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By Pat Lisi

            In November of 1979, ten years after I came home fromVietnam, wounded and bitter, a bunch of hooligan Iranian students stormed the US Embassy inTehran and seized 60-some Americans who they kept as hostages.  The students held our people captive until just after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  It was planned that way, as they wanted to make sure Jimmy Carter was not reelected before letting the hostages go. 

             When I came back fromNam there were no good headlines for us veterans.  The only kind of “ink” we got was negative:  “Viet Vet Robs Bank”; “Nam Vet Gets Prison For Selling Pot”; “Jails Swelling Up With Vietnam Veterans”; “Viet Vet Aims Recoilless Rifle at New York Bank.”  (Remember that one?  It was a doozie)!

             Yes, those were naughtyVietnamveterans doing bad things that brought the law down on them hard, and many of them did wind up behind bars for a few years.  But, Nam vets also did good things and there were worthy causes to fight for and win.  You seldom heard about a Vietnam veteran saving a drowning child, or a Viet vet fireman charging into a burning building to get someone out.  The Agent Orange issue was building to a point of no return, but Dow and the other chemical companies were hiding their heads in the sand to avoid a class action law suit.  Non-Viet vets thought we were crazy, lying bastards trying to get a free handout from any company who made any nasty chemical that was used inVietnam.

             We needed jobs and better education.  There was no one willing to listen to real problems of Vietnam veterans.  PTSD was a dirty word that no one understood, yet, and if our hair was a little bit too long in the back and we wore a beard, then we were some kind of a lazy hippie out looking for a freebie.  We all drank, smoked dope, climbed in the sack with anything that walked, talked or had a heartbeat, and we wanted to hang out only with other veterans.  At least, this is what society thought we were all about. 

             I was in the ‘front lines’ of the fight.  A group of Vietnamveterans created an organization called “Vietnam Vets Against The War”, or VVAW.  If you saw the movie, “Born on the 4th of July” starring Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic, the founding father of VVAW, then you know the story of how the VVAW got started.  It was no coincidence that Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe were also in the picture, as it was directed by Oliver Stone who did “Platoon.”

             By November, 1979 I was ready to explode.  I was losing my battle over everything.  I drank way too much, smoked (regular cigs) like a chimney, stayed up late, was starting to lose my patience with VVAW, had moved to a 100-acre farm to get away from the city and hide, and was pretty convinced that Agent Orange would eat my stomach out sooner or later and I’d die a miserable and wretched death, maybe up in one of my tree stands I had for deer hunting. 

             Then, we all got the news that the Iranian students had captured a bunch of Americans and were holding them hostage.  The headlines were huge and the whole deal was enormous.  Bla-bla-bla. By and by we screwed up a rescue attempt, because all the branches of service wanted to take part and maybe get some headlines themselves.  It was a frightful attempt and it failed wretchedly.  But, the “Iranian Hostages” got all the attention.  Issues concerning Vietnamveterans fell off the table like we didn’t even exist.  No, it was those damned “Iranian Hostages,” the “Iranian Hostages,” the “Iranian Hostages.”  Hey, I got sick and tired of hearing about it, and about them!  What happened to us, theVietnam veterans?!  Remember us???

             I know what happened – no one gave a shit anymore.  Pure and simple.

             One morning I was out on the back stoop of our farm house up on the hundred acres when my (first) wife came out to harass the piss out of me about something.  I don’t remember what it was, and I don’t even remember that it was a harassing gesture on her part; all I do know is that I finally couldn’t take it anymore.  There was an orange milk can on the porch that we had for decoration and, picking it up with my right hand I held it high overhead and threatened my wife that if she didn’t get the fuck out of my sight right now, I was going to bash her fucking skull apart. 

             Scared shitless (who could blame her) she exited the porch immediately and ran into the house to get away from me.  I stood there for just another moment with the milk can over my head, and then smashed it into the lawn off the side of the landing.  I was so frustrated and angry.  I actually saw ‘black’.  It scares me even to today, 30 years later, what could have happened that horrible morning had she not disengaged my tirade. 

             That’s what PTSD is about.  It isn’t a game or a ‘made up malady’.  It’s very real and if you have it, you should get some help.  It took me a few years to start climbing back to reality, but it wasn’t easy and I learned a lot about the world and what to take on as worthy causes.  I had to learn how to control it and that meant getting help from other people who had been there.  Don’t wait, get help today.


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