The Lucky Ones

Tom Caramanno

A while back, a Special Forces Medic, SSG. Barry Sadler wrote and sang a song called “I’m a Lucky One”. In it he said we were the lucky ones because we were alive and going back home. At the time, I thought he was right. We lived through it and were going home with a better appreciation of life. However, after years of suffering from PTSD and thinking back, I think Barry was wrong.

I think they were the lucky ones. They didn’t have to come home to what we came back to, the trash that we had to put up with. Name-calling, no thanks for the job we did. No understanding of what or why we did for the people and the country of Vietnam, nor the appreciation shown and said by some of the Vietnamese. I remember being thanked by an interpreter for what I was doing to help his country. At the time I didn’t know how to say thank you for a compliment. I told him don’t thank me; thank my country for what it is doing.

I also think they were the lucky ones because they didn’t have to put up with the dreams and the flashbacks, jumping or hitting the deck at loud noises, the job discrimination that still goes on, unfortunately-having anxiety and panic attacks, the depression. Some resorting to drugs and alcohol, and having to take anti-depression and anti-anxiety medicine. Having to go to counselors trying to deal with this and lead normal lives. Some are lucky they have spouses that understand and help, but some don’t. Some have friends they can call or see and talk with when they are down.

Knowing this will never get better, doesn’t help. Some, like me, get to the point they can’t keep a job because of PTSD. Some, like me, say things like at least in Nam we could shoot back, or I’d go back. Some went over there with pride and the expectations of winning the war. Not expecting that our government, the press, and the people at home would let us down and not let us do what had to be done. That was a big let down and the disillusionment and for some the first time, that our hands would be tied, preventing us to do the job right.

Coming home to signs and being spit on. Not getting or losing jobs because we served in Nam. Being asked if you served in Nam. Your answer could cost you a job or lose a promotion. We couldn’t even be proud of the fact that we served in Nam. I remember once I lost a job; they were so concerned that I would lose it and destroy the place; they asked me how long it would take me to clear out my desk and not disturb the office. I asked my immediate supervisor if they thought I was going to create a scene. His response-yes, you’re a Nam Vet and Special Forces qualified. We don’t want you to pull a Rambo or go postal on us. This is the thanks we get for serving our country, and spilling our blood and guts.

We didn’t get thanked for our service and were treated like third class citizens. The VA was supposed to help us and for a lot of us-that’s joke. It wasn’t until recently that we got thanks and welcome homes, and that comes usually from fellow Vets. Then they slap us in the face by asking to follow the Desert Storm Vets in Parades. We weren’t good enough to get our own welcome home parades or recognition, but we can ride the coattail of the three-day warriors. They even had the audacity to recall some of us back to active duty for Desert Storm. We were not good get a thank you but when they need us they had no reluctance to call us back. Even after retirement.

This wasn’t how I planned to write this, but this is how it came out. People say that our talk always turns back to Nam. Some even ask why. They don’t understand that when they were young and at home, they were watching or playing games going to dances, going on dates and proms, etc. They learned how to socialize with people. Now they can say do you remember this or that or that double date, etc., those were their memories. We were humping the hills with rucks on our backs, getting shot at and shooting back. A lot of times, just shooting into the trees not even seeing who was shooting at you. We saw our friends getting hit and the dirt kicking up all around us with all the noise and fear that goes with it, the big pucker factor. Watching your buddies die, and sometimes holding them while they died. Doesn’t exactly teach you how to get along with people or make friends or how to make time with the ladies properly. These are our memories. Yet we have a bond that’s tighter than a family and unless you went through it, you will NEVER understand what it’s like to go through it, or the feelings we share. True Nam Vets don’t have to say much. They know the hurt and pain we go through. Even as total strangers, we relate easily as though we have known each other all our lives. We lived it. We survived it, or did we?

It’s bad when a name of a place in Nam or a loud noise can start us reacting in different manners. The one thing I can never understand is how the guys who came back all messed up, in wheel chairs, etc. have such a great disposition and show no signs of PTSD, and some of us came back with all kinds of problem. It sometimes makes me wonder what’s wrong with me. They come back laughing and no problems and at times I feel like I’m going to lose it. I envy them and others like my counselor that has no problems. Also, for a long time I had the wrong words of the Civil War song or hymn. As he died to make holy, let us die to make men free. For a long time I felt I hadn’t died like I should have. A lot of good men died over there, and I came home. I felt like I didn’t do what I was suppose to. Why them and not me. Some of them had wives and kids. I was single no one would have cared. There are even times now that I feel that is true. No one would miss me, except for my money or what I can do for them. Sometimes even today there are times I wish I had died there. Cause if this is life; I’m tired and want to get this life over with the sooner the better.

To all who did make it back, Welcome Home, and thanks for your service, and let us not forget the Nurses and Red Cross volunteers who took care of us and helped remind us of home. They took the time to heal us and some if time permitted, they would talk with us. MOST importantly let us not forget the ones who didn’t make it home and our POW/MIA’s we must have a full accounting of them.

Tom Caramanno
C CO 1/327 ABN INF 1st BDE 101st Div