Sunday, December 18, 2005


The medical community definition of PTSD;

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.

PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person's ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.

Pretty neat and clean isn't it? Well I can define it for me in a different light. It has been like I died 22 years ago and have been trapped in a body not capable of the simplest of emotions or recall, I may be able to move and I am thankful for that, I am truly thankful that I am not dead and have seen the birth of 2 more children and 2 grandchildren. But then there are the days I wish I had died so my wife and older children could have lived without seeing me like this.

Within days of leaving Beirut and heading home I started becoming angry for no reason, I was in arguments with my LPO ( leading Petty Officer) everyday. I felt the rage when I woke and kept it with me until I passed out from pure exhaustion every couple of days. When we reached port I would drink until I passed out to stop the rage I felt, but the anger was always just a click away.

Back at home I continued drinking myself to sleep everynight, usually would take a case of beer and a quart of whiskey between two of us. My family suffered, my career was over but I didn't know it yet and of course I was hurting myself with the everyday drinking.

I was diagnosed with PTSD in late 1984 after I begged the Navy for help, the rage had beaten the alcohol and I my life was in danger. I felt it building in me, eating away at me everyday, it was a cancer that had spread from me to my family. My wife watched as I came apart and sat on the brink of death, ready to take my own life. I didn't fear death then, I feared myself and what I was doing to my family. I hadn't seen what was causing the anger, it was locked under the alcohol and the denial. All I knew was that I was hurting and wanted to end the pain for all of us.

Well I got the help that was available at the time, some words and mostly medications to replace the alcohol. It didn't do much good, I saw what was causing the feelings, Beirut and the death and destruction. Myself and about 23 percent of the Beirut Veterans suffer from PTSD, why only 23%? Modern medicine really doesn't know what causes one person to develop PTSD when another doesn't. I have a theory that it is related to additional disorders, such as Bi-Polar.

I am not a doctor but I have talked to enough PTSD Vets within the VA and a lot also suffer Bi-Polar Disorder, and most suffer the effects of Chronic/Severe Panic Disorder. I developed the panic while in the hospital, I was headed home and was leaving a place I became safe. It was like setting off a nuclear device in my mind and now that I had some control over the PTSD it had been replaced by panic and a new group of fears. The worst was an overwhelming fear of death, not all death but dying in peace. I would without a doubt go out in a blaze of glory without any problems. I lay awake still everynight counting the breaths I have left and everyday that I wake up I feel blessed then I see that I am a day closer to the end and it starts all over.

22 years have passed and I have no better handle on the PTSD than the day I walked out of the hospital for the first time, most psychiatrists I speak to only want to know what medications I want, not what I truly need. I need justice for the murder of all 273 men killed in Beirut. My PTSD is based on the BLT HQ bombing at the message I have spoken about, others suffer from PTSD stimulated in many different actions. The WWII generation were afraid to speak of it, afraid to be labeled as weak so they drank and remained untreated. PTSD places a label on those already suffering, people refer to us as psychos, I hear he might go Postal, I wouldn't want him around me, etc. I have yet to go "Postal" or even raise my voice without provocation ( toward someone outside my home ) since I was discharged in 1985.

My wife and children have heard the rage, I did my fair share of yelling but I do not hit my family. That was taught to me before the PTSD, I was told never hurt those who depend on you for their safety, always protect those who are weaker or in danger.

Now I live everyday waiting for the next, waiting to see if I can make it one more day without the rage, the lack of emotion has been the only way I can keep the panic at arms length. But that same tool is what hurts my family, I either suffer or they do, neither of us can be comfortable at the same time.

As I said before I am still alive, can walk and have seen my grandchildren and for this I am grateful. My wife mourns the loss of the man she married 3 years before Beirut, we knew each other in High School and I was in love with her from afar then. I was lucky to marry her and now I have wasted 22 years of our life together by holding my back against a dam of emotions and fears. I know it was selfish but yet I still did it.

October 23rd 2005 I decided that enough was enough and I would seek justice for those men and their families, maybe the path would also allow me and my family to rest, maybe this is the key to the chains that bind my soul to that one moment in time. I have decided to pursue this in the political arena and to pay a tribute to my fallen brothers every chance I get. This Blog is just one of those tributes.

For more information on PTSD click here

Stupak Agrees To Help Beirut Veterans

Today I spent about an hour and a half on the phone with Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, we talked about the tragedy in Beirut in 1983. Rep. Stupak agreed to send a letter and ask for the investigation to be reopened he said it was doubtful anything would come of this letter but he would pursue it anyway.

When I sat on the cot in Beirut and cried for my country and all of our heroes and patriots I knew that a grievous act had been committed but by whom. Yes Hezbollah and Iran had been responsible for the bombing but who was responsible for ignoring the warnings? Our own government? Israel for not reporting all the facts? I feared the answer so I locked up my emotions and walked back onto the building to dig for more brave men who were murdered in their sleep.

The bombing was the largest loss of U.S. troops in a single day since the Tet Offensive, the largest loss of Marines since Iwo Jima. 241 men died while protecting a collapsing government from complete destruction. Israel had chased the PLO into Lebanon in the midst of a civil war, The Christian Phalangist Government had asked for our help and we with allies responded.

