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I’m taking a break from my Cognitive Processing Therapy series this week because of the holiday.  Unlike many, the holiday doesn’t mean that I’m not working, it’s just that I’m writing something slightly different (don’t worry; CPT session 4 will be back next week).

Because that’s right, it’s The 4th of July!  Fire up your grills and your “do they have the 4th of July in England” jokes, ice your beers, and lay out your fireworks.  Because that’s what we do with freedom.  We eat.  We drink.  We blow stuff up. 

Some will take a moment to reflect on how we got here.  Some, like one of my undergrad poli-sci professors, will take a few minutes to read The Declaration of Independence, and maybe even the entire Constitution (I always loved that he did this aloud with his children first thing in the morning).  Some will stop and think about the troops, I’m sure many will post memes about them to their Facebook walls.  But then, in all likelihood, they’ll go back to potato salad, and ‘Gansett, and blowing stuff up.

My 4th of July in Afghanistan six years ago seems so distant as to not even be a memory, more like something I read or saw in a movie a while back.  We ran no missions that day, which was nice, and after a morning of briefings and weapon/vehicle maintenance we had a round-robin soccer tournament with the Dutch and the Aussies.  There may have even been baked beans.

After the low-key afternoon, I headed up to one of the watch towers as the sun headed down behind the mountains.  I was a grenadier, with an M-203 attachment to my M-4, so once the sun had set a fired off some flares to give my  boys taste of home, however slight:  a white star cluster and two parachutes:  one red, one green.

There was no beer.

And fortunately there was nothing blown up.  Not that day.  But there were plenty of explosions on other days, and that’s where the great irony of the holiday comes in.

In his A Glossary of Literary Terms (a book I never leave out of arms reach), M. H. Abrams explains how “in Greek comedy, the character called the eiron was a dissembler, who characteristically spoke in understatement…yet triumphed…”  And that’s where the base meaning of the word remains, despite Alanis Morisette’s most valiant attempts to get the masses to believe otherwise:  “dissembling, or hiding what is actually the case.”

When this country’s citizens fire off roughly $465 million in fireworks this 4th of July, many will do so “in honor of the troops.”  Perhaps the concept serves as some sort of civilian reenactment of/homage to the explosions of battles long passed.  The reality of the situation is that Independence Day is an incredibly difficult holiday for many of those who served to help protect and maintain those very freedoms the majority citizens celebrate because those fireworks areso similar to the explosions on the battlefield.

As a veteran with PTSD, I’ve experienced this myself.  Sure, if I’m prepared, and know that they are coming, I’m ok.  When a good friend from Belgium was visiting two years ago, I wasn’t going to hide out on Independence Day, I was going to show him what we’re all about.  So we headed to the Boston Pops 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular, one of the best fireworks displays in the country.  I didn’t hit the deck, didn’t freak out.  I enjoyed the colors, the music, and yes, the beer.

But last year was a different story.  I made a point to leave my picnic at the lake before the sun went down, partly for my own sake, partly for the dog’s.  I made it through the day just fine.  But then, around 3am someone set off simple firecrackers in the parking lot behind my apartment.  I was not prepared.  Many don’t realize that PTSD is not just emotional, but is actually physiological, the result of changes to brain chemistry and how the nervous system responds to threats.  I went from dead sleep to fully alert.  My heart rate sky-rocketed.  And stayed there.  I spent the entire 5th of July in bed, debating whether or not I should head into the hospital for tachycardia.  I knew that I wasn’t being threatened, but my body’s chemistry did not.

This year, I’ll be up on a secluded lake in Maine.  I’m sure someone will have fireworks.  I’m sure that the sound will carry over the water.  I’m sure that if I can see them, I’ll be able to stop and marvel at the colors and patterns.  But I’m also sure that there will be vets around the country who are reliving their personal hells.

So please, be mindful.  If you have leftovers, don’t set them off in the middle of the night, save them for another night.  If you’re hanging out with a vet (which, if you’re reading this blog, is probably likely), make sure they’re good.  And most importantly be safe.  Freedom’s less fun a few fingers short.

