A Veteran’s Demons: A Tragedy in Three Acts

Before patriotic fervor moved him to join up at the age of 21, Arza Underwood worked in the developing domestic oil industry, and lived in the blink-and-you-missed-it hamlet of Ralph’s Run, West Virginia.

He went overseas with his unit, leaving a wife pregnant with a daughter he would not meet for over a year. He was wounded; a piece of metal remained lodged, inoperably close to his heart, but he lived. In Ralph’s Run he was one of the guys, but in the fireswept fields, Underwood was a giant. Along with his Purple Heart, he had the Silver Star to show for it.

Historian James Nelson would note that Underwood and his companions, “young hearts pounding faster as the pup-pup-pup of the machine guns grew louder… as they began to see the darting forms [of the enemy]… found …that they did, indeed, have the ability to kill.” Underwood might even have liked it; his company commander wouldn’t name him, but was perhaps thinking of him when he wrote that “New soldiers are bloodthirsty and vindictive.” They did not go to extremes to take prisoners. The enemy had it coming.

Underwood, “a country boy who’d grown up with a rifle in [his] hands,” did more than his share. Of his wounding, his medevac, his treatment and survival, and even of the valor decoration, which must have generated a thick stack of paperwork, Nelson writes not.

There’s just one more telegraphically-described scene, which brings to an end the story of Arza Earl Underwood, West Virginian roustabout turned war hero, a tragedy in three acts. Because Underwood did not adapt well to life after the war. A problem with unlawful substances led to out of control behavior, and 14 years after he enlisted, on the night of September 12, he lost control for the last time. Nelson, again:

[He] tore off all of Audrey Underwood’s clothing “except a brassiere,” and then suffered an attack of loathing and shame and told Audrey to, “Go get the gun and shoot me!”

She did.

The shooting was ruled justified, and Arza Underwood was laid to rest, a delayed action casualty of the war. From hero to bum in, what? A dozen years?

Which was his war? Bush’s Iraq adventure? The rear guard of Obama’s cynical bugout? The Southeast Asia War Games?

None of the above. Underwood’s life ended when his daughter Audrey shot him dead with his own gun on September 12, 1931, and the controlled substance he couldn’t control was alcohol, then banned under Prohibition. The President he went to war for was Woodrow Wilson and the one in office when he died was Herbert Hoover. His war, of course, was the First World War with the American Expeditionary Force. Underwood served with D Company, 28th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, fighting in the battles of Cantigny, Soissons and the Argonne.

Since then, we’ve learned everything and nothing about treating the psychological wounds of war. But we keep deluding ourselves that they represent something new.

Source:

Nelson, James Carl. The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War. New York: St. Martin’s, 2009. pp. 23, 90, 111.

(Nelson’s paternal grandfather was a member of the unit, although he didn’t begin his research in earnest, to his regret, until after John Nelson passed away in 1993. — Ed).

27 thoughts on “A Veteran’s Demons: A Tragedy in Three Acts

  1. Kirk

    This is something our culture does not handle at all well, at any point on the pipeline from civilian to soldier to combatant to return to civilian life. We don’t even discuss it, to any effective degree, among ourselves. It’s a black box, a sighting of the elephant for a young soldier, who is left to himself to work out the morality of it all, and to cope with the effect on his life.

    Other cultures, other traditions do things more effectively. If you look at the Navajo tradition, what they term “the Enemy Way”, you find a set of rituals and mechanisms designed to help their combatants deal with these changes. You would not instinctively grasp that the Navajo are simultaneously deeply against killing, and yet have proven to be very effective at war down through their history. You would think, given this, that they’d have a very hard time coping with things like having killed, but you would be mistaken–Thanks to things like the Enemy Way ceremonies, they manage to be effective at war, and still able to be function in their traditional society.

    You’ll look long and hard among general American culture for similar coping mechanisms, and you won’t find shit. Which is sad, because I think there needs to be something that would help alleviate the issues that arise when you condition a kid to believe in things like “Thou shalt not kill…”, and then send his ass off to kill people for you. Which, in the final analysis, is what our culture does–Ignoring the fact that the original meaning of that commandment was more along the lines of “Thou shalt not murder…”.

