Growing up I wasn't allowed to watch war movies. Until I was about 14 I was an Air Force brat. My dad retired a lt. colonel after serving in three wars. He was proud of his service to our country and he took some things very seriously. Among those he didn't want his two sons to watch movies or television shows that glorified war. He also believed that he shouldn't vote in national elections because he thought the military should remain apolitical. He also fully acknowledged that he and others in the armed forces could have no official opinion about the nature of their mission. Their job was to do it.
Now Dad was not some sort of right-wing robot. The military is very much like a corporation and he did his share of "office politics." He was both an idealist and a realist about different matters.
My dad seldom talked about his combat experiences in WWII or Korea or what it was like commanding a unit that repaired helicopters at Bien Hoa in Vietnam. He never joined a veteran's group. If he was going to speak about his career it was most likely to the men who were in his B-17, B-29 and B-52 crews, not to us.
I never felt slighted. I understood that I could never fully grasp what he had been through. If he wanted to talk with me, that's fine. If not, that was okay too.
Dad used to watch MASH every week, but stopped for a while when he saw the episode in which McLean's Stevenson's chracters is killed on his way home. He got up and growled, "That's not funny. That really happened." It had touched a nerve in him.
I thought about all this as I sat taking notes for the following story. How a war affects someone is in individual thing. Those of us who have not experienced war first-hand can only grasp a tiny bit of what it is like. Books such as the one described below can help.
For Iraqi veteran Andre M.M. Queiroga, it took a year to become adjusted to life as a civilian after two tours of duty. Andrew Simkewicz said he was very angry upon his return and drove his car as if he was racing through Iraqi streets. Jeffrey Lucey survived the war but lost his battle to post traumatic stress disorder and took his own life.
The stories of these three local men are among the 30 interviews conducted by author Elise Forbes Tripp in her new book "Surviving Iraq: Soldiers' Stories." The book was featured at an "Authors @ HCC" presentation on Thursday at Holyoke Community College.
Tripp is an adjunct instructor at HCC and Queiroga is a current student. Lucey was a student at the college.
Tripp said her goal in writing the book was to present " a people's history of the war." Ninety percent of the material is from the veterans themselves.
"The book was not designed to reconcile the differences on the war or to make partisan statements," she added.
From the interviews, she said there were re-occurring themes. Although many of the veterans cited patriotism in the light of the Sept. 11 attacks as a reason for entering the military, others also said they were pursued by recruiters. Others thought they would never go to war.
Many of the vets spoke of how they feel different than civilians, she said, and finds expressing their feelings difficult to people who had not experienced the war.
Two of the veterans she interviewed have left the military but have returned to Iraq in the employ of civilian contractors doing essentially the same job but at much greater pay.
One of Tripp's conclusions is that "civilians must do everything they can to make sure vets get the benefits they deserve," she said.
Simkewicz, Queiroga and Joyce and Kevin Lucey, the parents of Jeffrey Lucey, all read passages from their interviews in the books.
A Springfield College graduate, Simkewicz noted the results of his two tours to Iraq, but said he loved the military and that his war experiences meant, "testing yourself and seeing what you are made of."
He said he was still "hyper vigilant" and noticed that he always sat with his back to a wall. Sitting at a table in the middle of a room was a test for him.
He received eight tickets so far for his driving and over-passes still represent a threat for him.
A counselor at the Vet Center in Springfield, he has received counseling himself and he said conducting group counseling has been as beneficial to him as it had to the other vets.
Quinoa's passage recalled his coming out of Iraq and being deployed back home. He recalled the American fast food restaurants in Kuwait and how the air was better in the United States.
Bringing his Marine unit to Kuwait was a "calm down point where we could rest and be normal." He noted though all of their weapons were collected and said "[they] took away what we treasured the most our rifle."
Queiroga said there would be a "bond forever" between the men who served together.
Joyce and Kevin Lucey said their son returned from Iraq with "hidden wounds." The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that took his life was caused by his experiences as a member of the force that made the initial invasion of the country.
"What he saw was totally different than what he was taught," said Joyce.
Jeffrey self-medicated himself with alcohol, totaled his car, had problems with his long-time girlfriend and his parents didn't know how to help him. Joyce said a counselor at the Veteran's Administration said the choices for her husband and her were either to have their son arrested or kick him out of the house and let him "hit rock bottom."
Jeffrey only wanted to speak to other vets and the Luceys were unaware of the Vet Center in Springfield. The state's Emergency Mental Health Service refused to help because Jeffrey was drinking.
Despite his parent's efforts to seek help for their son, he hung himself.
When asked by an audience member, what they can do to help vets like Jeffrey, Kevin Lucey said people must contact their members of Congress to call for greater funding for PTSD.
During the question period both Queiroga and Simkewicz said that counseling and prescribed medication have helped them their own PSTD problem.
When asked if they could explain why the nation was fighting a war in Iraq, Simkewicz smiled and said, "That's a loaded question."
As a soldier, he explained he didn't look into the political side of the war. He was there to perform his duty. He added that a close friend died in combat three months ago, so he hopes he and others have not died in vain.
Queiroga said that Iraqis he met did welcome the freedom from Saddam Hussein brought by coalition forces, but the struggle between outside terrorists and Iraqi factions complicate relationships. He said that many of the people driving car bombs into American facilities or convoys were people whose families where being held hostage by either other Iraqis or foreign terrorists.
When asked about instituting a draft, Simkewicz voiced his support. Having received his orders for a third deployment to the war, he believes that others should share the burden. Queiroga said he thinks a draft would never be re-instated because politicians would want to protect their own family members.
People would like more information about services for veterans can contact the Vet Center at 737-5167.
© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs