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Monday, August 31, 2009

Okinawa Remembered

Some memories, long repressed, never die. This 85 year old World War II veteran is dealing with long ago horrors that he was able to suppress for many years. The bloody battle of Okinawa, with many civilian and service casualties, is coming back to haunt him.

Extensive quote for educational purposes:

John Landry never spoke about the island, the scattered bodies, the smell of death -- but six decades later, nightmares of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II woke him up from his sleep soaked in sweat.
"They were things I could never talk about, but it's time I told it like it was," said Landry, 85, whose buried memories began haunting him after he saw scenes of the Iraq war on television.
"I don't want to leave this world and take it with me."
The most gruesome chapter of the veteran's life happened in the Battle of Okinawa -- the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater of the war.

"The things that went on on that island are things you never forget," Landry said. "Death was all over the place."
Except for a long time, Landry did manage to push down those memories.
Only recently have the long-blocked scenes started to come back to life.
He can suddenly see mothers clutching babies and leaping off cliffs into the water. He can see the natives fleeing into caves engulfed by fire minutes later from grenades.
"What got me was these people were trying to get away from us, and it was their island," he said. "I hadn't seen the destruction we were doing from the air. Now I'm on land and I'm seeing the bodies, the kids. I could smell burning flesh, which is something if you ever got near it, you never forget."
The ferocity of fighting in the 82-day-long bitter battle from March to June 1945 caused among the highest casualties of any WWII engagement, earning it the nickname "Typhoon of Steel."
Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed or wounded or attempted suicide.
Had he followed the rules, his last war memory would have stayed in Europe.
He would have continued to tell his family the only part he has always told -- about the roughly eight months he spent performing air missions for the British Coastal Command.
And how he served in the same squadron as Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. -- President John F. Kennedy's brother who died in a plane crash. How he ate dinner next to and walked the town with the sociable pilot.
"I was very proud to have known him, whether his brother was president or not," Landry said.
But about five years ago, Landry was reminded of the untold stories when he was combing his hair and a sliver of what he believes was shrapnel from Okinawa fell from his head.
"He'd tell us about his flying days, but he never talked about Okinawa," said his wife, Patricia. "I think he wants to get it out in the open. The World War II veterans are dying off, and their stories are getting lost."
Landry, who spent much of civilian life as a construction heavy equipment operator, joined the Navy "because I liked the navy-blue suit" and was drawn to romantic sailor tales.
The father of five sons said Okinawa scenes have started coming back in bits and pieces, many times through nightmares.
"I'm lost and I can't get to where I want to be," he said of his dreams. "I think it's because I don't want to do what I have to do. I don't want to wake up in a foxhole or in the dirt."
He has finally began sharing with his family the details he had intentionally forgotten.
"I've been through what I've been through, and I changed because of it. I just want them to hear it," .


Monday, August 24, 2009

Warrior to Spiritual Warrior - Jess E. Weiss

I just completed the above titled book by Jess E. Weiss, a 91 year old veteran of World War II. He was in the second wave of the Omaha beach landing on D-Day. I strongly recommend this book (available on Amazon) A few excerpts:

The beach was congested with the dead and wounded. . . . There wasn't a pebble to hide behind. I crawled under the bodies I'd piled . . . . I waited frozen and afraid, thoughts racing, Am I dreaming? Am I dead? What does being dead feel like?


It's the residual effect of being afraid all the time and pretending you're not.It's the killing, the death, and the dying around you. Your mind turns into a camera taking pictures and storing negatives in your brain stem, but you don't develop them. . . . the real you down in the base of your brain is dormant, waiting for the right sound or sign to trigger something berserk. You clamp down on that guy. . . . And that just makes the berserker more berserk when he does break out. And he will. He will. You're a real fun guy to grow up with.

Friday, August 14, 2009

64th Anniversary of VJ Day - A Veteran's Memories

This World War II veteran wrote to the New York Times to make sure that the anniversary of VJ day was not forgotten. The paper did a feature on him with an emphasis on how PTSD still impact him decades after the war.