    We set ourselves up for a lot of this shit, and the military is all too prone to listening to charlatans like Grossman, mostly because the bureaucrats-in-green are not actually soldiers; they’re apparatchiks, soldiers in name only.

    Reply
    1. John M.

      I suspect that this is something our culture used to have, but lost. In the time of James IV, Scottish commoners used to owe the king 40 days’ military service annually, and I suspect this tradition significantly predates James IV. Based on my understanding of feudalism, I suspect most European kingdoms had similar policies. In many ways, I think those old conflicts and campaigns were less brutal and bloody than the ones we fight now, but the brutality and the blood were much more widely spread through the populace than they are today. I rather suspect that they had ways of coping with this.

      -John M.

      Reply
    2. jim h

      I don’t know, Kirk….maybe. I don’t think it’s as simple as some sort of mystical de-escalation ceremony or tradition. personally, I think it has everything to do with that simple phrase: “thou shalt not kill.”

      i’m with you here though: Judeo-Christian theology has come to embrace the idea that all killing is wrong, all the time, and one should feel guilt for their actions. this, to me, is utter crap. I feel no such qualms about having zapped a bad guy; rather, I regret that it had to come to that. a subtle, but important distinction. as I also understand it, the Bible used to read “thou shalt not commit murder” or some transliteration of that, and we’ve changed it over time to “thou shalt not kill” and made it shameful to destroy a life, even if it’s called for.

      as a result of this, we have the smug superiority we see in certain congregations of religions, (modern) Jews and Christians in particular. our modern societal construct reinforces this notion too; while certain fighters are venerated for their skills in war (think Saymo Hayha, COL Robert Howard, Audie Murphy, etc.) they are prized even more for their “reluctant warrior” persona. they didn’t choose the fight but they prosecuted it all the way. We as Americans have always appreciated the reluctant warriors. where we go wrong is…….what did these guys do that was great and wonderful apart from destroying legions of bad guys?

      well, Hayha kinda faded into obscurity, as was his wont. Outside of a few Finns and those who count military historian among their hobbies, he is known best for being The White Death when he was needed most. COL Howard soldiered on, leading and training troops, and after retirement, quietly went back to work serving that same population in his capacity at the VA. we as soldiers and those in SF/SOF of course know his story, but American public in general? nope. Audie Murphy became a movie star – kinda – and is best known for starring in the movie about his experience. He also began self-destructing a little as well. but in all cases, outside of their limited scope of followers, they were a little marginalized, and I don’t think that’s the right answer.

      I’m not advocating making a cult around figures such as these. that’s a potentially dangerous answer as well. but accepting violence as a part of a functioning society is something that needs to happen. it’s not really wise – though I do see the cultural benefit – to train folks that all violence is wrong. the problem is that too few people understand the fine art of an application of subtle violence *can* be a benefit. and that when violence is needed, that taking the lessons from it is important.

      we’ve developed the idea that some kind of sacrifice, martyrdom in some contexts, is the best answer. I don’t subscribe to that. at least, not as it is interpreted. what’s worse is the cycles it comes in. pride in our boys from WWII, the “good” war. shame and moral uncertainty over Korea and Vietnam. absent-mindedness over minor actions like Panama, Dom Rep, Grenada. Pride over Gulf I. and now we’re back to shame and uncertainty. firefighters are put on a pedestal – rightly so, those bastards are crazy brave, and well, crazy. shame and sometimes disgust over police actions…..but then a bad guy comes in the night, and we question where they were when we needed them most. cop shoots a bad guy, he’s PNG’d from society and his actions are scrutinized by all manner of armchair quarterbacks, and it possibly destroys his career. cop gunned down by a bad guy, there’s moral outrage. soldier kills the enemies of his country, and he’s subjected to tons of “expert” help from the likes of the VA, his command chain, and REMFs who weren’t there. soldiers killed by their enemies, and all of a sudden we stand behind our troops. M-day reservists are “halfway Army” and looked down on….until conflict is on us, and they’re suddenly amongst the best, sacrificing everything in the eyes of the public.

