We're getting close to celebrating another Memorial Day and this past April 30th marked the 40th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, a war which resulted in over 58,000 American casualties. I don't believe that the term PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was ever used during the Vietnam War, which doesn't mean that it didn't affect those soldiers. Their condition just had another name like "combat fatigue" or "shell shock". According to vva.org (Vietnam Veterans of America), "2.8 million served in Vietnam. Given the nature of guerrilla warfare, it is hard to estimate the number exposed to hostile fire. However, the Research Triangle Institute’s Vietnam readjustment study concludes 480,000 have full-blown PTSD and another 350,000 have partial PTSD."
I just finished reading a book for the second time. The first time was early in 2002, before our recent misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan caused PTSD to come to the nation's attention. If you're interested in the history of the Vietnam war or how war affects those unfortunate enough to be a part of, "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young", may be for you. Subtitled, "Ia Drang: The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam", the book was originally published in 1992. It was written by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, the only journalist on the ground throughout the fighting. My Harper Perennial soft cover edition, 409 pages, was published in 1993 and the book was made into a movie "We Were Soldiers" in 2002. I haven't seen the movie and don't plan on ever seeing it.
The events of "We Were Soldiers" took place almost 50 years ago in November of 1965. About 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry were dropped by helicopters into a clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. They were almost immediately surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. 79 men were killed and 121 wounded in the first battle at LZ (Helicopter Landing Zone) X-Ray and 155 were killed and 124 wounded in the second battle at LZ Albany. Besides the men of the 7th Cav, you'll also read about the heroic helicopter pilots who risked their lives to bring in needed supplies and get wounded soldiers to safety.
The battles described in "We Were Soldiers" were so horrific that I can't imagine any of the participants not being affected. Anyone doubting the reality of PTSD is not likely to cling to those doubts after reading this book.
Here's an example I recall reading of a stressful dilemma faced by one of the surviving soldiers. (it's described on page 309 of my edition.) North Vietnam Army soldiers were killing American wounded as they lay on the ground. One U.S. soldier who wasn't wounded and was bandaging up a fellow soldier, pretended to be dead when some NVA jumped them. Pretending was easy because he was covered with blood from treating the wounded. An NVA soldier started using him as a sandbag for his machine gun. "The only reason he didn't discover I was alive was that he was shaking more than I was." If this soldier stood up, the NVA would kill him. If he just lay there, fire from his own men - "friendly fire" - could kill him. He was wounded and the NVA machine gunner was killed.
The book was dedicated to the memory of the solders who gave their lives. Their names and the names of the units they served with are listed in the front of the book. You can find more information on these men on www.virtualwall.org, sometimes with photos and written tributes. The easiest way to search the Virtual Wall is by last name.
Some further notes:
According to www.thewall-usa.com/stats/index.html (not the same as the Virtual Wall website), years in which casualties reached 1,000 or more were:
1965 - 1,863
1966 - 6,144
1967 - 11,153
1968 - 16,589
1969 - 11,614
1970 - 6,083
1971 - 2,357
(Retired General Moore celebrated his 93rd birthday a few months ago and Mr Galloway is 73.)