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

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?

Lady Jessie Beck and the Navy Ghostriders – Belle of Steel #12

It isn’t any secret that the ultimate gift is giving without expecting anything in return.   As the first woman to own a casino in Nevada, for rootin’ tootin’ Jesse Beck, it was second nature.   Jessie was a colorful, spirited woman with an independent streak.  But to VA – 164, a group of Navy attack pilots who flew the A-4 Skyhawk, she was a woman with a heart of gold.

A patriot with the gift of giving.

A patriot with the gift of giving, Jessie Beck.

While on a holiday in Texas, “Pappy” Harold Smith, who owned Harold’s Club in Nevada during the late 1930s, offered Beck a job as a roulette dealer.  He noted her quick mathematical skills while she was working as a cashier, post two divorces.  Never afraid of a new adventure, Jessie packed her bags and relocated to Reno.  She quickly rose through the casino ranks, building a reputation for friendliness and good business sense.  This did not go unnoticed by Fred Beck, who owned and operated the keno, poker, pan and horse race booking concessions at Harold’s Club.  Not able to resist Jessie’s charm, Fred became Jessie’s third husband.  When Fred died in 1954, Jessie, now a widow, took over the operations.

She spent most of her time at the casino roaming the floors, and serving her customers, sometimes staying until three in the morning.  It was not unlike her to take over a 21 game and deal for hours, which is how she met a young future Navy pilot, Richard Perry who worked part time as a dealer.  His dream was to fly jets.  Jessie was moved by his story, and took him under her wing.  She befriended and encouraged him,often bringing him home for homemade meals.  Dick became Jessie’s pseudo-adopted son.  It was a proud moment for Jessie when Richard Perry was commissioned in 1957 and winged circa 1958.   Part of Naval aviation training took place out at Naval Air Station Fallon, just east of Reno.   Jessie would give out baskets of goodies, including playing cards and such from the casino to the young, love-starved pilots.

Lt. Commander Dick Perry, VA-164

LCDR Dick Perry, VA-164

But good times were not to last.  Dick was assigned to VA-164, the Ghostriders who flew the A-4 Skyhawk and was deployed to the Western Pacific to conduct bombing missions in Vietnam.  During his cruise time, Jessie continued sending the care packages.  In no time, the entire squadron came to know and love the generous gifts sent over from Lady Jessie, as they deemed her.   As homage to Beck, Perry had his A-4 painted with Lady Jessie on its side.

Unfortunately, while flying his Lady Jessie, tragedy stuck during Perry’s second WestPac cruise.  During the summer of 1967, Perry, now a Lieutenant Commander, served as VA-164’s division lead and led a strike into Haiphong off the USS Oriskany, CVA-34.  A surface to air missile struck the underbelly of Dick’s Skyhawk. Watching fuel stream out of his plane, Perry turned toward the Tonkin Gulf, speaking calmly to his wingman watching the disaster in horror.  As they reached the coastline, Dick became silent, his A-4 engulfed in flames.  As the plane rolled out of control, he ejected about a mile from the shoreline.  His chute deployed, but due to massive chest wounds received on impact, Perry remained lifeless in the water.  The helo attempting to rescue him came under heavy fire, and it became impossible to retrieve Dick’s body.LadyJessie A-4

As can be expected, upon hearing the news, Jessie was heartbroken.  But she forged on, spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars sending care packages to Vietnam servicemen, especially, VA-164.  The squadron honored the gracious lady from Reno even after LCDR Dick Perry’s death by displaying her name on each commanding officer’s aircraft.  This continued until the squadron was disestablished in 1975.

In 1967, the Nevada Gaming Commission revoked the gaming license of a casino named the Riverside over a dice-cheating scandal, shutting it down in 1968.  Shortly after, Beck lost the lease to the concessions at Harold’s in 1970 when the club was sold to the Hughes Corporation, who subsequently terminated most of the club’s staff.  Jessie was irate, but was not going to take this latest blow without a fight.  In 1971, Beck scraped up the money and bought the Riverside Casino for three million dollars.  To the delight of many, she rehired the majority of the former Harold’s Club employees.

