Source: On Missing Combat
Taken from the book, “Soldiers Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs” with permission by Myra Miller; written by Marshall Miller.
War Stories don’t always end when the shooting stops and soldiers return to civilian life. The family of former Army Corporal Delmer Beam can tell you all about he horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Cpl. Beam;s separation papers list him as a “Combat Infantryman” in the Army’s 6th Division, 1st Infantry Regiment, C Company. His WWII experiences started in 1939, as a 17-year old, at Fort Jackson near Columbia, South Carolina and stretched into August 1945, after several years of bitter fighting in the South Pacific against Japanese forces at New Guinea and the Philippines.
Delmer’s wife, Gladys, told her children, Lonnie, Roger and Lana, that the father they came to know after the war was nothing like the “joyful, fun guy” who gave 6½ years of his life – and numerous difficult years beyond – to the cause of freedom.
Gladys said the war destroyed her husband, both mentally and physically. In the mid-1960’s, Lana said he submitted to shock treatments at Mount Vernon Hospital to calm down his combat issues. The children couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to shoot fireworks on the 4th of July.
The few stories Beam told about his experiences were tough to hear. Like the one where soldiers were ordered to shoot thirty rounds of ammunition every morning into the surrounding trees to protect the camp from Japanese snipers, who would climb high to get maximum angles on their targets. Once, Beam recalled, several soldiers were killed by a sniper, even after the morning strafing. After an exhaustive search, the sniper finally was located hiding in a water canvas bag hanging from a tree. He had crawled in, poked a small hole in the canvas and shot his victims with a pistol.
Japanese marksmen and fierce fighting weren’t the only obstacles thrown in Beam’s path. Malaria was a difficult burden and an attack from scrub typhus mites nearly killed him. Delmer told his family he got so sick from the mites that he was presumed dead while lying on a stretcher on a bench. Someone saw him move however and he was transferred to a hospital ship.
His son Roger, chronicled his memories of his Dad’s experience :
As a young boy, I was always enamored with army war stories. I would ask him about the war many times. Only on a very few occasions would he talk about it. It is strange how I can remember some of the stories he told me when I can’t remember what i did yesterday….
He said he saw GI’s almost kill each other over a piece of chicken wire. The reason is that they would stretch the wire over their fox holes so the Japanese hand grenades would hit the wire and bounce back before it exploded. It rained every day in the jungle and was very hot and humid…
He told me about his best friend, a young 19-year old from Hope, Arkansas. While they were being attacked one day by Japanese, my Dad kept telling him to stop sticking his head up over the embankment they were behind, but the young man kept doing it until he got hit in the head and died in my dad’s arms. This has always made a picturesque impression on me…
I know he was haunted the rest of his life about what he went through, just like so many others. He was a good dad and even got better the older he got… Dad never met a stranger, he would talk to anyone.
Despite his health issues, Delmer spent his post-war years in Dixon, Missouri, and worked at Fort Leonard Wood as a fire inspector. He died in 1991 at age 70. His daughter had these words to remember her Dad: I guess the most uplifting thing about my dad was… he really believed that he survived when others died because God wasn’t done with him yet.
From Beam’s grandson, Roger Beam Jr., :
My grandpa Delmar told me this story several times as a small boy. I think he always got a kick out of it and was probably one of his “better” memories of the war.
He told me of the time his squad was out one evening climbing around the sides of trees collecting peppers that they used to flavor basically all their food. They had rifles slung and arms full of peppers. As they came around a tree, to their shock and surprise they ran into a squad of Japanese soldiers doing the exact same thing! He said the resulting chaos was both terrifying and hilarious, as both groups scrambled away. Not a shot was fired and they saved their peppers!
In the midst of such a horrible time for my grandfather, it does make smile a bit remembering how he smiled when telling this story.
Click on images to enlarge.
It can be difficult to explain posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms to friends, but it helps me to do so. PTSD symptoms include an array of possibilities such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, difficulty bonding, addiction, insomnia, and dissociation. People experience PTSD in very different ways, based on their trauma history, resilience, supports and a myriad of other factors. So here is why I find it beneficial to explain how my specific PTSD symptoms manifest themselves, and why you might too.
