Recently, a Vietnam War veteran was executed in Georgia for killing a policeman. His defense was that he suffered from mental illness due to traumatic combat experience. Tragically, after every conflict, those who serve in war too often have a difficult time adjusting to peace.
Maybe my long-ago experience can help others in uniform face that ordeal when they come home. After several months of sea duty aboard a Navy troop transport in the Pacific campaigns, I was assigned to forward Navy bases during the recapture of the Philippines.
Moving up from the islands of Leyte and Samar to the main island of Luzon, I lived with jungle mud, monkeys, mosquitoes, and occasional bombs and artillery. No longer were there regular fresh meals aboard ship and quiet nights in a safe bunk.
In 1945 bomb-devastated capital city of Manila, I slept in a tent, ate K-Rations and carried a carbine. It wasn’t front line combat, but challenging enough for this teenager. When the war ended, I returned home to begin life as a civilian.
My three years of service qualified me for a full eight semesters under the GI Bill. I went for a degree in advertising and graphics at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now the University of the Arts).
As soon as I started classes, the war memories began to drop away. Images of bombed out Philippine streets faded as I took my sketch book and camera out to the peaceful, historic streets of Philadelphia.
Instead of hungry, ragged kids begging for food, I saw happy ones playing in the park. Concentrating on college life helped me erase the troubled wartime past. I immersed myself in classroom and social activities.
I concentrated on a busy schedule, and didn’t allow myself to ponder wartime memories. I believe today’s returning veterans should immediately seek college educations or meaningful jobs. That’s the best way to put an unpleasant past behind you and create a positive future.