--Colin D. Halloran

NOTE:  Because I am a writer by trade and by training, my doctor encouraged me to go through multiple drafts of this particular assignment, and use all of them.  I had already written a series of poems about the chosen traumatic event for my collection and shared those with my doctor in a previous session (one--“Morning Commute”--is available for reading here).  Below I have included two of the pieces I wrote specifically for this session.

Practice Assignment:

Write a full account of the traumatic event and include as many sensory details (sights, sounds, smells, etc.) as possible. Also, include as many of your thoughts and feelings that you recall having during the event. Pick a time and place to write so you have privacy and enough time. Do not stop yourself from feeling your emotions. If you need to stop writing at some point, please draw a line on the paper where you stop. Begin writing again when you can, and continue to write the account even if it takes several occasions.
Session 3, V1 

We’re almost back from our mission, maybe half a click out from the wire, when the white pickup in front of me accelerates.  In it is the ANP colonel who is our envoy to the province, for lack of a better term.  I check my 6, and maintain my own speed, the convoy’s speed.

Then comes the noise.  Massive.  Terrifying.  I have no idea what it is.  I check with Man and Se7on.  They don’t know either.  They tell me what my mirrors do.  Smoke.  Flames.  Smoke.

I slow my Humvee so I can get a full assessment and figure out if we’re fighting or pushing through.  Those are the options when you get hit.  If you can just blow through it, do it.  No sense risking injury.  If you need to stop to protect your guys, that’s what you do.  One of the trucks in the convoy is hit, so I pull the convoy to a halt, angling my truck to give my gunner the best possible views of all approaches.

I don’t wait for orders, I just push out and start clearing what I’ve designated to be my sector.  I’m at the head of the column, I know exactly where my gunner is covering, and I take from his edge out to the left, in towards where the disabled vehicle is. 

I see guys to my left doing the same thing.  There’s no one to my right.  Just Se7ons eyes and SAW to cover that flank.  My TC calls to me, no radio comms, there may be secondary devices, so I weave back in toward the truck, only to have him tell me what I already know, do what I’m already doing.

I push back out, clearing any of the tiny buildings and the miniscule alleys they create, establishing the perimeter 50-75 yards out, where there’s a short wall looking out over a field.  From here we can see the rears of the surrounding buildings, make sure that no more danger lurks there.

I take a second to check back inside the perimeter.  Smoke is clearing, and I realize the truck that got hit was D’s.  He’s not in his turret.  I worry for a split second, then push it aside.  I can’t worry about him, I have to hold my sector.  I curse myself for checking in for the second that I did. 

I don’t know how long I was there, on one knee, scanning, waiting for the follow-up attack.  I don’t know the details, whether it was a pressure plate, remote detonated, VBIED.  I rule out RPG because of the lack of small arms fire that normally accompanies them. 

Eventually someone comes and taps me out.  I move back in and am given orders to escort an ambulance back to the base hospital, and bring one of our wounded in my truck.  I load up, make sure the ambulance is good to go, make sure Se7on’s loaded and ready to rock if need be, and I fly.  It’s D in the back of my truck, and I want to get him back ASAP.  I have no idea how bad his wounds are.  I punch the gas, constantly scanning, waiting for another attack.  Once Se7on clears the turn off, I take it tight, moving off the main road and onto the sand track that will lead us back into the wire.  I radio in to the gate so they know I’m coming, and don’t slow down until I’m through it.  Straight to the hospital entrance.  Doctors are waiting.  I help them with D, and watch as the ambulance unloads a small body on a stretcher.  They bring both into the hospital, and I go to refuel my truck.

Session 3, V2

I don’t know what happened.

And maybe that’s why it was so traumatizing.  I think the most common, widespread fear is fear of the unknown, and I get that.

I was driving, leading the convoy.  Next thing I know there’s noise and blackness in the mirror, and I slow, keeping one eye on the road in front of me, and one eye on the mirror, counting the humvees behind me so I can figure out whether I need to stop or just blow through this hell hole.  There’s a wall of smoke.  Flames.  It’s tough to count.

