I got an unexpected call a few days back from a cousin in NY where I grew up. Bill and I were in the same general area in Vietnam, but a year or two apart. He was in the infantry as part of a three-man reconnaissance team that went deep into enemy territory, in Laos, for weeks at a time.
They would often bivouac for the night in dense jungle where they couldn't be discovered only to be surrounded by hundreds of enemy troops who had camped around them. They'd have to wait for those troops to leave before they could get out, sometimes for several days. I supported reconnaissance teams like that and know how desperate those situations sometimes became when they were discovered.
He's had a terrible time with his life since then but recently has responded to treatment for his PTSD. He's quit drinking and regularly meets with a support group. It was a joy to hear happiness in his voice and in Sue's too, his wife. The last time I spoke with them, about three and a half years ago, both sounded depressed and terribly sad.
Back then, Bill and I discussed our experiences, and I told him about the memoir I had written for my son, Al, and he wanted to read it. I sent it to him, and he said it had helped him to read about my experiences and recovery from them. Perhaps that nudged him a bit to accept some help from the VA. I'd like to think it helped some.
Bill's mother, Shirley, and his aunt, Jackie, were about ten or twelve years older than I, so we're about half a generation apart. They lived next door to us. I think Bill was born when I was in high school, and I left for the Air Force when Bill was in grade school, so we didn't get to know each other that well.
He called to tell me that he enjoyed a poem that I had sent to his aunt Jackie. She had read it over the phone to him because she thought he might enjoy it. It's a poem about a wonderful black woman, Ceola--only black family in our little country village--and my mother and father's responses to my questions about her. He had fond memories of his grandmother introducing him to Ceola and taking him often to her farm. Aunt Vi, Bill's grandmother, was one of the most wonderful, loving people I've ever known. I've only realized that in recent years as I've looked back over my childhood.
I am so proud of Bill and his recovery. He resisted help for a long time, but now has responded wonderfully. He is in a support group that includes recent returning and wounded veterans, and he finds that sharing his experiences with those youngsters helps them. That story won't make the news, but it is one of the triumph of the human spirit over tremendous difficulties, including the human trait not to accept help when it is offered.
I have no real reason to travel back to NY any more, my parents being dead and our home there sold, but I'm going to come up with one so Kath and I can go back to celebrate with Bill and Sue. Perhaps we'll go back to see the fall colors in New England, take in a show in the City, and spend some time with Bill and Sue to celebrate Bill's return.
a cousin comes home
from forty years of exile
welcome home brother