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Discussing VietNam with father? How to approach.

Discussion in 'Veteran's Forum' started by Guod, Mar 22, 2006.

  1. Guod


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    Feb 20, 2006
    Nelson, NZ
    I don't know if this is an appropriate topic for this forum, but I figured this was probably the best place for this.

    My father served, to my knowledge 2 tours in VietNam. From what I have gathered over the years, he did 1 tour, thought he was going home(went to germany), and then got shipped back for a 2nd tour.

    The way he ended up enlisting is tha the draft was happening, his dad kept encouraging for him to get back in college, but he was feuding with him in some way or another(long history of that). He figured since he wasn't going back to school he would surely get drafted. He joined up before getting drafted figuring that maybe he had a better chance of doing what he wanted over being drafted and probably having it worse.

    For the most part, he has only shared fun stories like a time him and his buddies were drunk and accidentally drove a transport truck into someone's house.(he was in the back). Stuff like that. He had a few buddies scattered across the country that he used to keep in touch with when I was young, but for the most part he has fallen out of contact with them.

    But I know that it wasn't all good times and beer over there, and that he was involved in a lot of things he would rather forget. Small tidbits have only come out occasionally, and when they have, he has quickly clammed up, I have been afraid to press him further.

    I am always reluctant out of fear that I will somehow send him into a tailspin as he has battled alcoholism since I can remember. I know that most would say the best thing for him is to talk about it, but he has never shown any desire to.

    In talking to my mom about it, she said that he has told her some pretty "screwed up" things over their marriage, and a good deal of it before I was even born. The problem is she never knew how to handle this stuff, and I can sort of deduce that she made him feel like a monster by her reactions...not the best kinda person to confide in.

    From what I have read, he really is a textbook case for PTSD, and only in the past 5 years or so has he really made strides to improve his life. He is now "addicted to AA" in a way, but at least it is keeping him sober, and I know there are fellow veterans that make him feel welcome.

    At one point during a particularly bad time, he tried to get into the VA, but was denied due to income.

    I really would like to talk to him about this, but would really appreciate some advice from people that have been on either end of this.

    The first 20 years of my life I didn't really know my father, but over the past 5 years I really have gotten close to him; that said this portion of his life is mainly a mystery to me. Not only that, but I am really into history, and I would be extremely interested in his experiences.

  2. habu3


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    Aug 17, 2005
    Northern VA
    Please see the thread above this one titled "talking with your dad". I hit the wrong button.

  3. WIG19

    WIG19 Light left on

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    Oct 27, 2003
    Renegade State
    That may have been during a period for PTSD had as much recognition as it does now. Short of it, he should see someone at the VA and seek treatment - there are several of the VA centers around the country that are now benchmarks in PTSD. Make no mistake about it, the alcohol (or other drug of choice) issue is a separate illness but they often manifest themselves together.

    Realize that he may still not confide or release as much as you might like because he may be freer with his AA group. And the rule with any of the 12-step programs is "go to any lengths, whatever it takes" to stay sober. If it's 1 meeting a month or 3 a day, the hell of addiction is not better.

    I've only recently become able to talk about some things that went on during my service career, simply because it never occurred to me to burden anyone else with it. Many vets have similar stories and portions of your Dad's rang true with me. Although I was gung-ho, even as a young ROTC cadet I wasn't sure about enlisting right out of high-school until I found out my lottery number was 2 - so I joined the Army, rather than be drafted into the Marines. And during certain periods it wasn't unusual for someone to pull a tour in Nam, do another somewhere else for the minimum length of time (and unaccompanied time can be short) and then head right back.

    I would urge you to contact your county's Veteran's Services Officer. They're all not equally sharp, but when they're good, they're very good. At least you can get some options explained to you that might lead you to understanding that:

    1. Your father can still get evaluated, Dx'd and Rx'd for his PTSD,
    2. That alcoholism (or other drug addiction) is never cured, just arrested, and
    3. he's not unique in the world. I work with middle-aged and young vets at the nearby VA sometimes and there is a fresh new "crop" coming. With diminished "front lines" and the constant tension of possible maiming injury from IED's the percentage of Soldiers who may have some form (they're not all severe) of PTSD is increasing.

    Get ahold of your VSO and talk this over with your Mom as well because there were no instructions for her either. This kind of thing affects everyone.

  4. MrMurphy

    MrMurphy ********* Moderator Lifetime Member Millennium Member

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    Jan 16, 2001
    Buried in the X-files
    I've been around the military my entire life. I sent my dad off to his second war.

    He rarely talks about Vietnam. If so, usually funny stuff or crazy stuff. When Saving Private Ryan came out, i saw it (4 times eventually in theater). When it hit VHS, I brought it home. Sat him down, and said, "You NEED to see this" (he didn't watch war movies very often for good reason..... too fake, or too many memories).

    My mom came home from work 1/3 of the way through the movie. He rewound it, made her dinner, sat her down, and they watched the whole movie together. My mom's Korean, half her uncles didn't come back from the Korean War and she grew up postwar Korea (bad, as bad as postwar Germany), but until she saw that, she never (intellectually) "Got it" as to just how bad war can be and what my dad might have seen. At that point they'd been married 25 years, and that night, my dad mentioned stuff to my mom he'd NEVER told her about (and even stuff he'd never told me and my brother about).

    I am now active duty Air Force, due to deploy downrange, probably this year. I'm in a combat arm and we do the war thing every day in practice. As an ex-news photographer, i saw a lot of horrific and nasty stuff, and even among fellow cops (airbase defese/military police), unless they've deployed and actually saw action.... I don't tell them about some stuff, because unless you've seen it yourself, you won't understand.

    Get your dad to an American Legion or VFW. Having other vets around to talk to helps usually.

    If you can, do like they've done for WW2 vets. Have him sit down with a tape recorder by himself, and recount his stories (or with other vets) as a living history. Because once they're gone, that's it. That's how "Band of Brothers" got started.... same exact way. Just make sure nobody non-military or vet is around, cause they'll probably shut up.
  5. USDefender

    USDefender Lay Them Waste!

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    Jul 8, 2005
    My dad was a Cobra Pilot in Viet Nam... Not sure where he served.

    He's gone now, which is why I served as a Blackhawk crewchief...wanted to know a little about the 'military experience' that he can no longer tell me.

    If your dad doesn't want to talk about it, just love him as much as you can while he's still with you. You won't regret it.