      now look at other cultures; Vikings are known now as bloodthirsty savages. but when you peel back that veneer, you see that they were consummate seafarers and explorers, farmers, innovators, and remarkably democratic. all things we cherish nowadays. pirates were bloodthirsty savages who should be ashamed; but look into that, beyond their crimes, they were seafarers who rebelled against what they saw as an unjust government, who also practiced a relatively democratic form of self-rule. certain Native American tribes were known as bloodthirsty savages, but as you have so ably noted, weren’t the boogeymen we have raised them to be. Romans, Gauls, the list goes on.

      until we as a society stop imbuing shame into the actions of a warrior, that warrior will self-doubt and feed his own monsters. when one is amongst one’s peers, these things can be worked out relatively safely. whenever a culture becomes afraid of their own warriors, those warriors will pull away and self destruct. killing is not wrong. murder and genocide are wrong. our problem is that modern society, where everybody is special and gets a participation trophy, is bred to believe that they are one and the same.

      our greatest warriors are those who rose from obscurity to acts of greatness, but what we do after the fact as a culture is where things fall apart.

      Reply
      1. Kirk

        I agree that there isn’t a simple solution to the problem, but to deal with it…? We first have to recognize it, and then start discussing it.

        I don’t hold out the Navajo way as being the only sort of solution, or the best–I’m simply pointing out that some of the so-called “primitive” cultures had a more forthright and honest way of recognizing and dealing with these issues than we do. I had an acquaintance of mine who was kinda-sorta a hippy in the sense of Carlos Castaneda shamanism, and he was part Navajo, like 1/16th or something. When he came back from his time in Vietnam, where he’d been in a lot of bad situations, and had done a lot of things that bothered him, he got little or no help from his traditional Catholic background. He wound up spending a bunch of time with his Navajo distant kin, after crashing and burning with everyone else in his family. Interestingly, he later told me that the Navajo “way” did the most to help him, because they provided him with a clear delineation event, the “blessing” or purification rituals surrounding what is termed the “Enemy Way” ceremonies.

        What I think is interesting and pertinent is that many cultures which are more-or-less civilized have these things that we lack–There are clear delineation markers made, along the way to what the Arabs call “the house of war”, to borrow their term. You go through a ceremony or process where your society makes it clear to you that you’re about to embark on a course of action, war, where killing and other things that are proscribed in daily life among your people, are going to be done. While in that status as a soldier, you are seen and supported so long as you act within the boundaries, and on return, welcomed back with another ceremony/ritual that sanctifies and absolves you of what you did while on the soldier’s path. This serves, I think, to greatly reduce the amount of stress and separation we find a lot of young men feeling after the wars we send them off to.

        No matter where you look in our history, we have the unfortunate hypocritical standards we enforce–At one and the same time that we send young men and women off to do the dirty work, we don’t tell them clearly ahead of time what they’re in for, we don’t support them or provide them with clear moral guidance while they’re doing that dirty work, and then when they’re back at home after doing it for us, they are not clearly granted absolution and affirmation in daily life. It’s all “You’re a baby-killer…”, or oblivious disinterest plus rote “Thank you for your service…” crap, which is actually worse, because a lot of the time, it truly feels like a trivialization of what you had to do. Like a buddy of mine said, after he came back from his third tour, the thing that bothered him the most was the half-ass way most people said things like that to him, while he stood there remembering the men he killed, and the guys who died near him. I’m kinda with him–It’s really better not to say anything at all, some times. The tone you take, and the way you say that simple phrase can really cause a lot of angst, with some of us. I completely understand why some guys react badly to it, because when it is offered up in a rote fashion, without real meaning or understanding behind it? It hurts. A lot.

        Reply
        1. John M.

          Part of our problem is that we no longer have a culture. We flushed most of it down the toilet in the ’60s, and whatever was left seems to be corroding rapidly under the compound acidity of cultural Marxism and open borders. So finding solutions to this problem, along with things like rampant bastardy, opiate addiction and the national debt. We no longer share a common frame of reference as a people to even identify real problems, never mind the difficulty that actual solutions will entail.

          -John M.

          Reply
      2. staghounds

        Sam Ervin fought at Soissons just like Arza Underwood.

        You can read Back Home, Wisconsin Death Trip, Shakespeare, Homer, or Virgil. The soldier wrecked by battle is a stock character of life. I’d submit that more than a little of it is that people who did not go to war somehow envy the veteran, that saying war screws people up provides a counter to the internal “you’re a slacker” voice.