Article from NYT, 8/14/09 - for educational purposes

August 14, 2009
This Land
Keeping Alive Memories That Bedevil Him
A retired postal worker, living not entirely at peace in an adult community called Leisure Village West, recently sent remember-the-date notes to large newspapers and television networks, then followed up with calls that often bounced to voice mail. The 14th of August; remember the date.
He was not asking so much as he was demanding.
Friday is the 14th of August: a dog day to many but always V-J Day to some, including this man, Albert Perdeck. It is the 64th anniversary of the surrender by Japan to end World War II. Attention must be paid, he says with urgency. He is 84.
“Last year, 2008, there was no mention of this on the news,” reads his handwritten note to The New York Times. “I am requesting to have the day remembered by your in-depth reporting.”
In addition to “V-J,” as in Victory over Japan, his note contains other abbreviations, including “P.T.S.D.,” as in: “The 17 months I was in combat still causes terrible flashbacks and nightmares of the mutilated bodies I helped to recover.”
He does not care that some people are uncomfortable with V-J Day, given the close relationship the country now has with Japan, and given two other dates in August 1945 (the 6th: Hiroshima, and the 9th: Nagasaki). To him, the day carries its own political correctness: It celebrates the victorious end to a world-saving war in which hundreds of thousands of Americans died far from home. He saw some of them die.
Mr. Perdeck sits in a small community room at Leisure Village West, surrounded by the brittle newspapers and old photographs he carries with him. “Everyone’s laughing,” he says of today’s world, voice rising again, tears coming again. “And I still smell it! I smell it now — beyond 60 years!”
You’ve seen these Al Perdecks all your life — sipping early-morning coffee, say, with buddies at McDonald’s — but less so now. Stocky, not tall, with shock-white hair and a Norman Mailer look of pugnacity. Wearing shorts, dark socks and a boxy baseball cap embroidered with the name of the ship on which he served. You’ve seen him.
Now imagine him in June 1943, the just-drafted momma’s boy from Newark. Hadn’t finished high school, hadn’t been with a girl. Soon he and a couple of thousand other sailors were aboard the U.S.S. Bunker Hill (CV-17), the aircraft carrier that would distinguish itself in the Pacific Theater. His job: tending to the fighter planes on the flight deck and giving the thumbs-up to the pilots before they soared into uncertainty.
He turned 19 onboard, then 20. One day he is doing Donald Duck impressions with a friend, the next he sees a crewmate killed by shrapnel from a near miss. He is boy and man, both.
On May 11, 1945, a kamikaze attack turned the flight deck of the Bunker Hill into an inferno. Pilots in the ready room died in their seats. Planes caught fire, their machine guns discharging rounds. The smoke created a black curtain that Mr. Perdeck could not quite part.
Wounded: 264. Missing: 43. Dead: 346.
V-J Day came just three months later. Mr. Perdeck remembers hearing the news while on liberty in Seattle. He ran through the streets shouting: “The war’s over! The war’s over!”
Discharged as a seaman first class in 1946, he returned to Newark and met a young woman named Elaine at a dance at the Y.M.H.A. They married in 1950, moved to Ocean County, raised a boy and a girl, and struggled. A wood-pattern maker by trade, Mr. Perdeck finally took a post office job; for the security, he says.
But that black curtain never quite parted. He hated Fourth of July fireworks and struggled with flashbacks, but it was more than that. Mrs. Perdeck said her husband would overreact when disciplining the children, when dealing with a conflict at work, when confronted, really, with everyday life. “He was always angry,” she says, with love.
He could not shake free of the war. The burned and mutilated body parts. The rows of dead crewmates on the flight deck. That strange moment in the enveloping blackness when he stepped on a prostrate sailor, then yelled at the man to get the hell up, this is no time to sleep. The sailor, of course, could not wake.
In 1997, 51 years after his discharge, Mr. Perdeck told his wife he needed to talk to someone. She knew what he meant. It’s about time, she said.
A clinical psychologist, Dr. Walter Florek, eventually gave a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Now the rage that Mr. Perdeck felt, the isolation, the anxiety and the sadness had a name.
Mr. Perdeck spent six weeks in a veterans’ hospital, where he attended lots of meetings but does not recall encountering another veteran from his war, the one a half-century past. Did his hospitalization help? He shrugs.
These days, Mr. Perdeck accompanies his wife to various social functions at Leisure Village West, and he is active with the U.S.S. Bunker Hill Association, whose annual gatherings get smaller and smaller. When he speaks of other alumni by name, he usually adds a “May he rest in peace.”
He also works to keep V-J Day alive. Last year he contacted The Asbury Park Press and asked how it planned to honor the day; the paper published a story about him. This year he went national, though he says he spent most of his time talking to machines.
And every other Thursday, he drives to Dr. Florek’s office on Route 70 in Lakewood for a group session with a dozen or so World War II and Korean War veterans, all of whom have P.T.S.D. A patient counselor named Olga Price guides the discussion.
The group met again Thursday. An Air Force veteran with a squawking hearing aid. An Army infantryman with a cane. A Navy flyboy, now blind, who still sees the devastated Hiroshima he flew over 64 years ago. His walking stick is adorned with a small American flag.
You’ve seen these men, these men who would never talk about it. But now, in the embrace of their own, they did, sometimes with sobs. One of them recalled killing an enemy soldier who was little more than a boy.
“I see him virtually every day,” he said. “It just goes on and on and on and on.”
The other men nodded without saying a word, including the one in shorts, dark socks and a shirt with the words “U.S.S. Bunker Hill” over his heart.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Omaha Beach - A Survivor's Story

This new book is written by a World War II D-Day survivor

Warrior to Spiritual Warrior: The Soldier’s Journey by Jess Weiss with Chuck Noell recounts a rare and remarkable personal story of spiritual healing. Jess Weiss is a decorated member of the Greatest Generation, one of the few combat soldiers from the landing at Omaha Beach, D-Day, who lived to tell the tale. This book is not about the blood and guts or the glory of a soldier’s life, it is about coping with death and dying, surviving fifty years of “Why me?” survivor guilt, and the ravages of Post Traumatic Stress (an impairment that didn’t have a name in World War II.) It is the tale of how one man climbed out of the dark pit of debilitating injury to forge a path of spiritual resurrection and transformation for himself. Whether you are religious, spiritual, or simply concerned about the long-term effects of war, this book will inspire hope and renew your faith in what is grand and great about the human adventure.

Click on article to enlarge: Postscript - Staff Sergeant Herbert Siegal was found and Jess Weiss was reunited with him. Courtesy of Tom Brokaw, the 2 men were sent back to Normandy together.

Click on title for link to Warrior to Spiritual Warrior: The Soldier's Journey, the new book by Jess E. Weiss

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vietnam Vet and Daughter help returning vets

A Vietnam veteran and his daughter are speaking out about his PTSD after Vietnam to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They are civilian volunteers for the Michigan National Guard and hope to let the veterans know that it is important to seek help. It was 30 years before Don Behm, the vet, had a breakdown and was able to talk about his experiences.

Click on title for link to the article