Jessie's Riverside Casino

Jessie’s Riverside Casino

Now known as the Gambling Grandmother of Reno, Lady Jessie continued to give back, sharing her good fortunes to support military personnel all over the world.  She was bestowed with the Award of Merit, the highest honor the Defense Department can give a civilian, in 1968.  In 1969, the governor of Nevada named her a Distinguished Nevadan.  She was honored at a reunion of VA-164 and VA -163 pilots in the late 1970s.  A lifetime member of the St. Mary’s Hospital Guild, the Washoe County Medical Center League and the VFW Auxilliary, staunch Republican and pro-defense Lady Jessie continued to serve the military she loved.

In 1978, Harrah’s bought out the Riverside Casino which allowed Jessie to finally retire.  In 1987, LCDR Richard Perry’s  remains were returned, having been recovered previously by native fisherman when washed ashore from the Tonkin Gulf. Twenty years had passed since Lady Jessie had endured his loss.  A building had since been dedicated to Dick at the NAS Fallon. Fittingly, this loving warrior was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with our country’s heroes.  Family, Ghostriders, and other fellow officers, many by then of flag rank as Dick surely would have been, gathered from far and near, including his adopted mother, Lady Jessie.

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

On July 17th, 1987, Jessie Beck died at the age of eighty-three.  All that knew her described her as a not only a credit to the gaming industry and to the state of Nevada, but a great business woman.   However for VA-164, Jessie Beck was honored and remembered as a loving, caring, and generous person.  “We all held her in the highest regard.  More than anything else, Jessie was a lady.”The Navy’s ideals are honor, courage and committment.  Lady Jessie Beck lived out these ideals and became the darling to many of our military.  In honor of her service to our country, through her patronage of the  mighty Ghostriders of VA-64, AgeView Press is honored to posthumously name Lady Jessie Beck, Belle of Steel #12.

Who Are You Carrying?

Who Are You Carrying?

Can you carry the load to help?

Can you carry the load to help?

Carry The Load Honors Our Military Service Members, Police Officers and Firefighters during “Memorial May”

Carry The Load

Press Release  – Dallas,TX, May 11, 2013— The burden of every day life can seem heavy as we go about our normal routine: readying the kids for school, heading to work, making dinner plans. We often forget those who carry the load for us every day.

From the fields of battle halfway across the world to our own neighborhoods, thousands of our fellow American men and women – our military service members, police officers and firefighters – selflessly devote their lives to keeping us safe so that we can live ours.

Carry The Load was formed to recognize and honor our fallen heroes and those who continue to serve our country, not just over the course of a three day holiday weekend, but throughout the year. Through events like the National Relay, Dallas Memorial March and affiliate events and rallies in Austin (TX), Tampa (FL) and Ruston (VA), Carry The Load wants to turn Memorial Day into “Memorial May.”

Beginning on April 30th, the Carry The Load National Relay will travel from New York to Dallas, with a number of events in cities along the way. It will culminate in the Dallas Memorial March over Memorial Day weekend. This 20-hour and 13-minute march will honor and remember all who have given, and continue to give, their time and their lives to keep us safe.

All are invited to join Carry The Load in this mission, by being a part of the National Relay, meeting the Relay participants in one of the event cities, marching in the Dallas Memorial March, or volunteering their time to help make these events a success. Donations can be made at carrytheload.org, where anyone can also sign up to participate or volunteer.

Carry The Load is grateful and honored to partner with our sponsors: Budweiser, jcpenney, and Gold’s Gym. Their generous support means that more funds can be directed to this year’s beneficiaries.

Thanks to our sponsors, participants, volunteers and donors, this year’s Memorial May beneficiaries will receive even more much-need financial support. In 2013, Carry The Load is proud to support Assist The Officer, Heroes On The Water, Friends of Dallas Fire-Rescue, Tip Of The Spear Foundation and Sons of the Flag Burn Foundation.

About Carry The Load

Carry The Load exists to restore meaning to Memorial Day by honoring the sacrifices made by members of the military, law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families, especially those who have died or were wounded while carrying the load for their fellow Americans.
We provide an opportunity to share their experiences with thousands of other Americans and to raise awareness and resources for established, well-respected foundations that benefit these communities.

 Carry The Load is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Through events like our national relay, regional marches and rallies, we hope to build awareness and raise funds to remember and help those who have given so much to keep our country safe.

 The co-founders of Carry The Load, Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley, are available for interviews about the organization, its founding, its mission and the 2013 events.

