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Weapons of Mental Destruction

May 28, 2012
by Steve Bell
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In a 2004 I wrote a poem entitled, The Letter. At that time, magazine articles, Op-Ed pieces in newspapers and online were describing the growing problem of suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression triggered by the combat experiences of American troops in the Middle East. My late father, Joe Bell, had served in World War II in the Pacific and at time shared his war stories with me as he sat chain-smoking in his rocking chair. He was often sad, angry, unable to sleep and spent many nights at the American Legion and VFW halls visitings his veteran buddies. Little Joe, as he was called, had a standard story he told my brother, sister and I about why he didn't re-enlist after the war. "I was too short.  Five foot three was somehow too short to serve in the Army;  but it was ok for the prior three years of fighting in the South Pacific. "  

Before he died he finally told me the truth. He was medically discharged due to a 'mental breakdown' at the end of the war. He never admitted anything was wrong or sought treatment. He was often paranoid that forces beyond his control had conspired to destroy his life and dreams for his family. The suffering of the current generation of wounded warriers brought back memories of Little Joe, my father, which led to the poem shown below. PTSD is nothing new, and neither is the pain experiened by our veterans and those who love them.

The Letter

Returning home from a jungle war

on a troopship, three years now

past high school, catapulted into adulthood

to see things none should see

and do things none should

be forced to do.

Decapitated heads face down

in the sand,  

bullet-riddled bodies rotting in the Pacific breezes

of World War II.

Over and out.  GIs facing California,

going home.

Then the landmine exploded, trigged by

a letter from Mama.

Her house caught fire.  Details deleted due to

National Security.

Running about the ship, looking in vain

for answers.

She was in fact alive, aok.

No way to confirm or confront.  So his mind raced

forward and back.  Faces of the dead, his buddies,

his foes, himself.  Collateral damage now, an

officer, bystander with a tray of coffee, takes it in the face.

As the young man, the soldier who knew too little

and had seen too much, was hauled off to sickbay

to face his future.

A medical discharge, a burned-out home, a happy

mother.

Shell shock, combat fatigue, PTSD.

Sad-sack casualties continue to haunt us,

deployed here at home.

Sixty plus years ago,  they returned by ship

Sixty-minutes ago they flew home from the Middle East.

Sixty plus years ago something in my dad's head

snapped.

And right now in the desert

you can hear the ticking of the bomb

the weapons of mental destruction

what will gradually descend and then

Explode.

Wounded souls coming soon

to a job site, a hospital, a jail cell, a living room

or a house of worship.

Near you.

 

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Steve Bell

Peer-Provider and Advocate

Steve Bell

www.brainstorm-works.org

Steve Bell is the co-founder and executive director of  BrainStorm Career Services, a consumer-...