Explain What PTSD Symptoms Look Like to Friends
Many people have a narrow definition of PTSD. With so many veterans developing PTSD, it is understandable that a common perception of PTSD involves someone who has been in a combat situation. However, PTSD is not choosy. It impacts the military, emergency response personnel, victims of abuse, witnesses to abuse, and other individuals who have experienced significant trauma.
When I tell someone I have PTSD it is because I want them to understand me better. I want them to know that at times I might appear spacey or inattentive, react poorly to sudden changes in routines or plans, become hypervigilant in unfamiliar spaces, and seldom get enough sleep. In explaining my PTSD symptoms, I hope to set the stage for supportive interactions when my symptoms manifest.
If you find yourself avoiding situations or backing out of plans at the last minute or you feel trapped at times because you become anxious or agitated, it might be a chance to share some of your symptoms with friends and talk about how they impact you when they appear. It doesn’t even require much detail. For example, I tell friends, “I am hoping to come to your party, but I often get very nervous thinking about being around strangers, so I may not be in the right frame of mind to be there.”
Explain PTSD by Symptoms to Reduce Them
Once I began to explain my PTSD symptoms to my friends, something interesting happened. I found myself attending more functions, more comfortable asking someone to repeat themselves when I had lost focus on the conversation, and more able to respond to last-minute requests by taking a few moments to process. My friends and acquaintances have even begun to show me support by giving me advanced notice for changes, inviting me to arrive at gatherings early, or asking me if I need a break or would like to get some fresh air when we are in tight spaces.
By sharing my triggers and reactions, I have made it easier to join in activities. I find that knowing I have a way out of an uncomfortable situation that those around me can understand removes a significant amount of worry. When my stress is lower, my symptoms are more in control.
Do you have any thoughts on this? How much do you explain to friends and family about your symptoms? Please join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.
PTSD treatments that have been scientifically validated can be very helpful in reducing and/or alleviating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD therapy and PTSD medications are effective treatments for those experiencing this severe anxiety disorder, developed after a traumatic event. For PTSD treatment, these techniques are usually combined for the best outcome (What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]?).
Because many psychiatric illnesses commonly occur alongside PTSD, they may also need treatment. Many people with PTSD also have issues with substance abuse (drug addiction information); in these cases, the substance abuse should be treated before the PTSD. In the cases where depression occurs with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD treatment should be the priority, as PTSD has a different biology and response than depression.1
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at any age and can be caused by any event or situation the person perceives as traumatic (PTSD in Children: Symptoms, Causes, Effects, Treatments). About 7% – 10% of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives.
Several types of therapy are used in the treatment of PTSD (PTSD Therapy and Its Role in Healing PTSD). The two primary PTSD therapies are:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD focuses on recognizing thought patterns and then ascertaining and addressing faulty patterns. For example, faulty thought patterns may be causing the individual to inaccurately assess the danger of a situation and thus react to a level of danger that isn’t present. CBT is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy where the person with PTSD is gradually exposed to the feared situation in a safe way. Over time, exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder allows the person to withstand and adjust to the feared stimuli.2
EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a technique that combines exposure and other therapeutic approaches with a series of guided eye movements. This PTSD therapy is designed to stimulate the brain’s information-processing mechanisms in an effort to reprocess the traumatic memories so they can be integrated into the psyche without the associated anxiety. (Watch an interview about EMDR Therapy Self Help Techniques for Trauma Relief)
Other therapy techniques used in PTSD treatment include:
- Family therapy
- Play therapy
- Art therapy
- Relaxation exercises
- PTSD Support Groups
- Individual talk therapy – particularly for those with trauma from abuse or from childhood
- Anxiety management
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) medications can often be used to alleviate the physical symptoms of PTSD enough so that PTSD therapy has a chance to work. Several types of PTSD medications are available, although not all are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medications for PTSD include:
- Antidepressants – several types of antidepressants are prescribed for PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the primary type. SSRIs have been shown to help the symptoms associated with re-experiencing of trauma, avoidance of trauma cues and over-awareness of possible dangers (hyperarousal). Both sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are FDA-approved antidepressant PTSD medications
- Benzodiazepines – tranquilizers most frequently prescribed for the short-term management of anxiety symptoms. This type of PTSD medication may relieve irritability, sleep disturbances and hyperarousal symptoms. Examples include lorazepam (Ativan) and diazepam (Valium).