I have to stop the convoy.  I angle the truck off across the road to give Se7on the best range possible on his MK-19 and SAW, then I dismount and start to establish a perimeter.  Halfway out I hear Man calling my name.  I check around me, then move back toward him.  He’s telling me to do what I’m already doing:  establish a perimeter.

I push back out.  See others doing the same.  We sweep out past the small buildings, clearing them as we go, and establish our perimeter behind a short mud wall on the edge of what could be called a field.

And that’s what I know.  My sector.  I’m an infantryman.  A highly trained foot soldier.  The epitome of discipline.  All I know, all I need to know, is my sector.

—Colin D. Halloran    

Session 2 sucks.  Plain and simple.  So this will be a short post.  Yet in spite of its “suckiness,” it is an essential part of the process.  Again, you can reference the Cognitive Processing Therapy Veteran/Military Version:  Therapist’s Manual (starting on pg. 45) for all of the steps and details of this session.  But be forewarned:  it sucks.

Session 2 begins with a reading of the impact statement (what you wrote for the assignment from session 1) and then moves on to my two least favorite things:  stuck points, and A-B-C worksheets (I hate them, but I know other vets who find them incredibly useful, including the author of the blog UNcamouflaged).

Stuck points are ideas that are interfering with the veteran’s acceptance of events, and extreme, over-generalized beliefs.  In other words, things you think that trigger your emotional response to the event you wrote about, or current events that activate the same emotional response.  This is why stuck points are so important.  They help you to connect your current emotional (over)reactions to the triggering event.  So here we go…my stuck points:
  • If I can’t totally control a situation, then I’m helpless.
  • Because I feel guilty, I must be responsible.
  • The only people who will understand me are those who have shared my experience.
  • If I can’t trust those close to me, how can I trust strangers?
  • The world is a pretty shitty place. (I actually kind of like this one)
  • If I try to improve things, I’ll only fail.
  • Sadness is a sin. (This comes from a line in a poem by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish)
  • If something bad happens, my training will kick in and I’ll lose my humanity.
  • Because I feel hatred, I am not a good person.
  • There is “one” “correct” way to do things.
  • I should not have fun because other soldiers cannot do the same.
As you can see, these are all very broad, overgeneralized statements that couldn’t possibly be true 100% of the time.  Regardless, they have shaped the way I think, feel, and function over the past six years.  The impact statement and determination of stuck points were essential in my coming to understand why I feel the way that I do (often times discouraged and worthless), and by recognizing them, I have been able to think about, challenge, and overcome them.

But what about those handy A-B-C Worksheets you say?  Well yes, I hate them.  But yes (I say grudgingly), they can be useful.  For me, it was much more useful to write pieces such as my impact statement, and work through those with my doctor to pull out stuck points during our sessions.  For others, my girlfriend (also a veteran of Afghanistan) included, the A-B-C sheets (pgs 56-59) provide a concrete way of working out the thought process.  (Note from Girlfriend:  The most valuable part of them is recognizing that your natural thoughts in response to an “instigating incident” are overwhelmingly negative, but there are so many positive thoughts and outcomes that can come from the same situations.  The worksheets train your thought processes to recognize, acknowledge, and default to those positive thoughts rather than the negative.)  And for me, knowing how they work, and her asking me, “Do you need to fill out an A-B-C sheet…?” every time I seem to be drifting off into believing one of my stuck points is enough for me to right the ship.

The key is, without recognizing and acknowledging what the stuck points are, you can’t possibly begin to notice them.  Without noticing, you can’t challenge them.  Without challenging them, you can’t start disbelieving.  And without kicking the habit of believing those stuck points, you can’t possibly begin to heal.
(NOTE:  The coming posts will follow the same format as this one, with the title of the treatment session at the top, followed by the prescribed practice assignment, then my actual writing from when I was going through this process myself.  Where handouts are referenced, I have included a link to the entire Cognitive Processing Therapy Veteran/Military Version:  Therapist’s Manual from which they come, with page numbers indicated.  This is an invaluable resource containing worksheets, evaluations, and plenty of information on CPT, PTSD, and related topics; HOWEVER, please remember that what I have written is just a sharing of my own experience, and the manual is only just that.  Please, if you feel that you could benefit from this process, go to your local VA and ask for information on CPT services they provide.  The help of a trained and experienced professional simply cannot be replaced by my ramblings and a PDF version of a handbook.)

