Last night, I felt like watching Saving Private Ryan. As this is a rather gory (but very realistic) movie, I watched it by myself in my bedroom while the rest of the family was upstairs.
Those of you who have watched this movie will undoubtedly agree with me that it is very good. Spielberg does an excellent job capturing the horrific reality of war.
When it was finished (and I had dried my tears), I thought about how a person can go from seeing the horrors of war and being constantly in fear for your life to returning home and trying to be "normal" again. The 1940's movie The Best Years of Our Lives touches on this subject, but not to the depth that I would like to explore it.
Some veterans never fully recover from their experiences. They may turn to alcohol or drugs, or suffer severe depression or PTSD. Nightmares, cold sweats, and other things will invariably crop up during their lifetime. And I have to wonder, how do they do it? How can they keep going after what they've seen? How can they return to the world they left behind and resume working at that job they left, or keep dating the gal they were dating before, or even be a husband and father again? How does the mind cope with those images, those sounds, those thoughts, of being in war?
I would hope that these days, we are better equipped to help our soldiers returning from the front lines - i.e. psychologists to help talk through the experiences, etc. But I would be willing to bet that some soldiers do not avail themselves of these services since it might be thought of as "weak."
But in World War II, when we were not so well-versed in the way war affects the emotional part of a soldier and how to deal with it - how did these men handle it?
My two great-uncles never discussed the war. One was in the Phillipines, the other in the European Theater. Only recently has my one uncle wanted to discuss the war - and it's as if he needs to talk about it now. He's nearing ninety years old and not in the best of health. Does he now, sixty years after the war, feel the need to unburden himself? My other great-uncle passed away last year. I only heard of his war-time exploits through my grandfather's stories.
When my hometown wanted local World War II veterans to come and tell their stories to be videotaped and preserved for the local VFW, men openly cried. Years later, these emotions were still raw, still festering. Time had not softened the searing pain of these memories.
I sometimes wonder if we really understand what our armed forces have sacrificed - and continue to sacrifice for us. Not only are they putting their physical lives at risk for their country, but they are also putting their emotions at risk. Those memories will not go away. They will continue to be a part of that soldier's life forever, disturbing their sleep, appearing at odd hours of the day, throwing them off balance, and making them realize that the life they knew before their career in the armed forces will never be theirs again.
It's something to think about.
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