“Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man’s survival.” (Carlos P. Romulo)
Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.
You sent me alone, America. Did you know you did that? You trained me in platoons and teams, and then you sent me to Vietnam on a plane with about forty newly trained Green Beret Lieutenants. We processed through Long Binh, together, then got split up to go different ways. I rode the helicopter to my A-Team camp near the Cambodian border, alone.
A team was there, but I had never met them—any of them. I was the new guy, a fresh butter bar with a face of a teenager. We all knew our lives depended upon each other, but they had no measure of my mettle. I would have to prove that in live fire.
This is one of the worst things you can do to a person, to send them into combat, alone, and make no mistake, sending with strangers is sending, alone.
We coped. We got to know each other. We lived through a firefight or two. We learned to trust each other, but you kept splitting us up, sending some home and bringing in new guys.
I’m still kind of mad about that.
After about eight months at our border camp, you pulled us out, the lieutenants. You decided we were needed at the rear, for what we did not know.
I didn’t care. I had no career ambitions in uniform, and it was one step closer to home, to my family, by baby girl, and my return to UW Madison to study Genetics.
It did not take long for a group of combat veteran first lieutenants to bond. We became our own team, the “Crises Eliminators” (there were always crises at headquarters). My friend, Rod, was a performer with a great Flip Wilson impersonation. We became the Gorilla Club after Flip’s Reverend LeRoy of the What’s Happenin’ Now Congregation. Like Mr. G. O. Rilla in the zoo, “Whatever they said we did, we did it—and some more, besides.”
Then, we came home. Some of us shared a flight from Seattle to Minneapolis. Rod, who lived there, even waited a few hours with me until I got a flight to Madison. I saw him a couple of times after that. I have never seen any others from my A Team or the Gorilla Club. That leaves a hole in me nobody else seems to fill.
We are compelled to judge others, to determine who can be trusted. All people are so compelled. Animals, too. Combat veterans are particularly slow to trust. It becomes a problem for us.
We all know our survival depends upon brothers and sisters, but strangers are not to be trusted. Groups are threatening. Crowds are intolerable. Even others we want to trust are avoided.
Because, they go away.
Trapped between the threat of being alone and the vulnerability of trusting others who may attack, betray, fail, or abandon us, we live in desperate otherness, tending to fear and gravitating toward hate.
It’s alright. We can live with this condition if we are honest about it, honest enough to develop personal humility. Because, first we have to judge ourselves fairly enough to accept the way we are. We look deep inside to see the reality and the scars that make us this way, deep enough to accept the truth of it.
Looking upon these personal tracks is difficult—probably too difficult to do alone—but so liberating. May I suggest you find a new team of people who share some of the same scars and lean on each other?
Together, may you find happy tracking.