Session 1:  Introduction and Education Phase

Practice Assignment:
Please write at least one page on why you think this traumatic event occurred.  You are not being asked to write specifics about the traumatic event.  Write about what you have been thinking about the cause of the worst event.  Also, consider the effects this traumatic event has had on your beliefs about yourself, others, and the world in the following areas:  safety, trust, power/control, esteem, and intimacy.  Bring this with you to the next session.  Also, please read over the handout (pages 39-41) I have given you on stuck points so that you understand the concept we are talking about.

Session 1:  (a.k.a. "Impact Statement")
Why were we attacked?  Why did someone drive a pickup truck packed with soviet era mortar rounds into the middle of our convoy and detonate, killing himself, a small boy, and engulfing my buddy in shrapnel and flames?  The simple answer is:  “this is war.”  That’s what happens.  But second by second, there’s so much more to it than that.  We were almost back to the wire, when the ANP colonel who had been escorting us that day and leading the convoy hit the gas and sped ahead of us.  I was driving the lead U.S. vehicle, but his sudden acceleration didn’t strike me as odd until after it all happened.  Next thing I know there’s a massive explosion.  I’m guessing that I heard and felt it, but I can’t be sure.  I hadn’t seen the Hilux waiting behind one of the mud huts.  My gunner hadn’t either.  Even if we had, it may not have registered as suspicious.  Maybe we did see it, I don’t know.  What I do know is that the ANP colonel knew.  He sold us out.  They knew exactly where we’d be and when we’d be there, and he knew to get the hell out of the blast radius.

I’ve felt a lot of guilt over this since it happened.  I should have registered the strangeness of his acceleration.  Should have somehow seen the bomber, known that he was going to detonate.  Of course I couldn’t have known these things.  I was 20.  I had been in Afghanistan for weeks.  This was all new to me, prepared though I undoubtedly was.  It was out of my control.  I feel like I want it to be in my control; maybe that’s why I feel the guilt.  It makes me feel like I could have somehow prevented it from happening, or played some more active role in the event, like I wasn’t just the helpless observer I was.  I’ve felt guilt over the boy who died.  Guilt over the wounds my friend sustained, over the way his life seemed to just crumble when he got back home.  It’s out of my control.  All of those things are.  But it still nags at me, that feeling that maybe I could have done something.  And that desperate reach for some level of control and responsibility makes me feel like shit.  If I had some level of control, then I fucked up and it’s my fault and I can’t stand myself.  If it was completely out of my control, then I’m helpless, and can’t stand myself, or at least the circumstances of being helpless.

Spinning globe
We got sold out by the one person we were told we could trust.  Obviously that didn’t do much for my trust of others, and yeah, when I look at that and my reluctance to get close to others and trust them with me, my fragility, the dots practically connect themselves.  The person who was supposed to keep me safe didn’t, and as the convoy leader and the person supposed to keep my guys safe, I didn’t.  Apples and oranges.  I know.  Logic is one thing, this is how I feel.

And the world?  Safety, trust, control?  There are none.  No control over the world at large, which means safety is just an idea we use to tuck ourselves in at the end of the day.  And trust?  If I can’t trust the people I know, how can I trust those I don’t?  Are other people selling out their allies?  Being sold out?  Seems like the world’s a pretty shitty place.  And I was trying to make it better.  Fail. 