        Reply
  2. Mike

    Three times in the last month, I’ve had guys I served with reach out to me for help via phone or email, or send up a red flare on social media that they were in need of help.

    On Tuesday, one of the guys in a unit that I went downrange with 8 years ago put up a red flare on Facebook about another guy from the unit who was spiraling that night, and that he had just lost contact with. Over a hundred men and women who had been in the unit chimed in on the thread, and several guys who lived in the vicinity went to his last known location and reeled him in. He was amazed that so many people cared. A GoFundMe was set up for him, and over $5k was raised in a day to get him and his family back on their feet. Without social media, I think he would have been one of the 22 we hear about.

    The VA isn’t getting it done for most vets I know. We are taking care of each other.

    Reply
    1. Boat Guy

      Good on y’all! I’m not on social media but you’ve certainly shown me a value I’d not thought about.
      We might’s well take care of each other; we do it better than nearly anybody associated with that bloated bureaucracy.

      Reply
  3. John M.

    I have a few editorial comments.

    First, a simple typo:
    “Woodro.w Wilson”

    Next, this is phrased awkwardly, particularly the part before the quote. The first time I read it, it seemed like there should be an apostrophe after “companions” (plural possessive), but upon re-reading, I think it needs a comma, as written. The main verb that ties to “Underwood and his companions,” “found” is very deep in the sentence, and maybe adding a comma after “companions” and adding a “with” right before the quote smooths it out some.
    ‘Historian James Nelson would note that Underwood and his companions “young hearts pounding faster as the pup-pup-pup of the machine guns grew louder… as they began to see the darting forms [of the enemy]… found …that they did, indeed, have the ability to kill.”’

    Also, was it intentional that you saved the fact that Audrey Underwood was his daughter until four paragraphs after you introduced her by name? You already mentioned her as the unborn daughter in the second paragraph (I assume it’s the same daughter), and I don’t think it ruins your surprise any to say she’s his daughter when you introduce her as “Audrey.” I assumed she was his wife until you say otherwise four paragraphs later.

    Overall, it’s a sad story told very well. I did not see the twist coming. I know a Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan who is from that part of the country and worked in America’s burgeoning oil industry. I thought of him. Fortunately, things seem to be working out better for him than for Mr. Underwood.

    -John

    Reply
  4. Cattus Borealis

    I can second Kirk’s comment on the Navajo. Modern people downplay the role of faith and ritual but provide nothing when it is replaced. In essence, they tear down fences without realizing their purposes.

    The ancient Israelites considered their warriors ritually unclean after war and had ceremonies and practices to deal with this. I think it was Numbers 31 that talks about this.

    I only speak for myself but I think that my faith helped me deal with the reality of my actions. I think part of the problem is that people do horrific things (and have horrific things happen to them) and never completely face them because our society wants to see soldiers in black and white terms.

    Applying logic over emotions helped me. Confession and penance fixed me.

    Reply
    1. jim h

      this. plus the never-ending drumbeat from places like DC and hollyweird portraying combat veterans as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. cynical, stand-offish, robotic men programmed only to kill, who need to be “switched off” when they return.

      faith goes a long way.

      Reply
  5. LFMayor

    Humans are like ghost gunner/ cnc machines. There’s no out of the box setup that’s 100% sure. Results may vary.
    Have some good friends and be a good friend.

    Reply
  6. Alan Ward

    My schools SRO is a vet of Kosovo and Afganistan. All of our city’s police do a three year tour in patrol cars before being eligible for promotion or transfer to other work.
    He has said that being on the street was his form of therapy from his combat experiences. Also that what he saw in all these places made him want to help at the source of the problems before the future culprits go completely off the rails.

    Reply
  7. W. Fleetwood

    I am going to try to lay this out as a respectful disagreement rather than a rant and I apologize in advance for any hurt feelings. But, could we please, at least here among ourselves as it were, speak English and not Therapy Nation bulls–t?

    Let’s start with the specifics of the above tale. Thirteen years after the war the guy goes nuts and its the fault of “the war”? Thirteen years? Good God, if he’d held on a little longer his tuwama could have registered to vote! Give. Me. A. Break.

    Here’s a thought; maybe A. E. Underwood was a deeply flawed human being, before, during, and after “the war”. Obviously his flaws didn’t prevent him from being a bang up fine soldier, but just as obviously, they made him an awful husband/father. That is what is sometimes called “the human condition”.