The British, French and Italians all sent their brave men to aid in this request. On October 23rd the French and the U.S. forces were hit with truck bombs, the British and Italians rushed to aid us and the French. It was a day that should always been in the minds of anyone who despises terror and the people who use it to control the weak.

Rep. Stupak understands the sacrifice made by all during those times, he is sympathetic to this cause but his fellow representatives are not and for this we may not be heard again. I would urge anyone who would like to see this happen to contact your representatives tell them to join Bart Stupak on this.

Please join me in thanking Rep Stupak for his assistance, even though I may disagree on his positions some of the time I feel I can trust him and this will be the first time I have been able to trust anyone since the day I found the message.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Beirut Bombing Pain Goes On

When I kissed my love goodbye on the morning of May 10th 1983 I didn’t expect this to be the last time she would ever see me again. If we had known what was to come we would have never let go of each other, but reluctantly I walked away and up on the USS Portland. As I sit here today, almost 22 years later, I try to picture that day. Hoping that if I can see it, feel it that maybe it will return, maybe I can return home. But all I can see is a ship full of young men, each of them doing their job ensuring that “Sweet P” would safely pull from her home and travel across the Atlantic.
I stood on the signal bridge waving to Becky, her eyes full of sadness, my tears matching hers. I told myself that I had done this many times before and soon we would be back home and all would be good again.
“ Single all lines.” The call came from the bridge to the line handlers. I moved to break the call sign another signalman stood by with the flag to shift colors from the stern to the mast. We waited for the feeling of the ship floating free in the water, the tugs held her tight to the pier as the lines were singled. After a moment or two the tugs stopped pushing and all was quiet then the ships engines began to wind up and the ship was free of her bindings.
“ Underway, shift ships colors.” I tugged on the halyard and the call sign broke free. The four signal flags that make up a naval call sign picked up the wind, I watched as the ships colors traveled up the main mast.
I shifted my thoughts from the ship to my wife, would she be all right? Would she make the drive to Florida ok? Would my children be ok while I was gone? Never once did I think that I was the one in danger, none of us did. We were doing what we had done many times before, our job. Before long we had dropped the lines from the tugs and were making way into the Chesapeake Bay then we would be in the Atlantic Ocean heading for the Coast of North Carolina to pick up our Marines and form up so we could steam as an Amphibious Assault Group to the coast of Lebanon.
The last memory I have of that day was when they secured from Sea and Anchor Detail and set the underway watch. From that point on, all of the memories of MARG 2-83 are obscured, almost as if they have been blended and spit out as one day, one hour, one moment in time.
Somewhere underneath the Atlantic Ocean are my memories of that time, walking the decks of the Portland as she sits on the bottom of the ocean we once sailed across toward that one moment in time we had all been thrown together for.
When I learned that the Navy had sunk her I felt as though they had tossed away one of our heroes. Why would they throw her away? Was it an oversight? Had they just decided that she wasn’t worth keeping around anymore? Whatever their reason it was the final nail in my coffin, now I would not be able to return to her decks and reclaim my innocence. I have dreams of walking those decks deep under the water. I meet my ghost, he is sad but always wants to sit and talk. I Spend hours sitting on the signal bridge speaking with the 24 year old me. Always the same questions; “ How’s Becky, Josh and Tab?” I always tell him that they are fine Some times he asks me if he can come home now, I tell him yes but then I see the chain holding him to the deck and the tears in his eyes. “ Take care of my babies.” He says as I am being pulled toward the land of the so-called living. I try to shout back that I will but I can never get the words out.
In the harsh light of reality I see that he is more than just the man who said he would love honor and obey Becky Sundholm that hot April afternoon in Largo Florida, he is my soul. Bound and trapped under all of that cold water and it is up to me to free him so that he can return home. But I have no understanding of how to do this, I would need a key to remove those chains. So I sit and immerse myself in anything other than reality. The pain of his imprisonment is too strong for me to conquer or ignore, it rips the very fabric of my being and hungers for more. So I go through another day without my soul, navigating in the dark with nothing more than a string and a nail for a sextant.
When we arrived in Beirut we saw a city that was war torn but yet a Ferris Wheel stood on the beach north of what we would call Green Beach. We sailed in toward the harbor to the north of Beirut and were met with a body floating in the water. We should have taken this as a sign of what was to come. Then a southerly turn and we were in the area to off load our Marines.I remember a friend of mine say as we watched them load into the mike boats, “ Some of these guys aren’t coming home.” We watched as they loaded and headed toward the beach, boat after boat, chopper after chopper. Don’t ask me what day this was or what time it was, ask the one who is trapped underwater he knows everything about Beirut.
If you ever dream of him sitting on the ship, look on the port side of the signal bridge looking east. That is where he is trapped, standing where we split looking toward the beach that Sunday morning in October. Ask him about what happened before the terrorists took all from everyone there, he knows. But don’t ask him about what happened after, he never saw any of the death or carnage, that was me. I left him standing there when I was told to grab a helmet and flack jacket, I was being flown into the airport to rescue and recover the Marines trapped in the building, I guess our last thought as a whole person was of our family, hoping they were ok and how this would be seen back home. Then he was gone and I was alone for the first time in my life.
They say that trauma creates a shock that makes us replay the memory over and over again. The only memories I replay are of the aftermath of the bombing, I remember nothing of what happened after I returned to the ship. I only remember being tired, numb and angry. I no longer had any friends, I only wanted to be left alone. I was so consumed by the memories that I must have left my soul, the person I was before standing on that signal bridge. Now it is too late to find him and release him of the chains I created to keep him safe from the horror in my memories. I miss him, I weep for him every night and every morning when I wake from my visit to his watery grave. My tears fall for all of those who died and for the ones who still live in their nightmares of that day. I cry for my wife as she lost the man she married, my children as they never knew him. As night approaches I feel the fear approach, a fear of the dreams I know will come when I sleep. First the bodies, I see them piling up, dead men speaking asking why. Then always I drop deep into the water and see my chained soul begging for release.
Sometimes I can feel the ship move, when I am confronted with a dusty smell, I am back in Beirut, if I am walking and having a good day and someone or something triggers a memory then suddenly I am climbing across the rubble of the BLT HQ. My memories are filled with death and feelings of guilt. One minute I am laughing with my son and the next I am pulling the remains of a hero from the rubble. I look into his eyes and I know he has no idea what has happened to me just then. But it hurts to see the hurt in his eyes when I don’t want to play or sit and talk. My chained soul never knew him or my other daughter. He would have loved them, he would have loved playing with our grandchildren but he is trapped forever in the cold blackness of the Atlantic Ocean, I know that he is holding his chin up never expecting the worst keeping the Portland Pride alive.