Those are effects.  The effects of what logic tells me is war.  And betrayal.  Which I guess is part of war.  Which sucks.  So using logic I can map out the sequence of events.  Draw the lines of cause to effect.  But that’s logic.  My feeling?  My feeling is that it can’t be reduced to lines and maps.  It’s followed me for too long to be reduced to two dimensions.  I was not the cause.  So then why do I feel guilty?  I wouldn’t feel guilt if I wasn’t part of the cause.  Right?  But I couldn’t have known, so I couldn’t have been part of the cause.  But that’s how I feel.  And just like the moon can chase the sun around the earth to bring the dawn, only to be chased back up again, so it goes with logic.  And feeling.
—Colin D. Halloran





painter's palette and brush
CPT...Captain (the rank of my nonstalker).  Couldn’t Predict This (True).  Cats Play Twister (wait, no they don’t!).  Colin’s Psychological Treatment à Cognitive Processing Therapy.

Yes, it’s those last two that make the most sense, and the last one that is what I’m actually talking about here.  I mentioned in my last post that I’ve spent the last 6 months in treatment at the Albany VA’s PTSD Clinic.  I’ve made leaps and bounds, and as of this posting, have just “graduated” from the program.  Of course I haven’t forgotten that healing is a journey, not a destination, and my release from this formal treatment program is only the next step on that journey—a step that will send me into the world without formal sessions, but with a number of tools to help along the way.

So what is CPT?  Well, The National Center for PTSD can explain it a heck of a lot better than I can, but essentially it’s an educational program more than what many think of as therapy—the whole sit down and talk about your feelings thing.  It’s less about talking about your feelings and more about understanding WHY you are feeling those things.  There are physiological reasons for those feelings (symptoms), and CPT teaches you about them, teaches you how to focus on them and increase your awareness of the symptoms and their activators, gives you strategies and skills to help deal with the problems that are activators, and gives you an understanding of the changes in thought process that occur after a trauma, and after treatment.  Again, check out the link above, they break it down in much better general terms.  But I can break it down in my terms.

CPT was the perfect solution for me.  It involves education, which I love.  Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot, but don’t use all the medical jargon that is just going to go over my head.  HELP ME understand what’s going on with me, and why—as in the specific underlying causes, not just, “Oh, you went to war, that was traumatic.”  My doctor was outstanding, treating our sessions more like a one-on-one college psych class than anything else, and I learned so much (knowledge that I can now impart on others in my workshops).  After the education came the writing. 

Now obviously this would seem to be right up my alley, seem to be what I’ve been doing for the last three years in writing my book.  But this writing was very different.  Rather that writing about my whole experience, I had to pick one specific event, actually, one that I had already written several poems about.  But this writing process was very different.  As a poet, my tendency is to write, and then cut, cut, cut, cut.  Narrow a piece down to its bare-bones essence.  Economy of language, I call it.  But my writing in CPT did the opposite.  It started broad and general, and then I had to find places to expand it, create studies of specific moments—almost the reverse process from painting.  Over the next few weeks I will be posting each of these pieces, with the CPT prompts, in the same order that I worked through them in my therapy sessions. 

By doing this I hope to shed some light on PTSD and the specific process of healing that worked so well for me, and hopefully take away some of the stigma attached to both.  After all, PTSD has been around since war has.  We’ve called it different things—shell shock, battle fatigue, etc.—but it’s always been there and it’s been documented as long as we have been writing about war (seriously, read Book XXII of The Odyssey).  It seems to me that art and literature have always been ahead of science in this field, maybe because art deals with observation, documentation, and conveyance more than cause; but it seems like science is finally catching up, and now that it is, it’s turning to art—writing, painting, acting, music—to help heal.

—Colin D. Halloran

What a difference six months makes.  Yes, it’s been that long since last my words came across your screens here.  But I’m back.  So where the heck have I been?  Lost.  Found.  Nope, still lost.  Found again, only to be lost…well, you get the picture.  But as I wove in and out of losing and finding myself, I also found some pretty extraordinary truths (which maybe I had lost somewhere along the way).

