In Harm’s Way:

March 16, 2008


It was the eyes that caught me first.

The sergeant sat at a downtown Starbucks waiting to talk to me for a story I’m working on about soldiers like him. Soldiers who come back from the wars, in one piece, more or less, but not the same.

Never mind the digital hearing aid in each ear, from being too close too often to things that went boom. That’s not the worst of it. The real damage is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. We called it different things in different wars, but we tend to pooh-pooh the afflicted because the wounds don’t show.

The sergeant who went away for three tours of combat never came home, his wife says. Somebody else did. He does not disagree.

What went to war was a prankster, a burly good-natured everyman sort of kid with bad hair and an attitude and a twinkle in his eye. A friend of the sergeant told me he was the first guy in town, back then in the late 1980s, to learn breakdancing.

What came home was a ball of fury, barely contained, the twinkle gone. He said he is always in “battle mode.” He said if you’ve never been in combat, you don’t know what that means. But I see how he sits, coiled, eyes tense. There is no ease in him.

Under treatment, including medication, he seems compliant, resigned, and doomed, a dispirited being in a slaughterhouse pen.

Get this. Some studies predict that three out of 10 combat vets come down with symptoms of PTSD within a few months after they return.

I don’t want to write too much on this now: I still have his story to tell in the newspaper, and I don’t have enough of him to do that yet. The Army is not being helpful. They won’t let me follow him through a day of therapy. In fact, they tell me that he is not, technically, allowed to talk to me at all about his PTSD. It needs to be done, they tell me, through designated representatives of the military. The sanitized version.

Two decades of service, often in harm’s way, indeed, harmed. And he is not supposed to tell anybody what happened to him.

It is no wonder he feels anger. So do I.


© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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