Beirut through My Eyes part 1

In October of 1983 I was 24 years old, naive but a Navy Veteran. I enlisted in April of 1977 and went to the west coast. After 3 Westpacs I thought I had seen it all, from rescuing Vietnamese refugees to sitting on Gonzo Station during most of the Hostage Crisis. So I didn't think what I was about to see would effect me in anyway. I was seasoned, hardened and cynical beyond most of my peers.

I was standing on the signal bridge of the USS Portland LSD-37 when the unthinkable happened. We were about 1 nautical mile from the beach a little south of the Beirut International Airport, I was standing facing the beach when I heard what I first thought was a direct hit on the ship. The explosion was loud at almost 2 miles away, I looked for the source of the blast and I saw a cloud rising from the area of the Marine encampment, my heart skipped a beat, then we started reacting. We called into our CIC (combat information center) and reported what we had seen. Within minutes the chatter on the radio started, we heard that the BLT was down, Marines yelling for medivacs and finally body containers. Volunteers were being recruited to help with the rescues, I volunteered but was told that I was needed onboard so I sat helpless, listening to the chatter while my Marine Brothers needed my help.
I finally told my department head that it was my duty to be there and later that night I was flown in to assist in the rescue and recovery.

I am not sure what day it was that I found a small yellow piece of paper that would change my life. But it was after I had seen the destruction dealt by enemies of peace and order. A truck filled with explosives estimated to be around 20 thousands pounds, ( reports list 12 thousand and up, explosives were amplified by gasses) had driven into the BLT HQ and detonated, the 4 story building had been brought down like a house of cards. Debris scattered everywhere, rubble contained remains of my Brothers and we dug until our fingers bled hoping to find someone still clinging to life.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Beirut Through My Eyes part 2

I have to break this into small pieces, I suffer from PTSD and writing about it does bring up those familiar and shockingly enough comforting feelings.

survivors were rare by this time, most had already left this life but still we dug at a fevered pitch. Just about dusk we reached a Marine who had been on duty near or in the Comm Shack in the BLT, just a few feet from this heroes body I found a message on a yellow piece paper. I looked at it to decide if it was classified and had to be either secured or destroyed. When I saw the from line I realized this would be a highly classified document. I looked up as I read it and saw that hero lying there amongst the rubble, his life stolen in the early hours of a Sunday morning, my stomach turned and my heart shattered. I assisted in carrying him off the building and sat on a cot near him and wept.

The message was a warning from Mobile CIA to CINCLANT that an attack was probable in the next 2 days. It stated the dates of Oct 22nd through the 24th were the threat dates. It warned not only that we would be attacked but all members of the Multi-National Forces could be targeted. In that brief instant I saw my Government as complacent. I still love the United States and all she stands for but I have lost hope and trust in those who have the power. I now find ways to destroy success, insure my failure and have put a horrible burden on my family.

This message was ignored, but yet I found it lying next to a victim of the brutal act of mass murder. How did it find its way to this place in the rubble? If CINCLANT had not thought it important why had this Marine?

This all took place over 22 years ago, some moments are vivid and others are hazy. I want to remember everything I saw, heard, felt and smelled those days on the beach in Beirut but I can't, they evade me I will probably never know it all again.

All that can be said is on this plaque. We may never know peace but those who paid the ultimate price deserve justice, maybe this will give all of us peace and the trust will grow again.