After another turn in the VA psych ward, though this stay was much briefer, I knew that my aforementioned relationship was over, but that I was finally at a point where I could focus on myself and really get some work done on the healing front.  I entered into treatment at the Albany VA’s PTSD clinic (more on this coming soon), found a former combat Marine to move in and help with rent, and managed to finish my Master’s thesis about the workshops I’d developed on understanding war using poetry.  January saw me gradate, and February saw me headed to Chicago for the 2012 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference (more on this coming soon too).  And that’s where everything changed.

I was part of a panel entitled “From Combat to College:  Helping Veterans Transition from the Military to the Academic Writing Environment Through Veterans-Only Writing Courses,” the result of a year-long collaboration with academics from around the country (again, details will come later), and a couple days before the conference I got an email from someone I’d never met, vehemently insisting she was not a stalker (you can read more on how this unfolded at her blog: http://uncamouflaged.blogspot.com/2012/03/veteran-writers-and-surprising-benefits.html).  She was an Air Force veteran working on her MFA at Emerson, and she’d seen my panel, Googled me (and the other participants), read about my work, and reached out to me.

We met at the conference, where she noted I looked more like an intellectual than a veteran (I talk a lot about preconceived notions and biases…), and we shared stories over a couple of pints (in true veteran tradition).  She was front and center for my panel, but after the panel, she was the last person I talked to.  My fellow panelists and I were swarmed as soon as we were done, so much so that we were still answering questions when the next panel came to set up, and we had to take it out into the corridor.  Veterans, teachers, relatives of vets, all of the above.  There were so many people who were keyed into the experiences we shared on some level.  And that’s when I rediscovered one of those truths I’d lost: I am not alone.  WE are not alone.  To find myself surrounded by so many like minded individuals who had been impacted by war sparked in me a renewed passion to work towards a better-educated civilian population, and a better-connected veteran population.

There are so many of us out there, we just need to find each other, and not forget that we (vets, civilians, family members, educators) are all in this together, something I’m now reminded of daily, thanks to a certain Air Force vet who wasn’t stalking me…but more on that coming soon.

—Colin D. Halloran 
Dear friends, we want you to know we greatly appreciate your patience and support as we work on getting our first issue out the door. Thank you for your support and your belief in our mission. 

I know we've missed every deadline we've set for ourselves, but the first issue will happen, and it does matter. More than anything, we are passionate in our support for veterans and excited to create a venue to allow veterans' voices to be heard. 

Our all-volunteer staff is working as hard as it can to get this issue put to bed. Nothing has happened quite as we expected when the staff first met and imagined the possibilities almost a year ago. Thank you for your patience, for your faith, and for sticking with us through this s.l.o.w. and new and exciting process.   

We are as excited as you are to see the first issue in print and on our Kindles.  Many many thanks for your patience.
Now available on Kindles and free Kindle apps you can download to your computer, tablet, or phone: the fantastic short story "Thanksgiving for Riley," about an Iraq war veteran and the struggles and victories he faces now that he's back home.  It's both funny and heartbreaking, and it's an excellent preview of the type of writing you'll find in our first issue of the Copaiba Literary Review, coming in December.  For less than a buck you can get a great story to read this week while waiting in an airport, sitting in traffic (as a passenger!), or heating up some leftover mashed potatoes.  Find it on Amazon.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving everyone!
What testosterone-teased teenager isn’t out for all the excitement and adventure he can find?  Thus it was that I, with millions of others from both sides, marched off to World War II, never questioning, always seeking the new and different. 

I found it. I found it in the form of training films designed to convince us that the "Kraut" was something less than human and therefore killing it was OK. I found it in discipline for the sake of discipline.  I found it in the ignorance of good-old-boys from the south who were still fighting the Civil War. I found it in our Captain's ridiculous recitation of “Ours is not to reason why” from “The Charge of The Light Brigade" as we boarded the liberty ship Marine Wolf bound for the ETO. I found it in the incompetence that sent our howitzers on one ship to France while we went to England on another. I found it in the fact that while they were flying troops from the States to reinforce our besieged forces during the Battle of the Bulge, we were rested and wasted, sans howitzers, in Denbigh North Wales. I found it in the ghost town of Thum, Germany, devoid of all life but for a lone cat which one of our sharp-shooters shot for sport. I found it in the rubble of what once were cities. I found it in the insane cruelty of Belgique resistance fighters  attached to our outfit, seeking vengeance.  I found it in the grave registration “meat wagons” that passed us daily, with rigid arms and legs protruding from the overloaded vehicles.  I found it in the liberated labor and concentration camps. I found it in the snow, the mud, the rain and K rations, in one of Patton’s famed spear-heads. I found it in the plight of the German soldiers pleading to be captured lest they be taken by the Russians.  Such was the excitement and adventure I sought.  

