Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Veterans Day Comment

This Veterans day I did a lot of thinking about my father who passed away 8 years ago. He served in the Navy in the North Atlantic before the official war. He was an original crew member of the Battleship Massachusetts (1941) and stayed with her throughout the war. He served as a signalman so he had opportunity to observe the war from the bridge. When decisions were being made in the heat of battle, he was there. From Casablanca and then to the South Pacific, he took part in numerous battles; Tarawa, Leyte Gulf, Coral Sea, Guam, Siapan, Palau, Okinawa, the Marshall Islands and the Gilbert's. Like most war veterans who were in the thick of things, he never spoke of his experience; at least not often. Beware the veteran that is always talking about their war stories.

My dad spent his later life working to memorialize the Battleship Massachusetts and spent thousands of volunteer hours on her behalf. This is the way he coped. I know he saw a lot - he saw a lot of men die. I can't relate to his experience but I can relate to the man he became. I remember the way he treated an employee who had been scarred horrifically from war. The man's name was Red Brady and he had a serious drinking problem. Red was a binge drinker and would disappear for a week or more. His psychological hurt was so debilitating that he was claustrophobic and could not go behind any locked door. Because of his drinking, his wife had to drive him to his appointments (he repaired kitchen and laundry appliances for my father's business). He couldn't even service my father's largest client; a psychiatric hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts, because they locked the doors behind you when you entered. My dad had to cover all of those calls.

One day, sensing the frustration in my father, I asked him why he kept Red working when anyone else would have fired him long ago. My father then told me that Red has some trouble that is not his fault and he is coping as best he can. Wanting further clarification, I pressed on. My father then told me that Red was aboard ship when it was torpedoed and the ship partially sunk. Red was trapped for days below deck before he was rescued. I then understood; my dad knew that Red's story could possibly have been him. My father would never judge him or fire him for that matter.

This is truly a great memory that I have preserved over the years. My father made his decisions long before anyone invented the term "post traumatic stress". Red certainly suffered from post traumatic stress and my father didn't need any psychologist to explain it. This lesson taught me to recognize post traumatic stress in veterans that I would have to supervise one day. And, yes, I had to deal with a severe case of post traumatic stress in a Vietnam veteran that sought the help he needed. That person went on to become a great supervisor within the division I was managing. I learned from my father; I learned from a veteran; I've learned from all veterans. There are wounds that we can not see, we can not totally understand, but we have to learn to live with. I'm glad that Red Brady had my father to help him. I'm thankful for the service of Red Brady, my father and all veterans.


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