying! Where you go, either foward or backward is up to you.”  Her five step process for success is:

  1.  Create your own flight plan, develop consciousness and awareness of what you are good at.
  2.  Pre-flight – check out all the details, and troubleshoot. Release fears holding you down.
  3.  Take off – give it some power and just do it.
  4.  Execute – stay on course and focus. In each situation practice self-discipline to achieve mastery.
  5.  Review, recharge, and re-attack!  If faced with obstacles find solutions and go again.Zero to Breakthrough

Vernice tells people, “If you do what average people do, you’ll have what average people have. And honestly, I haven’t met a single person who admits to wanting to be average.” She recognizes that people want to accomplish significant goals and become assets to their communities.  Making that flight plan and committing to go beyond is the real breakthrough that leads to success, significance and a meaningful legacy for our society.

Believing that there is no such thing as a dream out of reach, Vernice integrates the concepts of preparation, strategy, courage, legacy, and the importance of high spirits and enthusiasm to create an inner force.  This “FlyGirl” blends compassion, humor, drive, and a no-nonsense attitude to ignite the fire within, help lay the groundwork for success, and discover the self-discipline that enables anyone to blast through obstacles and challenges.

For these reasons and many more, AgeView Press is proud to have Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour as the fourteenth Belle of Steel.  What are you waiting for?  Go Zero to Breakthrough!

The Dark Side of Heaven – one Vietnam pilot’s perspective on the atrocities of war

What does it take to erase memories of the atrocities of war? Many a veteran of conflict struggle with this question. Through withdrawal, social faux paux, story telling or even failed self-medication with mind altering substances they attempt to numb the horrific images, sounds, nightmares, panic attacks, moral questioning paranoia and psychoses as survivors of war.  Welcome to the world of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our Vietnam veterans attempt to cope with this each and every day. They celebrate their successes in reunions and camaraderie, but for some, when they return home and are alone in their private thoughts, the negative thoughts return. Like an incessant, never-ending trauma.

A-4 Skyhawk

Marine A-4 Skyhawk

In 2012, I had the fortuitous luck to come upon a pilot’s manuscript called ETERNALLY AT WAR while researching the Vietnam Center and Archives at Texas Tech University.  From its first pages, I was captivated. Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a Marine pilot for VMA 311 out of Chu Lai. He was writing about the base and USO club I wanted to feature, Chu Lai and was also writing about the air war in Vietnam.  He flew the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The plane I wanted to write about. What luck!

Who knew that graduate students had taken scads of oral histories recorded, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia and converted them to digital medium for preservation. The Vietnam Center at TTU was a goldmine! How awesome that the intimate details of this controversial war were being preserved! As a Red Raider alum, I had no idea this even existed! Way to go Big Red!!

Using some sleuth techniques, I was able to track down Gene’s address in Washington. After thoroughly devouring his manuscript, I was anxious to speak to him about its content. I reached his wife who informed that sadly, Gene had passed away only months before. I was heartbroken. I explained that I was a writer and what I wished to do with the material. After some thought, she graciously granted me the rights to utilize some of his stories for my historical fiction novel SOLO VIETNAM.

As I was crafting SOLO VIETNAM, I propped Gene’s picture up next to the computer. It was like we were penning it together. I felt honored to be in his world and indeed his presence. SOLO VIETNAM featured many of Gene’s missions which were weaved into my feature character, a Navy pilot with VA 153 off the USS Coral Sea CVA-43 WestPac cruise of 1967-68.  SOLO VIETNAM was awarded the silver medal by the Military Writer’s Association, featured at Tailhook 2014 by the A-4 Skyhawk Association, and won fourth place in the Readers’ Favorite 2014 book awards. Gene would have been so proud.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop

After reviewing the books, his wife asked if I would turn his entire manuscript into a memoir. I was honored and said “YES!!”  During the research for ETERNALLY AT WAR’s production, we discussed including how post-traumatic stress disorder greatly affected many of the veterans returning from Vietnam. She revealed how it had impacted Gene some ten years after his return. How initially, no one knew what it was. Gene’s sister related how many family members and friends would politely smile, yet roll their eyes, tired of his repeated stories. She requested that I cover that in the book, as a message to others. Again, I was humbled to be challenged with the task.

But Gene sent me an internal message from above. He had a better idea. Going back into the archive, I discovered that the graduate students had been very busy beavers indeed. There now were several documents in the archive, including a manuscript of Gene’s poems and an oral transcript. His family was thrilled. It was amazing to hear his voice.

Although I continue to work on ETERNALLY AT WAR, I am pleased to announce that Gene’s other book, a collection of poems written about his experiences flying in Vietnam, the conflict, and the aftermath will be released in time for Christmas 2015!!!!  It is called THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. So make your plans now to reserve a copy of the beautiful collection of prose, photography, and pen and ink drawings depicting the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath to be published by AgeView Press.

pastel portrait of Robert Gene Lathrop

Gene Lathrop, USMC retired pastel painting by Susan Hirst

I feel strongly that Gene is dancing a jig to know that his words will find meaning in the comrades, friends, and families of Vietnam veterans affected by the perils of PTSD. He believed the required acts delegated to servicemen during war inflicted a moral bankruptcy which threatened their psyche and well being upon their return.  Thus provoking PTSD.

Enjoy an excerpt, indeed the title poem from the upcoming release THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN.

THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN

It’s two in the morning here comes the fire.