There was, however, one adventure that proved to be rewarding. With the cessation of hostilities there came to our outfit a German soldier, looking for something to eat and wishing to be taken prisoner. He had discarded his uniform, and he, like so many others were desperately trying to avoid capture by the Russians. His name was Albert Alfred Rupee, and when he volunteered to work for his fare, our Mess Sergeant was only too happy to oblige. 

So industrious was Albert that in the following days he made himself almost indispensable. He would do anything asked of him by any member of the Battery. I soon noticed that the demands on his time became more than he could handle. On one occasion I, as a corporal, intervened when a private insisted that Albert shine his boots. With a goodly portion of the Battery assembled, I informed the private, et al., that Albert was to be no valet to a hundred men, and that his duties would be defined by the Mess Sergeant only. 

This incident endeared me to Albert and as time passed, we became close friends. He told me of his war time experiences.  He was born in the Alsace Lorraine of a German mother and a French father. When the Germans invaded, they determined that Albert and all his age were eligible for military service, and Albert was assigned to the German Navy. He hadn’t been on his ship long until SS officers came aboard and asked for volunteers for the Eastern (Russian) front. Although Albert did not volunteer, he was chosen, and off he went to what was to become a most horrible fate as an infantryman in the frigid climes of the Soviet Union. 

He described how, in an effort to conserve the inadequate supply of ammunition, the German soldier was required to rise from his foxhole and take careful aim before firing.  This would, however, expose him to the fire from the enemy, who would simply raise his rifle from the foxhole and fire indiscriminately in all directions. On one such occasion, Albert lost three fingers of his right hand.  Rather than relieving  him, they patched him up in a field hospital and returned him to duty.  With the rapid Russian advance, the Germans found themselves in such disarray that Albert was able to simply abandon his company and his uniform and make his way west.  With the ending of hostilities, he found himself near where we were billeted.

Shortly after VE Day, our Battalion was deactivated. The cadre of non-coms that had come from the old New York 69th Division in Hawaii to train us had enough service points to be immediately sent home, and I along with all the other corporals were made sergeants to fill the vacancies. This made it possible for Albert to be retained as well. 

As Troops of Occupation, we were moved from town to town.  Upon arrival at each one, it became Albert’s duty to reconnoiter for any loose wine and/or women.  Speaking German, French, and Italian fluently, and not at all unattractive, he became adept at this rather onerous charge. This, of course, only served to draw us closer together, and by the time I was finally to be sent home in May of 1946, our friendship was well established. 

A month or so after coming home, I did receive one letter from Albert. It was very brief.  In the best broken English and German he or I could muster, he said that with my departure, things were not the same and that he felt it was time for him to move on. I tried to respond, with no luck. Did he return home?  It was then, for the first time I could remember, it occurred to me that he had never once mentioned his family or home after telling me of his parents' ethnicity. Whether there may have been some animosity between a German mother and a French father, I had never asked, and I had no reason to speculate.

I write this now in the hope that it may help you the reader understand the idiocy of war, for it is entirely conceivable that I could have killed my friend Albert, or he could have killed me. It is entirely conceivable that those we must have killed had the same longings for life and loved ones that we had.

I would, therefore, advise the young seeking  excitement and adventure with the following fibonacci poem.

Don’t go.
They lie.
You must know,
War is all a scam
The rich get rich, but you must die.

—Hal O’Leary, an eighty-six year old veteran of WWII who now believes that all war is insanity.