Contact: Brian Gile 

 

Boomer Lit Blog Hop Features Solo Vietnam

It’s another Boomer Lit Friday!  What is #Boomerlit you say?    A new boom for us baby boomers and that boom is Boomer LIt.   Books that relate to those of us 50 and beyond.   Great stories about our times.  There are blogs about it.  Goodreads sites.  Facebook pages.   Us Babyboomers are a force to be reckoned with.

As a part of this blog hop, you are invited to a short preview of SOLO VIETNAM.   The sequel to FLYING SOLO.  Now available from AgeView Press or Amazon.

books available from jeanette vaughan flying solo and solo vietnam

Boomer Lit Books Available from Jeanette Vaughan

So here we go, your Boomer Lit Friday blog hop!  Enjoy!

Your personally chosend excerpt from 5 star rated SOLO VIETNAM!

A French cajun aviatrix.  An A-4 Skyhawk pilot.  Vietnam.

Charlene listened as she put out the large shrimp she had boiled up and then chilled for shrimp cocktail.   In true Charlene form, the table was set with china and tall parfait glasses for the shrimp.  She filled each glass with the spicy, red cocktail sauce and arranged the large shrimp all the way around.  Placing each glass over a large Romaine lettuce leaf on the plate.  Hostess with the most-est, Charlene Hebert.

“One night, after getting off at the club, I met this navy pilot,” Nora told her of her encounter.  “He had just finished his cruise in Vietnams and was on leave.  His stories.  What he had seen was horrific,”  Nora said taking a big bite of her shrimp.

“I’ve taken care of some of those Vietnam vets at Touro,” Charlene relayed.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.  I had some trouble relating to some of their emotional tales.    My instructors told me it was because they had anxiety disorder.   It really messed some of them up bad.”

“What the heck is that?”

“Some post war thing.  They just can’t cope.  It’s bad.”

“It doesn’t help that people treat them like crap when they come home.   I just don’t understand that.”

“Some of the nurses told me it was like no other war they’d ever heard about.  Whatever’s going on over there sounds pretty wicked.”

Near the end of lunch, Nora told Charlene about her visit to the USO and the job they offered.  Charlene was a bit taken aback.

“You aren’t considering going are you?”   Again, Nora managed to shock her.

“I’m seriously thinking about it, Charlene.   I can’t shake it.   There is just something calling me.  Some force.”

“I just can’t see how you could do it.  Your kids are still at home.  Well, at least three of them.   How would they manage?”

“They are teens.  Doing their own thing.  Nellie is about to retire.    She could move in and watch over them.  It would only be for eighteen months,” Nora explained.

“That over a year!  Oh, Nora.  I dunno.  It’s so far away.  Texas was one thing.  But Vietnam?   Are you going to fly?”

“Heck no.  They don’t allow women to fly into combat zones.    In fact, it’s a big controversy at the moment.   Jackie Cochran is causing all kinds of heck about it.  Women were used in World War II all the time, as transporters and test pilots.  But the service won’t have anything to do with them now.  Which is really hacking off legions of women pilots.”

“Well, then.  As what?”

“Don’t’ laugh, but I’d be managing a USO club.  Basically I’ll be going as a den mother to a bunch of young USO girls.  But at least I’d be going.”

Hope you enjoyed the preview.  Check back each and every Friday for the Boomer Lit blog hop!

Did John McCain have the “Right stuff?”

This wonderful post is a bit long, but worth the read! Great spin and take on fighter pilots vs. attack squadron pilots. It was written by my dear friend and colleague, the iconic Zalin Grant, whose book Over the Beach is considered the book about the airwar in Vietnam.  Enjoy and please post a comment!   He would love to read them.

The Day John McCain Got Shot Down   Zalin Grant War Tales

Did He Show the Right Stuff?

By Zalin Grant

John McCain received mixed reviews from fellow pilots when he arrived on the USS Oriskany in 1967, a month before he was shot down and captured. Cal Swanson, commander of fighter squadron VF-162, was enthusiastic.  Swanson thought McCain proved he had the right stuff by getting himself assigned to the Oriskany, an aircraft carrier sailing off the coast of North Vietnam in the South China Sea.  The Oriskany had seen more combat and suffered heavier casualties than any ship in the Vietnam War. McCain’s own aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, had been put out of action by a horrific fire two months earlier.

