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Veterans Day 2018; These Days It's Called PTSD


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These days there’s a lot of needed emphasis on what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the First World War it was called Shell-Shock. Years later in World War 2 it became Combat Fatigue. I don’t really know what it was called after Korea or Viet Nam but it was the same thing only wearing a different uniform. It seemed as if the public and the private sectors felt that if they ignored those vets, they would eventually get over whatever was bothering them and get on with their lives. It only took 20 or 30 years for everyone to realize the need for recognition and treatment of those who were affected. A majority dealt with it on their own...

My father saw a lot of combat during World War 2 and brought home with him the nightmares and memories that so many of his contemporaries harbored as well. There were long nights of sweat drenched sheets, screaming, and flailing at an enemy that crept silently into his dreams intent on killing him. Another night might bring artillery rounds shrieking down; the morning finding him beneath the bed where he had crawled for shelter. The years and life would continue before the enemies eventually ceased to come with the darkness. Throughout those years however, he carried an experience that would always haunt him from those days when he was a strong and confident young man until age had bent his back and grayed his hair. The event was not of battle or survival but rather one of compassion for a fellow human being; despite that person being an enemy who might have killed him had the circumstances been reversed.

As he and I traveled to Georgia in the early 1980’s he told me many of his experiences during the war. I was driving him to Atlanta for a reunion of his old Army unit and he openly spoke as the miles passed. He told me of capturing a German soldier as his unit swept through an area in rural Italy. Quite by accident, he came upon the German who sat on a shelter half reassembling his weapon. Dad stuck his rifle into his face and shouted “hande hoch!” The German turned white as a sheet and immediately threw his hands up. Dad took him back to the rear where he would be interrogated and then sent farther back to a POW holding area. The was an SS soldier, who he described as “just a boy”, but he also knew that this boy was well trained and highly motivated and was not to be handled carelessly. He turned the prisoner in to the battalion intel section and, for reasons unknown to me, decided he would stay to watch the interrogation. A German speaking American questioned the bound prisoner for several minutes , but was answered with nothing but name, rank, and useless information. After getting nowhere, one of the interrogators spoke with two men in civilian clothes who stood close by. Just by their presence, dad knew that they were Italian partisans. A few words were whispered to them and they immediately began beating the bound prisoner with their fists. Though only several seconds had passed, the German’s face was a bloody mess and he slumped forward, unconscious, in the wooden chair. Only seconds, but it was more than dad could stand. He was up from his seat, weapon in hand, raising the butt to smash the skulls of one or both of the Italians. As we sped down I-75, he told me that he was in such a rage that he wanted to kill both of the partisans and might have had it not been for the officer-in-charge and several others physically holding him back. In very plain language he was ordered to get the hell out and get back to his unit and not to speak of the incident…which he did not… until he returned home and later told my mother about it.

After dads death in 1997, mom felt free to fill me in on some details about our family. There were stories that I had never heard before, some that I had only known a watered down version of, and some that absolutely shocked me. After the war one of his brothers was engaged in a very ugly divorce with a young son and baby daughter caught in the middle of it. Dad had been back a few months and was trying to get back to civilian life and a normal existence. He returned only to find that his brother was mistreating the son. A wrong action or word brought on a severe physical and/or verbal punishment. Mom and dad offered to take the kids in and raise them as their own as a way to keep them safe; but my uncle would not agree to that. Finally, during another of my uncle’s rages, he stepped in to stop it. I don’t know, nor did she say, if it came to blows or what, but she but said that it frightened her so badly that she feared that dad might kill his brother. On their drive home he told her the story of the young German prisoner, “the boy”, and seeing his nephew being mistreated so, snapped his mind back to that event several months past. She said that he never got over that German boy and what had happened that day in Italy. The demons would continue their nightly visits for some years, at times straining their marriage to near breaking; but they stuck it out and time passed. He worked at a few different low-pay jobs, not being the type of person to be in what was known as the “Fifty-Two-Twenty Club” *. He reenlisted in the Army in 1949, prior to the Korean War and stayed in until 1964. He and my uncle were close, loving brothers for the rest of their lives and, as far as I know, nothing was ever mentioned as to those terrible post-war days .

There were several battles, circumstances, and places where many in his unit were killed, and in a fierce battle at Mt. Altuzzo in 1944 he was sure that he was not going to make it out alive. But I found it ironic that it was such a different type of situation that had chiseled itself into his mind. He was never overly friendly with the Germans when we were overseas in the 1950’s; but he was not one to be rude to anyone. Once, in 1969, he was outright nasty to a German gas station owner in East Bradenton. As we pulled away,I asked him , “What’s the matter with you, I’ve never seen you act that way to anybody!” He just muttered,” Damn krauts! Trying to kill me back then!” I guess I would’ve had to walk in his shoes to understand.

Addendum: Dad was a platoon sergeant and normally would have had the prisoner returned with one of the lower ranking troops, but chose to take this one back on his own. Prior to this, he said that one of his men had been detailed to take two prisoners back to the battalion, (one of which was wounded, the other helping him to walk) but the man returned much sooner than expected and stated that he had shot both of them as they tried to escape.

* The Fifty-Two-Twenty Club stood for $20.00 a week for 52 weeks; government money for unemployed veterans.

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My dad in 1944. 21 years old. 3rd/338th 85th Inf. Div. "The boy" could have looked like this...

 

 

 

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Thanks for posting a very poignant reminder that another kind of war exists for many long after the actual combat is over, sometimes taken with them to the grave.

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Specific areas of collecting and buying interest:

WWI/WWII 40th (Sunshine) Division, Camp Kearny, Camp Harry Jones, WWI/WWII 158th Infantry, USS Oklahoma, USS Swordfish (SS-193), Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Mexican Border (1916),

Norman Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) Norman, OK, Tinker Field or AFB, Submariner Items, Knives, Bayonets, Sweetheart Jewelry, other unique

or odd items with interesting stories.

 

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I can totally relate to alot of that story, My Dad was also a WW2 Veteran, But in the South Pacfic, He told me many stories. Some I wont repeat here. My Dad was like a best friend too me. He would talk to me like I was a veteran. I remember asking dad did he still have night mares of the war at 80 years old. This was years ago, Dad would be 95 if he were still living. My dad told me that he did have those night mares still waking up in a cold sweat shaking. The enemy crawling all around. He said they were not as frequent but they were experience's you never forget. Dad is at peace now. I hope and pray that all combat veterans will find a way to cope with there experience's, and live as best a normal life as can be. I truly believe my dad did just that. Thank you to ALL the veterans, I love my country. I appreciate my freedoms. Thanks to you. I don't take being an American for granted. God bless all and our Great Country the United States of America.


Pvt. James H. Honey 1st Md. Eastern shore Vol. Inf. Co. D (union) Gettysburg
Pvt. George Eddie Lear 26th Inf. Co.H 1st Div .(WW1) P.H. WIA Cpl. Richard Elsea 268th C.A. Bn. Battery A. WW2 SSgt. Grant Elsea 314th Inf. Hq.Co. I.R.79thDiv. WW2
Cpl. Harry Lawrence Butler Jr 23rd Regt. WIA Korea Lt. George Olin Tilghman 111th MG. 29th Div. WW1 DIS France 1919
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Thank you for posting your Dads stories. Very moving, perfect for today. Guess we all have sights seen we wish we could forget.

"The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him" G.K. Chesterton

"A people that values it's privileges above its principles will soon lose both" D.D. Eisenhower


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