    Think back on your high school class. You knew, if you thought about it, who, barring physical accident, was going to do just fine in life. You also knew who, barring a comet strike, was going to end up an unwed mother, who was going to spend their lives chasing the dope, and who, barring outright divine intervention, was going to wrap their motorcycle around a Douglas Fir. No war needed.

    Character is not all of Destiny but it is the inescapable envelope in which Destiny takes place. It has been my experience and observation that war, to include combat, doesn’t actually change people, at least in the way that phrase is usually meant. War, and especially combat, makes people what they were before, only more so, and at a faster rate than normal life. If they had “a taste for the sauce” before, then Mr. War will make them a full blown drunk a lot faster than working at the mill, but that was where they were headed from the beginning.

    I have found that most people, reflecting on the above, will agree. As long as no names are involved. It is the person we know, and were tight with, and trusted with our lives, that we feel the need to find an excuse for. War, among many other things, is a wonderful, multi purpose excuse for just about anything. Except that it’s not.

    For what it may be worth.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara, Wasara.

    Reply
    1. Kirk

      I’m going to agree with you, and disagree.

      A lot of the time, the experience of war leaves you with what you take into it–If you’re broken going in, you’ll likely be broken coming out, and in ways that are far worse than what you were going in.

      However, comma… That said, I think the point needs to be made that not everyone is equally equipped to handle what they experience in war. My own perspective is based on watching a lot of people cope with things over the course of my career in the Army, and what I took from that is that while you get out what you bring in, it is also possible that someone can be broken under the stress of military life, let alone wartime experience.

      I knew a guy whose life story was amazingly f**ked up. I mean, completely, utterly impossibly f**ked up. He went through shit as a kid that should have left him in a state of utter mental derangement–And, yet, it did not. He managed to overcome all that crap, stuff straight out of a bad soap opera, and he made himself over into a really good junior NCO in the Army. If you’d have looked at him when I first ran into him, you’d have had no idea about the crap he went through growing up–Nor would you have had any idea just how fragile he was. All you saw was the stalwart young NCO, hard at work, doing well with his life.

      We sent his ass off to Desert Storm. Not really a major traumatic thing, because his unit and he never really saw combat, but… He sent his fire team off on a mission, during the winding down period, while he hung around the base camp to try to get a phone call in to his wife back in Germany. While they were out on that mission without him, the HMMWV they were in got run over by a speeding TCN driving a semi along Tapline Road, which left a couple of guys dead, and the rest of the vehicle occupants thoroughly fucked-up. Now, he had nothing to do with what happened, wouldn’t have been able to do anything but suffer along with the rest of his guys, but… The fact he wasn’t there with them? More than he could cope with. Couple of years later, the survivor’s guilt and everything else surrounding that even caused him to augur into the ground, and he was a fucking mess. By the time the five-year mark had gone by, he was dead of an overdose of the drugs he’d avoided all his life.

      Now, by contrast? I know another guy whose life had an almost identical event; he had, however, a strong network of support, a good marriage, and he was operating from a base that didn’t include a childhood out of a bad horror story. He went through the same kind of shit, incident nearly identical to the guy I talk about above, and he came through it scarred, but mostly intact and functional.

      What was the difference? He was resilient in a way the first guy wasn’t, blessed with a stable family background, and had a good support network.

      I don’t know that the first guy would not have suffered a relapse into dysfunction without his military career, but I can’t help but think he never should have been recruited in the first damn place. Taking someone who’s basically already barely keeping it together, and then subjecting them to trauma is not what the military ought to be doing, and I think that a lot of the problems we have with PTSD stem from cases like his–They’re people who essentially should not have been where we put them.

      And, I think that a lot of the markers for this stuff are things that are, or could be, knowable. The fact that we don’t appraise a lot of these things before accepting people into service? I think that’s a bit of a disservice to both the nation, and the men we take to war. If someone has the markers, in terms of psychology and life experience, for being mentally fragile? We really ought to be channeling them into jobs where they’re not likely to encounter the stresses that will break them, and we ought to be providing effective prophylactic care in advance–Little things like warning people that, hey… It’s the fucking Army; people get killed. Expect that.

