Vivid images of moral conflicts as an Army medic

Apr 05, 2018

Under the leadership of Mill Creek Liberian Jennifer Keiran, I was able to join moderator Andrew Ballard, treatment provider Laurie Akers and veteran Samantha Powers and others on Feb. 22 to share our insights and our first-hand knowledge as part of a panel discussion on “Issues That Matter: Mental Health and Veterans Discussion.”

Before you read on, be forewarned this article could be extremely unsettling.

There are always talks about veterans with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), but we do not talk enough about what other behavioral health challenges veterans are facing. But whatever the cause(s) a veteran could spend a life time trying to deal with flashbacks, trust issues, sadness, anxiety or depression.

Since I am one of the 7 percenters who dared to serve, I do harbor many active duty related psychological issues, which even today sometimes pop-out from my pre-conscious mind.

After spending 12 years sheltered in Catholic schools in Portland, I graduated in 1963 and enlisted into the Army. I was going to be a medic and be trained on how to save lives rather than take lives.

After finishing my training at Fort Sam Huston in Texas, I received orders for Korea. To my surprise, our doctor assigned me to be the compound’s Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) specialist. My first thoughts were: “Say what!” A VD specialist? The good nuns never ever taught us anything about this subject? So what do I know?”

Within a short time “doctoring” STD patients my “normal” world was turned topsy-turvy. But as I was to find out my turned upside down world would become even more traumatic for me.

Surprisingly, while stationed in Korean we never received any cultural awareness training. This lack of schooling lead a lot of us soldiers to become “Ugly Americans.” Some examples are: we had a Korean nationalist who we paid to clean our “hutches,” shine our boots and make our beds. We called this older gentleman “our house boy.” How about that for a degrading noun?

On another shameful occasion our “house boy” had a son born, but within the week he died. Not one of us reached out to the man. When I did talk with my sergeant he told me if I did talk to the man about the death, it would be insulting to him because ‘those people’ don’t have the same feelings for life and death as we have.”

Because he was my sergeant and he had been “in country” six months longer than me (not to mention the fact that I was extremely naïve), I did not think what he was telling me was based on racism. So, I reluctantly followed his order and kept silent.

About three weeks later, I overheard our employee tell his peers he was extremely hurt that not one of us had showed him any empathy for his grieving heart. Now what kind of human beings, much less medics were we?

On a sub-zero Korean night I received a call from our front gate guard. In an extremely anxious voice our guard said; “Doc! Get down here! There is a young Korean women here and she is bleeding to death”.

I immediately ran down to the gate where I witnessed a very pale and weak looking woman who had blood all over the lower portion of her body. Then with the help of a Korean medic, who was assigned to our compound, we carried the injured women to our aid station. The Korean medic stayed with her while I ran off to get our doctor.

After the doc, arrived he was told the women tried to perform a self- abortion. The doctor eventually stabilized the women then ordered us to get her off our compound.

After I returned our doctor put me into another downward personal value spin. He ordered us to never again bring a dying Korean onto US soil because the US becomes legally responsible for the person or the body.

Months later I was again called to our front gate. I was warned a Korean male was outside the gate and he had a large gaping hole in his skull. This time I called our doctor and advised him about the situation. My captain told me he would meet me down at the gate, but I was again ordered to not bring the man onto our compound.

When we met up, we both walked off our federal land to evaluate the victim. What we saw took us both psychologically back. Through the large jagged gaping skull hole we could see the man’s brain was covered with white maggots.

The doctor told the man to go on his way and then ordered the guard to make sure he did in fact leave the area. When I got back in bed I couldn’t sleep due to the images I had seen and the crying I was doing.

Darn right those are just a few of my images I have tried to push into that compartment of my pre-conscious mind. So like so many other veterans I am one of the many who are carrying some major psychological scars.

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