- Beta-blockers – may help with symptoms associated with hyperarousal. Propranolol (Inderal, Betachron E-R) is one such drug.
- Anticonvulsants – anti-seizure medications also prescribed for bipolar disorder. No anticonvulsants are FDA-approved for PTSD treatment; however, those who experience impulsivity or involuntary mood swings (emotional lability) may be prescribed medications such as carbamazepine (Tegretol, Tegretol XR) or lamotrigine (Lamictal).
- Atypical antipsychotics – these medications may help those with symptoms around re-experiencing the trauma (flashbacks) or those who have not responded to other treatment. No antipsychotic is FDA-approved in the treatment of PTSD but drugs like resperidone (Risperdal) or olanzapine (Zyprexa) may be prescribed.
Novel pilot studies also suggest that Prazosin (Minipress, an alpha-1 receptor agonist) or Clonidine (Catapres, Catapres-TTS, Duraclon, an antiadrenergic agent) may also be helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In regard to PTSD, I’ve heard so many times – from both survivors and clinicians – once you’re broken you can’t be fixed (Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain). Really? I find that hard to believe.
And now, there’s proof that’s all a bunch of baloney.
Your Brain Can Change and Recover From PTSD
In my own trauma recovery, I got to a day that things seemed so dire and destined never to change that I almost gave up. And then a little voice inside me said, Go dance. Ridiculous, right? Not really. Dancing made me feel free, transcendent, joyful and very in the present moment.
I listened to that little voice and signed up for dance classes every day of the week. Seven straight days of every week of every month, I danced every day for four months. I stopped working on my PTSD recovery and just chased after the good feelings that dance brought me.
I didn’t know it, but I was doing something years ago that science today proves works: I was creating positive experiences for myself that trained my brain to rewire. And you know what? It was fun! Not only that, all of those good feelings became addictive. I couldn’t get enough.
In addition to shocking me with the fact that I could actually feel joy (I had long suspected that would never be possible for me) all of that good feeling translated into a new strength and courage that allowed me to go back into the work of PTSD healing. This time, I finally and completely got the job done.
A few years after my PTSD recovery, I went to the annual trauma conference in Boston. The focus of the conference was heavily in the direction of the emerging neuroscience research. A lot of it proved how with MRIs and fMRIs we can actually see how PTSD impacts and changes the brain. Which got me to thinking….
If trauma impacts the brain in such a way that we develop PTSD, meaning the experience of trauma causes the brain to change, then can’t a subsequent experience also cause the brain to change? Was that, in fact, what I had done with all those positive hours of dance experience? Maybe. I cornered a neuroscientist who had presented at the conference and asked him point blank:
If neurological PTSD symptoms come about in response to a powerful psychological experience, is it possible to reverse those neurological changes by engaging in an equally powerful opposite experience?
“You mean, instead of experiencing trauma, experiencing a powerful bliss?” David asked. I nodded. “Yes.”
David didn’t even hesitate: “Yes. Definitely. If you could induce an equally powerful inverse experience, it would impact the brain and cause neurological changes.”
Huh. What do you think about that? A scientist, someone hardcore and a stickler for proof, unequivocally said that the brain can change. In fact, what I came to learn later is that not only can the brain change, it is hardwired to change. You are genetically built for your brain to change again and again and again until the end of your life.
Now, doesn’t all that just make you begin to think about recovery in a whole new way? You are perfectly fine. Your neuronal pathways and activity just needs to be changed. Work? Of course. Doable? Eminently.
This is a general guideline put together by former Sergeant Andi Westfall, who served with the National Guard as a medic during Operation Iraqi Freedom and who suffers with PTSD. These tips will be useful when interacting with a veteran and should not be considered absolutely true for every veteran. Each Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor or Coast Guardsman who has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Somalia or any other combat theater, has had a different combat experience. How they deal with their experience will vary depending on age, culture, faith, gender, community support, or lack of, and the presence of or lack of a family and/or social support system. A combat veteran is not the same person they were before being deployed to a combat theater and how the civilian population interacts with them can either help or hinder their very difficult transition.
Did you kill any anyone?
It would seem that common sense would deem this an inappropriate question, however this question is asked a lot. What purpose does this serve the individual asking this question knowing this about the veteran?
