My friend, David Hollar, sent me a snippet from his manuscript titled “Casualties of War”. In it, he talks about PTSD and his struggles after the war. Much of what he wrote will resonate with veterans of any war. There is help and treatment available. There is no cure, but you can learn techniques for keeping the demons at bay. How much of what he wrote do you experience?


     I returned home from Vietnam on August 15, 1970; I thought the war was over for my family and me. I came to realize that instead of being over; it had just begun. Upon returning home, I started a journey that was alien to every Vietnam Veteran and me. Whether it was a day or night in America, each of us started our difficult and long journey. In some ways, for many, the Vietnam War was a journey into spiritual darkness. It became the blackest night of the soul. Some succumbed to suicide. It condemned others to a lifetime of depression and sadness. Many others could go on with their lives and attain their life goals. Depression played a terrible toll on my family and me. In a session with Elaine. I told her that “at some level, the Vietnam War almost ruined my life.” That was because of the results of the depression that it brought upon me.

     I have seen the face of war. It is a terrible ordeal. It never smiles. It only cries in anguish, terror, and pain. It is the face of widows and fatherless children. That face is always the same, whether in world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. In Vietnam, GIs learned it was impossible to kill without emotional engagement.

     In 1980, veterans of that war formed the Vietnam Veterans of America. They created it because Vietnam Veterans, mostly, were mistreated when coming home. There were no parades, no accolades, no parties, and no recognition. All too often, veterans of WW II and Korea thought we were not veterans of a “real” war. Some considered us to be “crybabies” and weak. Organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion would not allow us to join. For that reason, the VVA slogan is, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

     Not long after my return, Paul, my oldest brother, was visiting us. He told me that while I was not nearby; he asked Sylvia how I was doing. He said she hesitated and only said, “he has changed.” Sylvia has told me she has commented to some of her lady friends at church that “the person who went to Vietnam (her husband) is not the same person who came back.” Sylvia has told me that if when she met me, I were like the person I had become after Vietnam, she would not have married me.

     It is because of these comments that I titled this book Casualties of War. The casualties extend far beyond those killed or physically wounded and their families. It includes the many thousands of soldiers plagued by PTSD, Agent Orange, and depression. It is an ailment that affects everyone around them.

     After the war, I found that hardly anyone wanted to know anything about my experience. That was fine with me because I did not want to talk about it. Years later, my brother Paul told me I would say nothing about it. He would ask questions I would never answer. Americans wanted to forget about the war and think of it as never happening. But it happened. That rejection was a significant factor in my coming emotional storm.

     Upon returning home, I went back to working at Arthur Andersen & Co. as a junior auditor. When I started there in June 1967, I was one of 25 new junior auditors after college graduation. When I returned in February 1971, only 2 or 3 remained. It was typical for large auditing firms to have a significant turnover of their new junior auditors. Of those remaining, they were three years ahead of me in experience and salary.

     Unlike when I first began working at Arthur Andersen, I found I had more difficulty concentrating and understanding the work. One morning in April, my senior supervisory auditor told me to report to David Ellis, the Office Manager, the following day. Ellis said that I was not working out with the firm, and he recommended I look for a position elsewhere. Since I was a veteran and had entered the army after working at Arthur Andersen, they were required to keep me for one year, if that is what I wanted. I told him that I did not want to do that and would look for another job. 

     I remained on the payroll during the 12 weeks that I looked for a new position. I did not go to the office because Mr. Ellis said, “my full-time job was to find another one.”


British soldiers on patrol in the Falklands

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the British colony on the Falkland Islands, 400 miles from Argentine soil. It was nearly 7,500 miles from the British mainland. The population at the time was less than 2,000 people and 400,000 sheep. On the 5th of April, a prominent British task force set out on a 7,500-mile journey to liberate the islands. That effort began the most extensive naval action to take place since the Second World War, and nearly 900 men lost their lives.

     I read an article about the war in a newspaper. It included an interview with a young British Marine Lieutenant. He commented that war was not what he expected. He said it was more terrible than anything he had ever imagined. They fought much of the war at night, which would have made battles all the more terrifying, especially to a lieutenant in charge of 30 men.

     As I read the article, I muttered aloud. “Now you know, lieutenant, now you know what it is like, and you will never forget it. You may try, but you will probably fail.”

     One day after I returned home, Sylvia and I went on a picnic in a park. The area had a plethora of trees in the area, just like the jungles of Vietnam. I found I was continually coming to an alert state when there were any noises, such as bristling bushes or squirrels running about. I had left Vietnam, but it had not left me. I was a Casualty of War.

     In 1991, I was the recipient of a heart transplant. I am receiving compensation from the Veterans Administration for heart disease caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam’s jungles. A side effect was kidney failure, for which I am also receiving compensation. I also filed a claim for PTSD in 2012, which was approved. 

    When we returned home from Vietnam, they expected us to become law-abiding, distinguished citizens of our country. Hours earlier, we left a country where death, dismemberment, and destruction were the accepted norm. There was no counseling or instruction on rejoining the millions of citizens going about their daily activities in their respective communities.

