John Thomson, Vietnam veteran
Oakland, CA, USA
I served in Vietnam from December, 1969 to March, 1971. I was a hippie before entering the Army and wanted to avoid combat, so I enlisted as a cook, also working as a baker and finally a Mess Sergeant. For every person in the field there were five support persons; that was my job, I supported the War.
The legacy of my Vietnam service feels like it goes to the molecular level. Just as if I had been blinded or my skin burned away, my war experience has been with me for thirty years since.
I have been to school three times, BA, MA and now, doctorate in clinical psychology. I now am a therapist working with child and adolescent victims of abuse. I have never married, have never had a relationship last longer than six months. No children. My "career," such as it is, has been affected by travels, moves, the so-called wandering that characterize many vets' lives. I have done fifteen years of therapy, including anti-depressant medication. I feel "stuck". Still stuck.
Recently I saw two Vietnamese, conical straw hats, black pajamas, crossing the street as my car approached. I was gripped by an impulse to jam on the accelerator and run them down.
Last year I was shopping in WalMart, turned the corner of a blind aisle, walked into a family of Vietnamese, mother, father and child. As they spoke in their native language I panicked, turned and ran down the aisle away from them.
Five years ago, at a time when I was under great stress with my doctoral dissertation, I had a dissociative episode and ran into a bus. I was jailed overnight for assault with a deadly weapon (my vehicle) before being released the next day. Charges were dropped.
Yet, I am a good man.
To say I have tried to work on myself and understand my experience goes without saying. I used to work with Vietnam Vets at the VA Vet Center program in Washington DC. Veterans would come from all over the country and we would support them as they made the difficult journey to the Vietnam Memorial. My case isn't even close to what real suffering is like!
I have not given up. I have certainly downgraded my expectations for this lifetime. If I could be in a loving relationship and be of service in the world, that would be good enough.
My next journey is to return to Vietnam. I am planning the trip now for this coming June. I hope that I can lay some of my demons to rest by re-experiencing the people, the land, hopefully return to the soil where I was stationed. I hope that will help.
Maybe service will help. Perhaps I could work with some of the Vietnamese injured by our bombs.
I appreciate this series by NPR. As always, the government does not really understand what is good in this country.
I learned thirty years ago how powerful awful the United States Government can be. I have nothing but praise and admiration for the bravery of the Vietnamese. If only the good would prevail. I pray that it will.