They’re still shooting low, but they’ll walk it up higher.

I’m on bearing to target, ten thousand to go.

“Roger, I copy, turning left three five oh.”

Out to the east, orange balls of flame

Are bursting right now, from where we just came

I’m approaching the target, five thousand to go

“Roger, I copy, fifteen knots slow.”

Only three thousand meters, and I’ll be headin’ back

For a shot of French cognac, and some time in the rack.

I feel a big buck and six eggs for free,

I’m clearing the target, heading east to the sea.”

Once clear of the target, I’ll fly just offshore

Heading south to recovery and just watch the war.

I’m totally drained and this planes not the best.

“This is Hellborne, Vice Squad; keep me clear to the nest.”

Look, there is a Spooky, a spittin’ out lead

to the west of Dong Ha, the ground will be red.

There’s a fire near that Base, it’s at three o’clock

“I see it, Vice Squad, it’s that big floating dock.

I’m coming up on the lights of the city of Hue

‘Twas overrun during Tet; taken back during May

That big flash at twelve, is the Jersey at play

“I’ve got her, Vice Squad, her salvo’s away

All those lights off to starboard are at Danang

Where the bomb dumps went up with a helluva bang

Those tracers at one are at little Ho’ An

“Chu Lai’s under fire; we’ll land if we can.”

I get so damned tired, flying three hops a day

I just get numb, that’s all I can say

The base is secure; no more enemy fire

“I’m coming in approach, and takin’ a wire.

There’s flares on final, but I’ve made the decision

 I’ll be going in hook down, without my night vision.

 If Hades was the earth and with firepits in the sky

 The center of Hell would be at Chu Lai.

I’ve got three down & locked, and dropping the hook

 I’ll be takin’ the wire, just like in a book.

The arrest was just perfect, I’m so good it’s a sin.

“What the hell do you mean? You got rockets comin in.”

The rockets are comin like a spew from a fount

But on the Dark Side of Heaven such matters don’t count.

 I’m back in the deck and out of the sky

It’s a hell of a home, but it’s ours at Chu Lai.

Written by Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, UMSC during treatment for PTSD on Ward 7A, VAMC American Lake, 1987

 

This Memorial Day – who are you carrying?

In honor of our troops, our veterans, and those who have paid the ultimate price, this Memorial Day post was brought back by popular demand. 

Military memoribiliaAn explosive device goes off. Instantly, your right leg is destroyed and crushed below the knee. Your left leg has gashes and is burned. Part of your left arm is blow away. You are unconscious and laying on the ground. Massive amounts of blood surround your motionless body. Your world goes black.

That was the exact experience of Iraq War Veteran, Jacob Schick, in 2004. A 3rd generation marine of the USMC, he was rescued by a brave medic and air-evac’d out by a Blackhawk helo to a MASH hospital. He heard a mish-mash of voices “Hang in there buddy. We’ve got ya. Don’t die on us.” Nine years, 46 surgeries including a traumatic amputation of your leg and 22 units of blood products later, would you be bitter? Angry? Depressed? Or self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Many would. However, Jacob is not.

Last year, I interviewed Jacob serving as the Ambassador for Carry The Load. He also works full time at the Center for Brain Health with the University of Texas at Dallas, as part of their Warrior Training Team. I found him to be the antithesis of any victim. He was upbeat, committed, pumped and positive. As a trauma nurse myself, I can appreciate the harrowing horror of a prolonged recovery. Yet, I found none of this in the indomitable spirit of Jacob Schick.

Carry the Load Jacob Schick

Will you CarryTheLoad?

As a veteran of war, Jacob humbly attributes his survival to his military brothers. “My Sergeant used to say to all of us out there, ‘if you wake up in discomfort or pain, thank your lucky stars – you’re alive.’ It’s the military mindset. It’s what makes you survive.”

Jacob was recruited to the Carry the Load cause because of his resilient attitude by co-founders Clint Bruce and Stephen Holly, two Navy Seals. They recognized the positive vigor within Jacob that would be instrumental in their cause to instill enthusiasm and excitement within donors and volunteers. His goals of survival and giving matched those of Carry the Load.

Carry the Load was established in 2011. It was developed as a vehicle for people to come together in patriotism and show their pride and appreciation under the same banner to support those in uniform who serve – police, fire-rescue, and our military. It started with one man carrying a flag on a mission across America. It has grown into a national movement of thousands marching across our nation in patriotism and service. Funds are raised to provide support to five separate established non-profit organizations. Most non-profits spend the majority of their time fund-raising. Carry the Load takes that burden off those organizations.

Amazing stories arise from individuals participating in Carry the Load. Awe-inspiring messages of survival, hope, and patriotism. Participants share appreciation for the strength and courage of those individuals who work every day to make our world a safer place.

Jacob’s message is universal – we must celebrate heroes that sacrifice every day to bring us freedom and a life of comfort.

Help make Memorial Day, Memorial May! Join Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach – the epitome of an American Patriot, survivor and ambassador Jacob Schick, the founders of CarryTheLoad, and thousands of other veterans, police and fire-rescue first responders. Come out and carry more than you have to. Go just a little bit further. Get away from BBQs and car stalls. Bring your family to Riverchon Park on the Katy Trail in Dallas, TX Sunday May 24th and Monday May 25th 

This Saturday our team, will proudly represent my two sons who fly for the Navy and will march with my son who is in a wheelchair.  Won’t you please help CarryTheLoad?