Erick W. Miller
Once upon a time there was a military draft system. Generally speaking, it was a good idea, but it was full of loopholes. One of the many loopholes was to enroll in college which entitled the student to a 2-S deferment so that person wouldn’t have to face the draft until their schooling was complete. There was a plethora of Art Majors during the war in Vietnam. As long as the person went to school with a normal workload and passing grades, they couldn’t be drafted. This was rather unfair to the young men who couldn’t afford college or whose grades weren’t good enough to be accepted.
I couldn’t afford college by any means, however my grades in high school and my test scores made me eligible for a government loan. I enrolled in a state university at Whitewater, Wisconsin with a major in Biology and a good chance to be on the Gymnastics Team. The team captain told me I was a ‘natural’ and I was allowed to workout and learn with the regular team members.
I hung out with the fashionable ‘radicals’ and even went to an SDS meeting with friends from my Judo class. I walked out of that communist joke early. I’d never heard of the SDS before, but it didn’t take long to figure out where they were coming from.
It became clear to me that these weren’t my people. My people were in Southeast Asia or some other hot spot serving their country. My father and all my uncles stood up to Germany, Japan and Italy. Now it was my turn to stand up. I loaned my father the money I’d saved for my next semester. My draft notice was inevitable. I hit the road to get a taste of life before it was taken away. I maintained contact with my parents. When my father telephoned the place where I was staying on the Mexican border to inform me that Uncle Sam wanted me, I took a deep breath and headed for home.
Upon induction, my test scores were so high that I could have chosen any field. The Army even offered to send me to Officers Candidate School. By the time Boot Camp was over, I knew quite well where the real business of war was carried out. I made absolutely no effort to avoid the infantry. I wanted to be a real soldier. I stayed in the infantry and got my wish.
I was flown to Vietnam late in 1969 and assigned to the 101st Airborne. After thirty days of walking point only when my turn came, I volunteered to do it permanently. I didn’t feel safe, but I felt safer than when someone else did it by random selection. That is not a job for just anyone. A man has to be a ‘natural’ scout, observing and analyzing every detail and aspect of his environment. It came easily to me. Others were inattentive or terrified.
The Lord chose to let me live. Still, endless nights on guard in the blackness of the Jungle and countless kilometers walking point took their toll on me. I became hyper-vigilant with an exaggerated startle response. These traits didn’t go away when I left the Jungle. They are with me today in 2003. I have a serious case of PTSD, chronic and acute, wall to wall, top to bottom, total and permanent. I was shunned by just about everyone like I had done something wrong. Even my brothers treated me differently, they still do to this day. I was never close to my mother or father again. They kept me at arms reach. I knew something about life that none of them except my father knew. I killed no babies nor committed any atrocities, yet I think it was assumed that I did, most especially by my father.
My schoolmates who used their 2-S deferments to the fullest have big homes, nice cars, and retirement plans. Me? I have PTSD, remember? Not too long ago, I lived in a tent. Until recently my small home in the flood plain didn’t have running water. I’m talking 1997, not 1887.
Those of you who might ask, “Why don’t I use my GI Bill and finish college if I’m so smart?” You who ask simply don’t understand PTSD. My first few years back were spent on booze and drugs. I had steady employment as a carpenter or roofer for many years. I even went to night school to learn more about my trade. For a while I fit into the mainstream pretty well as long as I kept everything about my Vietnam service my little secret. Actually, it was easy to do. No one ever asked or seemed to care. Not my wife, my brothers, my father the WWII veteran, nor any one of a hundred or more people who knew that I went.
When I tapered off drugs and alcohol, things went south fast. I couldn’t stand noise or bright lights or fast motion and I positively couldn’t stand being around people. I thought I could handle intimate relationships with women but they always got tired of my strange and sometimes frightening behavior. No matter how hard they tried to love me, there would always be a deterioration in the relationship and next would come “goodbye”.
I’m married for the third time since Vietnam. I’m on medication, but I’m under-medicated by choice.
Tonight, my third wife went to sleep mad. I’m supposed to believe that it’s all my fault and maybe it is. I JUST DON”T KNOW ANYMORE! I should probably take the
full dose of all my prescriptions but when I was doing that, my life was disappearing and the quality of my life sucked. I understand why so many vets choose to be homeless. I don’t want to die and I don’t want to be alone but I just can’t seem to fit in.
Erick W. Miller 18 September 2003