Dr. Fred Eichelman: PTSD, An Enemy We Too Often Ignore
There is an enemy that we knew nothing about in the 1940s and today we still need to know more about. I speak of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder more popularly known as PTSD. Despite what we have learned in recent years the startling statistic is that every day in the United States twenty two veterans commit suicide.
This leads to a story I have to tell which may illustrate how serious it can be. In the 1930s my parents took in a homeless teenager named Chuck who became my foster brother He was fifteen years older than I and took care of a kennel my parents had as well as serving as my baby sitter. I adored him.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed Chuck wanted to be a patriot like my dad who had served in the first world war and he enlisted in the marines. During World War Two his letters and pictures indicated he traveled all over the Pacific, but he never gave details. As every kid growing up has a hero, he was mine. And he gave me the most special birthday of my life.
I was in Fifth Grade after the war had ended and in class. He came to the door, still in uniform and told my teacher he was to take me home. When she reneged he said “Aw, I fought all across the Pacific and can’t even see my little brother.” The class went “Ahhh” and the teacher was forced to give in. Outside the room with him was his new bride, a girl named Caroline and they took this happy ten year old home.
The birthday party consisted of just my parents, Chuck and Caroline and myself and never can I remember a time of so many stories. Chuck wanted to forget his war experiences and gave me all his equipment from the war years. And he opened up big time on his experiences. He had been decorated and had a purple heart and he had also been taken prisoner. He did escape and lived to continue fighting. And what he hated most was the killing, killing he had to do sometimes by hand. This we learned was never to leave him.
We lived in Ohio at the time and shortly after that party in 1945 moved to Virginia. So sadly we were not in touch with Chuck as much as we should have been. He and Caroline had four children and he started his own trucking business that we heard was successful.
Several years later we learned that he killed himself. I contacted the family and they revealed the horrors they all went through. A daughter told me that he was not as close to his children as he had seemed to be to me as a child. Caroline told of the terrible nightmares he had and that he tried drinking and drugs to forget but that did not work. So he quit all of that. We knew nothing of this thing called PTDS
As I think back it causes me as a Christian to wish we had remained closer. That I could have seen if a church somewhere could help him as apparently no doctor could. Not even the VA. That today makes me more determined than ever that we need to get involved here.