PTSD-Veterans who fought for our Freedom

PTSD-Veterans who fought for our Freedom

by October 25, 2018

Originally Published in
Reprint with permission

By Stacey “Snoopy” Conly

     At the January 2016 COC, Patriot Guard Riders State Captain(now Regional Captiain) Kenny Case and I were discussing an article I had written on PGR. During our conversation Kenny asked if I would do an article on PTSD considering there are so many of our Veterans who suffer with this. I was excited and, I admit, a bit nervous. Nervous because I just don’t know if I could do justice, but I have a lot of information from two of our Vietnam Veterans for whom I have so much respect. Mike “Eagle” Long is currently the Louisiana State Representative for the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and Past National President. Kenneth “Tootie Ray” Deemer is Sergeant At Arms of the Veterans of Vietnam Motorcycle Club Region 3.

     While I was working on my article about Veterans of Vietnam MC, I interviewed Tootie Ray and he spoke about PTSD. He explained how the brain has triggers of memories by certain sounds and smells which were traumatic to that person. The number one PTSD trigger of Vietnam Vets is the sound of a helicopter. Smoke grenades were used as communication in Vietnam. White smoke meant cold LZ, Yellow smoke meant caution, and red smoke meant hot LZ; but all have sulfur, so sulfur is often another trigger. Tootie Ray states when he hears a helicopter it brings him back in time and place of being in-country and the UH1 (Huey), called a slick, bringing supplies and food, or picking up wounded or dead.

      Eagle states, “I, like a lot of my generation, really never faced the fact that we had or could have what is known as PTSD. I, like a lot of folks returning from Vietnam, basically did what our fathers, uncles and relatives did as they returned from WWII. We continued to try and work, raise a family, and adapt to what we came home to.”

     Our Vietnam Vets came home to an unaccepting, unsupportive society. The war was protested and our heroes returned to things thrown at them as well as being verbally assaulted. Eagle said, “I think it was easier for my father and others of WWII as they came home to a country that welcomed them home as returning heroes, and did not have to face the stigma associated with being a Vietnam vet. Kent State, the anti-war movement, had started as early at 1965, to label us manic, non-caring soldiers. NOT true. We followed the orders of those placed over us and, like many, did not question those orders as they came from our superiors.

     I returned home to riots, demonstrations, peace marches, and family and friends that did not recognize that we were actually in a war. To my uncles, we were not in the same league as they were. They had stormed the beaches of Normandy, jumped into D-Day, waded ashore on Guadalcanal, and saved the world from the threat of the Axis powers. We on the other hand, had landed in a small country and conflict and trooped around the jungle. Sure, we had some fighting, but nothing compared to what they had went through. They were right for the most part, but wrong also in the fact that war, battle, and the emotions and feelings that go along with being a participant, affect each individual differently.”

    Tootie Ray stated universal symptoms are “nightmares and night sweats. Most Vietnam Vets will isolate, sit way in the back with nobody behind them and are always on guard. You can’t let yourself relax, always wondering what somebody has on their mind, over-reactive response to threats which are in your mind and not real, fear of being around crowds, in your mind you have to protect yourself. Every day you have to stay alive today…do whatever it takes. Veterans, especially Combat Vets don’t let people in because they saw so many of their friends die, lost so many friends. ”

     Eagle said, “We returned to hatred and a dismal future compared to our kin. Our rate of drug use was through the roof. We were affected daily by negative press and a negative environment. We did not have the support as our fathers did from family and community. We were different, considered by some as mad men, or worse. We were shunned and told to go away. It was easier to ignore what we were suffering than addressing the problems.”

     As for self-medicating, it is a common way for people who suffer with PTSD, who struggle to cope through alcohol and drug use. Tootie Ray explained his use, “I found a lot of people while going through group therapy who drank a lot of alcohol, did a lot of drugs, or both.” Tootie smoked dope and drank approximately a gallon and a half of scotch in a week for about 3 years from the time he divorced from his second wife. Tootie lived in Richmond and Oakland, California for 5 years and moved back to Louisiana in 1985. Tootie Ray lived a hard life, making $3000 a week and borrowing money by Wednesday. He used a lot of cocaine, used an 8-ball every couple of days. “Snorted up houses, boats, cars, etc…” Then he just stopped using. “Once you get past the point of saturation, you got to quit. You never lose the allure of cocaine, you never recover, and you’re recovering from it. You like it a whole lot. Anyone who likes cocaine a lot would do it if they have it. “

     Eagle spoke of a trigger and how it affects him and his wife “I never really felt I had any problems. If the bad dreams came at night, they were easy to control with a few beers and some Black Velvet. It wasn’t until 1979 in Frankfurt Germany, that I woke up one night and realized that my wife was not in the bed next to me. We were newly together, and she had no real idea what problems I might have had. Oh! This was wife number two, another attribute of that little war.  I lay awake in the bed realizing that she was not next to me, and I heard crying from across the room. I asked what was wrong, and she told me that she had tried to awaken me, from what was an apparent bad dream. In reaction to her efforts, I had basically thrown her off of me and into the corner of our bedroom.  What had keyed the event?  Fireworks from a city fair along the river running through Frankfurt. My mind said mortars, by memories forced a reaction, to protect myself. She paid the price.”

     Tootie Ray on his marriages: he and his first wife went together during high school, and then he was drafted. They went to Hawaii and got married while he was on R&R in August 69 then he went back to Vietnam. In Jan 1970 Tootie came home and by Sept 1970 they were divorced. She said he had changed too much. His marriage to his second wife was 3-1/2 years; they divorced in 1974, she told Tootie she couldn’t deal with him. All of this was related to his service and his PTSD.

     Eagle spoke of having friends who dealt with PTSD each in their own ways, whether it be with alcohol, drugs, therapy, women, or withdrawal from society.  I’m betting some have done more than one of these. Eagle said he was lucky that he remained in the Army and “my career allowed me to focus on trying to be the best leader and NCO that I could be. There was some structure. I couldn’t drink as much as I wanted, I had obligations. Drugs were never something that I ever thought about, but not the same for one of my cousins. His time in Vietnam, led to a heroin addiction that took him years to overcome. Thankfully he is doing great today. “

     Both Tootie and Eagle spoke of counseling and both spoke of receiving it years later. Thankfully both VA’s they attend have helped them make headway, but the PTSD will always be there. Eagle asked me how long it would take me to walk to a certain place, I answered probably five minutes. He explained it would take him or another Vet like him half a day due to constantly looking around, checking trees and other objects to make sure nobody is behind them, much like Tootie Ray not wanting to sit where anyone could be behind him. When our men especially came home most wouldn’t seek help because they were men and men were supposed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and move on. It wasn’t masculine to ask for help in the ‘70s. Joining motorcycle clubs and organizations, wind therapy is great therapy.

     I’m thankful to all of our Veterans who have served and those who do serve this wonderful country of ours, who fight for our rights and our Freedom. I’m honored to have friends such as Eagle and Tootie Ray who are were willing to speak to me regarding PTSD.

     To all Vietnam Vets, to all of our Veterans, thank you all for your service and Welcome Home!

Special thanks to all of our Veterans who have fought for our Freedom!