No one warned us that there would be flashbacks, nightmares, and posttraumatic stress to greet us with our return to the “world.” No one told us of the impending diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Few understood where we had been, what we had done, and the things we had seen, touched and smelled. Few understood why we went to ‘NAM. Even fewer wanted to know. Unless we had an understanding family, we were on our own. Some did not make it. There have been about 9,000 suicides by Vietnam veterans.

     After Vietnam, I found that I would become irritated or angry quickly. I was quick to judge, cynical about everything, and intolerant. It was decades before I realized why. It continues today. I am a Casualty of War.

     Karl Marlantes was a marine infantry lieutenant in Vietnam. Ken Burns featured him in The Vietnam War documentary. In it, he describes an event that took place after returning home. He was in his car, and the driver behind him honked his horn. The next thing he knew, he was on the hood of that car, pounding on the window and yelling at the driver. He did not know that his reaction resulted from the war. I have had multiple experiences similar to Marlantes but without the violence.

     I experienced things in those days that I now realize were from PTSD. I did not understand why I became so angry over so little. When I was in a car alone, I would often scream, yell and swear at anything and everything–cars, drivers, the wind, a tree, the sky, anything. I had a very supportive wife and family, but could not share what I had been through.

     Through the years, the impact of the war on me continued as becoming angry quickly, used strong language (usually in private), being cynical about almost anything and everything, and was angry about our unusually high number and intensity of life’s difficulties.

     This condition caused me to be less than understanding or supportive of Sylvia than I needed to be. She could sense when I was having a bad time. Those times came without warning, and I could not explain it to myself or her. I had changed dramatically and drastically from the 25-year-old who went to Vietnam. 

          When Sylvia saw I was struggling, she often asked: “Is it mental, physical, or both?” Too often, it would be mental. I have often wondered how many wives, with any regularity, ask their husbands that question. I expect the answer is few.

     Depression would slime over me. There would be no warning, and it would command our lives for that time. I would go to bed and cry for five or ten minutes with no idea why. Once in an email, my brother Paul asked me why I was so depressed. I replied that I did not know. I talked about it very little because I could not see the problem, so how could anyone else?

     I remember the details of one episode. It was on my birthday, and we were in Fredericksburg, VA. I had been having mental issues that day and maybe a few days before. We celebrated by having lunch at Brock’s restaurant. Sylvia’s sister owned a store in the Old Towne section of the city. After lunch, we went there to visit. We parked on the street near the store. I told Sylvia to go in, and I would be in soon. While in the car alone, I broke into tears with huge uncontrollable gasps for air as the depression demons escaped from my body for a while. It lasted nearly ten minutes.

     After episodes like that, I felt so much better. Feeling better could last a month or two or more. Then again, it might be only two weeks, or one week, or a couple of days when the demons were back, and the cycle came back around. I expect I thought the root cause of this condition was the war and the heart transplant, both of which were life-threatening traumatic events.           

     This happened to me because of events before, during, and after my service in Vietnam. I have told family and friends that “for me, the Vietnam War changed everything.” The causes of that change have three elements:

  • How I became an infantry lieutenant.
  • After the war, I realized and thought that the war was a mistake and should not have happened.
  • How they treated us (mistreated) upon our return home.

     First, I became an infantry lieutenant because of misstatements by multiple U.S. Army recruiters. But, in my mind, it went much further. The misstatements came from my government, my country. Years after returning from Vietnam, I learned that being in the infantry was a rare occupation in the military. In any significant military operation, “only 1 in 10” troops are front-line infantry.

     Second, after the war, I realized that the domino theory (created by Eisenhower and perpetrated by Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) was false. It was the basic foundation for going to war. The war ended via Nixon’s Vietnamization (i.e., let’s get the hell out of there) Program. The conflict in Vietnam was not a major player in Communist expansion; it was an internal revolution, and therefore we should not have been there. 

     They had sent me to a war that should not have happened. They sent me to a war that our leaders (JFK, LBJ, and Nixon) knew was not winnable. It was a war that much of the country despised. My country had misled me.

     Third, the country that sent us to war rejected us upon our return home. All three issues betrayed what is right by those in authority and a high-stake situation. They all resulted in my severe Moral Injury.

     I experienced depression during the two years from the heart attack to the heart transplant in 1991. However, the depression returned in 1994. They prescribed antidepressant medication.

     The betrayals prompted me to tell my counselor on December 19, 2011: “At some level, the Vietnam war ruined my life” I said that because of the resulting significant impact of depression on my family and me over several decades. I have taken prescribed antidepressants since 1994. 

     I have problems with remembering events that recently occurred and have developed a cynical attitude and suspiciousness of people and organizations. Loud and unexpected noises, including voices, quickly startle me and make me feel disoriented. Other veterans have told me they have the same issue. I find my mood varies and changes soon from hour to hour and day to day. I have significant difficulty in attempting to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously. Such attempts are usually not successful.

     The war negatively impacted millions of Americans. Dunbar’s number is the limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain ongoing social relationships. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist in the 1990s, developed it. He determined that people can maintain about 150 stable relationships. He said it was “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you bumped into them in a bar.”

The number of GIs killed in the war was 58,220, and 153,000 wounded. Using Dunbar’s number, the losses negatively impacted 8,733,000 family members and friends. The number affected grows to 22,950,000 when factoring in the number of wounded. The Vietnam War left us with millions of Casualties of War.

Thank you, brother, for sharing your story with us.


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