A return to Vietnam

All too often, military veterans struggle with painful or traumatic memories, even after their service has ended. But lasting healing and peace of mind are never out of reach, as a Vietnam War veteran experienced after years of guilt and resentment that were hampering his ability to move forward with his life.

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Sometimes after a war experience, people have painful memories that take time to heal. When I was a soldier in Vietnam, I had to work through the anger, resentment, and guilt that I was feeling by the end of my tour.

At one point, three of us were assigned to guard one section of the perimeter of our compound. As we huddled in our bunker, we took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade, which killed my friend and temporarily blinded the other man with us. After finding someone to get them out of there, I learned that I would now have to guard that portion of the perimeter by myself.

Fear began to overwhelm me. Since in the past I had relied on prayer to get me through many tough situations, it seemed natural to turn to prayer again. As I began to pray, it became clear to me that God would protect me. This enabled me to calm down enough to guard my post for the rest of the night.

In the morning, when someone came to relieve me, he asked if I was aware that I’d been wounded. I had not realized that shrapnel from the grenade had injured my arm.

A few weeks later, I realized that all that had gone on that night had made a deep impact on my emotions. I began to question why my friend had been killed and not me, to feel guilty that I had survived and he had not, and to feel that I should have been able to do more to save him.

Over the next 10 years I struggled with guilt. I also felt resentment and anger toward the people of Vietnam, as well as toward my own government for having drafted me. And because I was so focused on this negativity, I wasn’t making much progress in my life.

Finally, I had a moment of absolute clarity: The only way I was going to get myself out of this ongoing lethargy and negativity was to commit myself to a consecrated spiritual path. I needed to live the spiritual principles and teachings I’d learned in Christian Science. Starting from that very day, I began to experience healing of those long-held feelings of guilt, resentment, and anger.

I made a commitment to study the Bible and the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, more deeply. As I began this study, I gained the peace of mind I’d been searching for. I had more clarity in my thinking. I was able to see opportunities and make wiser and more beneficial decisions about my future.

This included becoming a lawyer, and accepting a fellowship as a staff attorney working for the National Veterans Service Project, representing the rights of veterans. The work gave me a great deal of satisfaction. It made me feel that I was giving something back to veterans and honoring my friend.

A few years later, another opportunity came up in which I could help bring healing to others: going to Vietnam with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to visit sites that have been built to help children affected by the Vietnam War.

During this trip, I decided to revisit the place where I had been wounded so many years earlier. So I hired a driver to take my wife and me to my old base camp in Dau Tieng, and we walked around the village – which had since become a city – for a while.

A few days later, on the plane back to the United States, I had time to reflect on my visit to Dau Tieng. I realized that the past no longer had any hold on me. I had, indeed, been completely healed of all those painful memories. I also realized that while my own life had continued on and I had grown and developed into a new person, the Vietnamese, too, had made their own progress. It was clear even from my brief visit that Dau Tieng was a different place from what it had been during the war, and the people were changed, too.

Maybe the most significant part of my healing has been my realization that everyone is worthwhile. No one is a “faceless enemy.” Each of us, regardless of nationality or which side we take in a conflict, is equally loved by God. This is the truth I needed to learn to heal the wounds of war and find peace of mind.

Adapted from an article published in the May 5, 2003, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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