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April 2014

Lest We Forget

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A Tribute to a Veteran of Vietnam by Julie K. Weber-Torres is labelled as an ode to the heroism of a daughter’s father, but after reading I can’t help but be amazed by the compassion, resolve and love of a father’s daughter. When a parental figure has spent more time out of your life than in it, it would be easy to make the decision for you to go your separate ways with no relationship or parental expectations. From a father committed to the war of the unforgiving at a tender age, he tries his best to reclaim his life and ends up falling victim to the common pitfalls of returned veterans. For Julie not knowing her father and dealing with his trials was never going to be the reality that she would willingly accept. Knowing she was never going to change her father’s way of life, she was going to try and get as many positive memories as she possibly could.

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“Many come back changed, especially the ones who worked in the midst of danger zones. Most of them were young, early twenties – and they faced existential questions of life and death, courage and cowardice, grief and loss, as well as victory and exhilaration in the few years of their service, more than most of us face in a lifetime.”

Born July 8, 1950 into the world a free-spirit and risk-taker Julius “Jerry” Duane Weber grew up in the tight-knit farming community of Wabeno, Wisconsin. Jerry joined the army at seventeen seeing it as a rite of passage for many young adults,  he ironically needed his grandparents consent before being sent off to war. Like his residing community, his army unit was equally small and tight-knit, and being the youngest it led to a lack of respect and recognition among his peers. With this “runt of the litter” type of treatment the 557th Engineer Company relied on the bonds they formed among themselves. Unfortunately, these bonds were strengthened by the consumption of alcohol, but to them their nurtured band of brotherhood was the greatest asset to possess in the killing fields of Vietnam where the lines between friends and foes was mercilessly  blurred.

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The theme behind this memoir is the failure to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which has lead to the unfortunate and untimely deaths of many war veterans. The utilization of drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism or the simple solution of suicide as a means to ending it all show the failure to treat the very people who have given the country the freedoms taken for granted each day. Through the course of many wars PTSD has even been identified by different names starting from World War 1 where it was called “shell shock”, during World War 2 it was recognized as “combat fatigue”, and even “stress response syndrome” during the Vietnam War. As you can see the diagnosis is gradually become closer and clearer in terms of the effects on soldiers through the duration and after their service. As crazy as it sounds it seems for a lot of veterans when they sign the papers to join the military their time of service starts and finishes when they take your final breath. With the misdiagnosis and the preventative deaths of veterans in their early 50’s, I couldn’t help but think of the commonalities between this and the concussion problem in sports, with an obvious difference in scale. “Back in the day” concussions were deemed bop’s on the head, they later progressed to knock’s on the head and eventually they were diagnosed as headaches. The problem is, is that all these athletes were sent right back in the action by the team doctors who themselves are stakeholders in the performance of the team. Today, after countless lawsuits and loss of revenue, concussions have been given the recognition they deserve. Players that suffer “brain trauma” must undergo a designed protocol before they are allowed to get back in the game. The majority of old-time players are suffering from depression, aggression, memory loss, impulse control and are dying of suicide, dementia, alcoholism, drug addiction due to a progressive degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE for short. I apologize for bringing a more medical tone to this review but I couldn’t shake the feelings I had when reading the history and evolution of PTSD and the similarities with CTE.

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I enjoyed this personal and unabashedly honest take of living in a world with a veteran of the Vietnam War. The author uses a conversational tone that allows the reader to feel a part of the extended family and settle before her as she tells her father’s story. As much as I may not understand the tragedies of war, I can only hope to better comprehend the courage and patriotism it takes for good soldiers to do right for their country. With that respect they’re better people than I, and I will never forget that. Much appreciation to all present soldiers and past war veterans.

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“Losing dad caused the world to stop turning for me. I was in a dreamlike confusion, questioning how other people were still going about with their lives normally. I wonder now if it is a little like a veteran returning from Vietnam. People say that soldiers dream of nothing else but going home, but when they get home things aren’t as great as they thought they would be. Things don’t always taste as good as they remembered, and sometimes even the love isn’t enough to take away the burning and searing memories of war.”

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