 After the Forrestal fire, McCain was assigned to Saigon as a navy PR aide.  He was perfect for the job—handsome, charming, witty.  He had met R.W. (Johnny) Apple, a well-known reporter for the New York Times, and Apple had smoothed his way in Saigon by introducing him to journalists and to the U.S. military and civilian command. 

 John McCain could have served out his tour flacking for the navy and having a lot of fun doing it—dining at Saigon’s French restaurants and hitting the bars full of pretty Vietnamese girls.  But McCain wanted to get back into combat.  He had completed only five missions before the Forrestal fire.  Cal Swanson thought McCain’s attitude reflected well on his courage and patriotism.

Navy pilot John McCain

Navy pilot John McCain

 McCain would not be joining VF-162, Swanson’s fighter squadron, however.  McCain was not a fighter pilot, although in later years the media would perpetuate the mistaken belief that he was. Trained as an A-4 bomber pilot, he was assigned to attack squadron VA-163, which had an illustrious history.  James Stockdale, a legend in the war, had commanded the squadron—and the air wing—before he was shot down and captured.

 Still, a lot of pilots on the ship were not as enthusiastic as Swanson about McCain.  They were not really convinced that he had the right stuff. Naval aviation was a small, tightly-knit community made up of highly-trained men with large egos and a fiercely competitive nature. Even if they did not know each other personally, everybody was linked together via the gossip hotline, and McCain’s reputation had preceded him to the Oriskany.

 Some of the negativity was not his fault. His family background was bound to stir skepticism and jealousy.  McCain’s grandfather had been a highly-decorated admiral in World War Two. His father, John S. McCain II, also an admiral, would soon become commander-in-chief of all forces in the Pacific, making him the highest ranking officer in the Vietnam War.

 In military terms, John Sidney McCain III was born with two silver spoons in his mouth.  It was something he evidently considered later in life to be both a blessing and a curse.

 Nevertheless, McCain had acted as though he was determined to show all those who were inclined to think the worst of him that they were right.  As he wrote in his book Faith of My Fathers, “I did not enjoy the reputation of a serious pilot or an up-and-coming junior officer.” His record as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy was dismal. He piled up demerits left and right for breaking the rules, and barely passed his schoolwork, graduating 894th in a class of 899.

 That might have been checked off to youthful rebellion.  Plenty of kids spent their college years partying but then sobered up after they were slapped in the face by the reality of making it in the outside world. But after he left Annapolis, McCain continued to show the same attitude that had almost got him kicked out of the naval academy.  He barely passed flight school. And then he crashed two airplanes and damaged a third.

 The first crash took place during advanced flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas. According to McCain, the engine stalled while he was practicing landings. The plane fell into the water of the bay just off the airfield and knocked him unconscious. McCain woke up and somehow managed to get out of the cockpit and escaped serious injury. Investigators reported that they started the recovered engine without any problem, and their report left open the possibility of pilot error.

Worst naval accident since WWII.  McCain's plane was struck by a missile aboard the USS Forrestal.

Worst naval accident since WWII. McCain’s plane was struck by a missile aboard the USS Forrestal.

The next accident took place in Spain while McCain was assigned to an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea. He tried to fly his propeller-driven A-1 fighter-bomber under a row of pylon-supported electric power lines.  This was a “hotdogging” stunt by U.S. pilots in Europe that had caused outrage.  McCain’s plane hit and damaged the lines so badly that thousands of people lost power.

 “My daredevil clowning had cut off electricity to a great many Spanish homes,” McCain wrote later, “and created a small international incident.”

 In 1965, McCain flew a navy airplane to Philadelphia to attend the Army-Navy football game. On the way back to his base in Norfolk, Virginia, the plane’s engine quit, he said, so he bailed out.  The plane crashed and was destroyed.

 In the U.S. Navy, for a pilot to crash one plane was pushing it.  To crash two often resulted in an official investigation to determine if he should be taken off flight status.  How McCain got away with crashing two airplanes and smashing power lines in Spain was a mystery, although other pilots thought it had to do with his family connections.