What was the nastiest or most disgusting thing you saw over there?
If the veteran wants to share this kind of detail they might, but ONLY after trust has been established. However, the chance they will want to relive the details of those events, which might be very traumatic, could be slim to none.
Are you glad to be home?
Consider for a moment what these words could be asking: “Are you glad that you are no longer in a situation where you are getting shot at, missiles being fired at you on a regular basis, the threat of your vehicle being blown up every time you get in it, sand storms and 140 degree temperatures?” It is also important to be aware that the veteran’s homecoming was more traumatic than being at war. Some come home financially desolate because the person they trusted to take care of their finances spent ALL their money. Others come home thinking they will be welcomed by their spouse only to find they have been unfaithful, usually with someone close to them such as a brother and/or best friend, and they are being handed divorce papers. Unfortunately this happens quite often.
How are you doing?
This question should really only be asked when you are willing to stay and listen to the answer. Most likely the veteran doesn’t know how they are doing and definitely may not know how to express it. It is okay not to know what to do with the answer because there isn’t anything you can say to fix it or make it better. Just being there so the veteran can “debrief” for just a moment can be enough.
Did you see the news…? (And then proceed to go on and share what gruesome thing that has just happened in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, or how many Americans have been killed.)
The veteran has “lived” the news and doesn’t need to relive it through the present media and certainly does not need to hear about it. The war is very personal to the veteran and most likely they know people still fighting and dying over there.)
Do you feel guilty about what you had to do over there, i.e., kill another human?
Just about any combat veteran will have some measure of guilt. Those who make it home alive, although grateful, have survivor’s guilt. Those who participated in direct combat had to make decisions that ultimately resulted in taking human life, to include women and children. These individuals generally have tremendous guilt but may not know how to identify it let alone admit it.
Do you want to go get a drink?
This generally becomes a BIG problem later so do not be the one to help them start self-medicating and on the path to destruction with chemicals. Coffee is a much better addiction and easier to quit.
Do you want me to pray with you?
This should be automatic. You may not know what to pray for but the Holy Spirit knows what the veteran needs and will direct. And, the veteran may be very angry at God and the last thing they want is to commune with Him. So be discerning: if he/she says no, honor that – and don’t ask “Why not?” unless you have already established a strong relationship of trust.
What do you think about the U.S. being over there and don’t you think we should get out?
It is not a good idea to get started on the politics concerning the hell they were sent into and have just come out of. Their perspective, because of experience, is going to be very different than the average civilian getting their information from CNN.
What do you think of Obama? Bush?
Just a good idea to stay away from these types of questions! If they want to talk about it, let them bring it up. But, be prepared to hear a point of view you might not agree with. They have a different perspective because of their experience that has shaped their point of view.
Do you think God could ever forgive you?
There are people out there who are extremely opposed to the war and blame the military for the destruction and loss of life they see on TV. These individuals seem unable to distinguish between their politics and the individual Soldier. The veteran will have some measure of guilt no matter what their job was, so do not make it worse by helping them along with the notion they can never be forgiven for the things they had to do to protect themselves and their battle buddies.
Did you see any dead bodies?
Again, if the veteran should want to share this very intimate detail of their deployment they might. However, this may occur after time but be prepared that they just will not share.
Do not tell a veteran that you understand what they are going through and then share a story of when you hit your thumb with a hammer.
There really is no way to completely understand going to war unless you have also “been there, done that.” There really is no experience you have had that can come close to the stress, terror, guilt and just plain hell of this type of event. However, God can use your trauma to extend compassion and empathy, which does not always require words. You don’t have to understand what they’ve been through, but to recognize this was something incredibly painful for them will show the veteran that you do care.
DO NOT, even in a joking manner, tell a veteran that they should be grateful they made it home alive, they didn’t die “over there” and they need to get “over it” and be happy.
There is already a VERY good chance that they wished they had been killed in action. Coming home is much more difficult that actually being in combat. The veteran knows what is expected of him or her during the heat of battle. They rely on training and the instinct to survive. There is no training manual for coming home and there is no debriefing that can fully prepare the veteran for how difficult it will be. As a result many desire to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan because they know who they are and how to survive in the civilian world. Then there are those who cannot deal with these pressures and consider suicide as the only option.