Generations Of Nebraska Warriors: Challenges
August 21st, 2014
Lincoln, NE — It’s been more than 40 years since Dave Spry saw heavy combat and was wounded multiple times in Vietnam. But powerful memories, nightmares still haunt him. One reminds the Marine veteran of an enemy soldier who was killed when he attacked Spry’s bunker.
“And when he comes in my dreams, he comes into my bedroom,” Spry said. “It doesn’t make a difference what house I’ve lived in, this guy finds me and he comes into the bedroom and stands in the doorway and I can see him there.”
Spry’s friend, Dennis Pavlik, relives the day he was taken prisoner when his unit was overrun by Chinese soldiers in Korea. “Every year when July 14 comes around, I fight the whole war all over,” Pavlik said. “I don’t wave my arms. I don’t beat my wife and stuff like this, but in my mind, I go through every hour. I can just about tell you every hour whatever happened.”
More than a dozen Nebraska combat veterans shared their stories for our “Generations of Nebraska Warriors”project, and they agree it’s impossible to come back from war unchanged, one way or another. Marty Ramirez is a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient who also sees this from the perspective of a trained psychologist. He talked about this with another Vietnam veteran, George Albright.
“That impact of what you see, what you feel, what you smell, I think goes in your memory,” Ramirez said. “You may not show the change because I think in my case, people find it hard to believe that I’m a veteran because of the way I handled it. I may be the exception, but it changes everybody.”
“Everybody,” Albright added. “Yeah I agree with that.”
“Just because your feet are on American soil doesn’t mean that you’re going be able to leave it all behind,” said Kim Moore. She deployed to Afghanistan with her Nebraska Army National Guard unit; now she’s working with other veterans as a therapist at the Vet’s Center.
“Some folks, it’s going to be with them for a lifetime,” Moore continued. “I mean for me, when I came home, it took about a year before I felt like I was home, and things started to click and feel okay.”
For Moore that meant getting past being uncomfortable in large crowds. A feeling shared by another Afghanistan veteran, Marine Cody Sparks.
“I had issues going places,” Sparks said. “I couldn’t go downtown, and when I moved back, I didn’t go downtown for probably a solid eight months. Didn’t go to the mall, couldn’t be around a lot of people and just got anxious.”
Sparks talked with us alongside two other former Marines, including Kevin Barret, a veteran of conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s, among these the first Gulf War.
“They said I had anger issues and I didn’t know I had anger issues,” Barret said. “I lost three jobs because of it, but I didn’t know what I did to lose them until finally a doctor talked to me and said, ‘well that’s one of your symptoms. You don’t realize that you’re abrasive and basically you don’t think before you speak.’”
“I was a very bitter person,” Pavlik said. “I had an attitude that I didn’t know I had, until about a year or two later a friend told me ‘you’ve got a problem.’ I started analyzing myself and I figured, ‘yes I did.’ Whether I’ve come out of it, I don’t know. I never forgot it, so it’s still there, but it’s something that I think is quite normal for somebody that has gone through what we have gone through.”
The overriding message from veterans is that whether it’s called PTSD or something else, whether it’s 60 years ago or six years ago, men and women who’ve been in a combat environment are different people when they come home.
“It really affects your brain,” said Jim Cada, a Vietnam veteran who now works with a number of veterans organizations and issues. “There’s no way you cannot be altered by being in combat. I believe that anybody that’s been in combat has PTSD of some sort, whether it’s a small amount or a big amount. It’s there, and I think there’s no way we can fix it. I’ve got friends who go to Afghanistan and friends who’ve been to Iraq and they’ve changed. They’re not the same.”
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