 McCain volunteered for Vietnam and was assigned to an A-4 bomber squadron on the USS Forrestal.  He was soon to be 31 years old and held the rank of lieutenant commander, equal to that of army major.  On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain was sitting in the cockpit of his Skyhawk waiting to be launched by the ship’s catapult. Another plane accidentally set off a Zuni missile that hit the fuel tank of McCain’s A-4, touching off a fire that spread rapidly across the ship. McCain managed to escape injury, but 134 sailors died and many others were badly burned.

 It was the worst U.S. Navy accident since World War Two and the fourth serious accident McCain had been involved in since becoming a pilot.  His reputation for being a “hotdog”—a show-off pilot who broke the rules—led to rumors that McCain had caused the fire by trying to scare the pilot behind him by suddenly shooting flames out of his tail exhaust.  There was no evidence McCain was at fault and the fire was ruled accidental. But the rumors persisted.

 The USS Forrestal fire was the worst naval accident since World War II. It started after a rocket hit John McCain’s plane.

 McCain also developed a reputation for volatility. He was a fun-guy and made friends easily.  But he lost friends easily, too. He had a quick temper and was prone to flare up over minor incidents. As his best friend from the early years said, “John could piss people off.” 

 McCain’s squadron on the Oriskany was composed of 15 alpha males who spent most of their time when they weren’t flying or sleeping in a ready room no bigger than a medium-sized living room at home. Above all, they admired officers who remained cool and calm under all circumstances. McCain’s squadron commander, Bryan Compton, was considered the ideal officer, though no one wanted to sit near him in the ready room because the flight suit of “Magnolia,” as the squadron called him, usually smelled to high heaven.

 “I would have followed Bryan Compton anywhere,” said Dick Wyman, a pilot in Swanson’s squadron.  “He was the kind of guy the worse things got, the better he was.  He was the ugliest s.o.b. you ever saw.  But he was our shining star.”

 McCain called Compton “one of the bravest, most resourceful squadron commanders, one of the best A-4 pilots in the war.”

 In any case, Oriskany pilots did not have time to pay much attention to the admiral’s son, because the ship was running bombing operations against North Vietnam on a 24-hour schedule.  The Oriskany was a small and undistinguished carrier, commissioned at the end of World War Two.  Nobody could explain why the ship had turned into the leading combat carrier of the Vietnam War. It was as though the runt of the litter had grown into a pit bull.

 The squadrons on the Oriskany were front-loaded with lieutenant commanders like McCain and it was do-or-die time for them in terms of promotions.  This doubtless accounted, at least partly, for the carrier’s aggressiveness.  These were seasoned professional officers and only the best and bravest would be promoted to the next higher rank of commander (lieutenant colonel) and very few to captain (colonel).

 The pilots watched each other like hawks, trying to stay even in the number of missions flown over North Vietnam.  Always ready to take the risks, they developed tactics to survive the surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft fire they faced every time they went on a mission.  In a war, of course, there was always the factor of luck. Sometimes you just couldn’t avoid getting shot down.

 But their tactics worked surprisingly well. To evade SA-2 missiles (SAMs), the pilots used a maneuver to confuse the missile’s guidance system.  An American electronics plane was flying off the coast during the attacks.  When it intercepted the missile’s guidance signals, the plane alerted the pilot as to whether a SA-2 was headed toward him by sounding a tone in his headset.

 “If we thought the SA-2 was homing in on us, we would try to keep our speed up until the missile was several seconds away and then barrel roll on our backs and pull vertically down,” said Roger Duter, a bomber pilot on the Oriskany with McCain. “At that time the missile was moving too fast to follow us down and we would recover and resume our course to the target.”

 Since the SAM maneuver always worked if executed properly, the biggest danger came from the fire of antiaircraft artillery (AAA). The pilots used the tactic of weave and zigzag to keep from flying into the path of the exploding flak.

 “We lost more aircraft to AAA than SAMs, though the SA-2 seemed more threatening from a personal point of view,” Duter said.

 All pilots were taught the tactics to keep from getting shot down.  To the American public, every pilot brought down by enemy fire was a hero. But carrier pilots made a sharp distinction between someone who was unavoidably shot down and a pilot who simply made a mistake.

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Compliments to Zalin Grant.  Some fine writing there.   Reprinted from Pythia Press with permission.  Copyright 2008.  For more of his War Tales, follow him on Pythia Press. Find out what happens next . . . in Part II of Did John McCain have the “Right stuff?”  next week’s post!