      And, surprisingly enough, we don’t talk about that shit, at all. Whether it’s training accidents, young men dying from doing stupid shit, or just plain misadventure, we don’t discuss this shit until after the fact, and every time I’ve seen a death hit a unit, the stress is enormous. I walked into one of my assignments right after they’d gotten done burying a couple of guys who’d gone missing the spring before, and whose bodies weren’t found in their wrecked car until the following fall. Holy crap, was there a lot of residual crap going on around me–I literally had no damn clue why a couple of the guys I was living with broke down into tears when they had to sit through a routine anti-DWI class, but when I found out that the installation had taken their buddy’s car, and turned it into a “Don’t drive drunk…” display, plus included it in the video we had to watch…? Yeah.

      We don’t do death, at all well, in the US military. Which, I think, was the most surprising and unexpected thing I took away from my quarter-century before the flag.

      Reply
      1. Mike

        Two of my guys died in a friendly fire incident in 2014, in Afghanistan.

        When I went to Kandahar to see them put on the plane home, there was a massive formation, a band, and a half hour of ceremony. Loading them onto the plane was turned into a ridiculous ritual that was participated in by the division commander and CSM, the brigade commander and CSM, the battalion commander and CSM, my commander, and me. There were representatives from the units of the other casualties. Representatives from a couple allies including Afghanistan were also present for the Kabuki dance.

        All I could think at the time was “WTF is this? We didn’t have any of this in 2002, 2003, or 2010!”

        It served no purpose whatsoever, IMO.

        There was a superficial effort by behavioral health personnel to talk to members of the company in country and on re-deployment about the incident, but superficial is the key word there.

        The military does death very poorly, even after 15 years at war. Kind of ironic, really.

        Reply
        1. Kirk

          Form without real substance. It’s what the modern military does best, in all aspects of the life.

          My own take on the ramp ceremony would be a hell of a lot simpler, and more personal to the guys lost–The headsheds take over, and wind up disconnecting everything from the people who really need it, the casualty’s best friends and buddies down in the unit.

          I don’t know how I’d go about fixing things, because there are a huge number of things that need to be fixed, but I can identify places where we have problems–And, this is one. You can tell it when you’re using the phrase “kabuki dance” to describe it, and that’s sad. It’s also a huge reason why I think our military culture is, in a lot of ways, fundamentally broken.

          Reply
    2. archy

      i***As long as no names are involved. It is the person we know, and were tight with, and trusted with our lives, that we feel the need to find an excuse for.***</i'

      The names remain important. Otherwise we quit being individual and are no better than the anthill people.

      Arza E. Underwood


      Birth: Feb. 8, 1896
      Doddridge County, West Virginia, USA

      Death: Sep. 12, 1931
      Canton, Doddridge County,West Virginia, USA

      Arza E. Underwood died when shot in the head with a 22 caliber rifle and died instantly. He was 35 years, 7 months, 4 days of age.

      Family links:
      Parents:
      William Underwood (1860 – 1928)
      Landora Ash Underwood (1869 – 1940)

      Spouse:
      Alma Ercle Swiger Underwood (1899 – 1971)*

      Children:
      Helen Grace Underwood Shields Beasley (1921 – 1994)*
      Jack Wilson Underwood (1926 – 1954)*

      Siblings:
      Ora Delbert Underwood (1885 – 1959)*
      Emma Belle Underwood Swiger (1888 – 1959)*
      John B. Underwood (1889 – 1918)*
      Okey Ernest Underwood (1892 – 1967)*
      Arza Earl Underwood (1896 – 1931)
      Collie Meredith Underwood (1904 – 1996)*

      [*Calculated relationship]

      Burial:
      Underwood Cemetery
      Doddridge County
      West Virginia, USA

      https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=67550206

      Reply
      1. McThag

        The important part of the names is KNOWING THE PERSON not knowing their name.

        The excuses come out for your buddy you were close to, and can’t make fit the generic mold in your own mind even if they are matching that trajectory down to 11 decimal places.

        Reply
  8. archy

    I would only note that WWI was a different time, and things were different then. It could hardly be considered any sort of *common experience* war, with US troops parcelled out to the British and French commands, as well as our own divisional formations. And of course the one-two punch of the Great Influenza Epidemic was a dandy thank-you to many who had survived their piece of the Great War.

    And when they came home, for too many of them life remained too cheap a commodity. Witness the Mail Gang robberies that caused President Coolidge to assign armed Marine guards to US mail trucks, postal distribution centers [most payrolls were in cash then, and were shipped by mail] and Railway Post Office. The Mail Robbers simply killed everyone in the truck or building to get their prize; life was as cheap for them then as it had been in the trenches.

    And this was in 1920-21, well before the Great Depression and the Dillinger/Bonnie and Clyde/Brady Gang auto-bandits came into being. Coolidge sent in the Marines, and that was that.

    Reply
    1. Hognose Post author

      It was entirely inspired by Nelson’s (James Carl, the grandson’s) fantastic book. Everyone is curious, perhaps, about his grandfather; James Nelson opened the door to understanding his GF’s war experience and clearly was moved by it. He produced one hell of a book.

      Reply
  9. Keith

    I say to all of you, not flippantly, not casually, not without caring, not without wanting to help if only to listen, wanting to make sure your time is not forgotten like it so often is:

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE AND YOUR SACRIFICE!

    I can never repay you for what you did and what you saw and what you heard and what you smelled and what you tasted and what you thought. I can only acknowledge and honor you for it.

    It will never be enough.

    Reply
  10. Steve M.

    A couple of thoughts,
    1. Our nation is absolutely failing at dealing with returning veterans. No doubt. Then again, our nation is absolutely failing at dealing with trauma of all types. “Poor thing. It’s not your fault. Here’s a prescription”, seems to be the popular answer.
    2. Many returning veterans have not seen combat and are still doing the whole PTSD thing. I know of several NG people who are doing the PTSD thing despite having never witnessed or participated in combat. The whole fake combat veteran issue is way bigger than anybody wants to admit. I’m not talking about the whole stolen valor Ranger/SEAL thing either.
    3. Society as a whole, has been programmed to believe that any person who takes another person’s life has to become a broken individual. You can verify this point by watching most any television show or movie. Civilian or military; if you or someone you know went overseas, they are to be considered broken. This also carries over to LE and civilian defensive shootings.
    4. Many others have pointed out, the military does little to prepare an individual for what they will actually see in combat. The military, itself, is one of the largest pushers of the whole PTSD thing.
    5. Contrary to what others have said, the inability of individuals to cope with the after effects of combat has little to do with the Ten Commandments. Most of the young people who went off to fight in the last twenty years could not give you five of the Ten Commandments. Many Americans could not give you one iota of Biblical principle and/or how it relates to them. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans, when polled, identify as Christian, their regular attendance in church/Biblical understanding has dropped off exponentially. In other words, Biblical principle is not the issue. Jim H did come rather close in identifying a retarded variation of moral superiority in modern Christianity. This strain of thought and practice comes directly from the new age/communist/love/Democrat way of thinking that is currently destroying our nation.
    6. I recently dealt with a former Army soldier who deployed as a designated marksman. He smacked his head when the vehicle he was in hit an IED. From our candid conversations, his run in with the IED was the source of all his trauma. He stated numerous times that no one had ever been through what he had been through. We had a lengthy discussion about that thought and how wrong it was. It may have helped. I was struck with how self-absorbed the poor guy was.
    7. It has been pointed out many times, that the military is sending people in to combat who really should not be there. You have a lot of people who are joining because the military will take them and nobody else will. I know of four people that have recently signed up for the military and they are not combat material. They are good for the recruiters and recruitment numbers, however. Once they are home, all bets are off. Fractured and broken families, addictions, welfare, all things they left, destroy them with fervor.

    I don’t have a solid answer for the problem. I have a lot of ideas, but they’re likely skewed due to my limited understanding of pretty much everything in life. Personally, I don’t see much difference in actual, real live trauma whether it’s the car accident that takes your family and leaves you or the mortar hitting you and your team mates. Dealing with either one will make or break you.

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  11. Jacobs

    I’d love to hear Hognose’s POV pertaining to the act of killing, if he ever did, and if he was willing to share. Not so much the other aspects of war, i.e. losing buddies, being fired upon, but just the act of killing another human being. I’m particularly interested because he seems to be a Christian.

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