Caught the last 15 minutes of the last installment of Ken Burns’ The War on PBS. At some point I’m going to have to watch all 15 hours of it. A couple of men were talking about the unspoken PTSD they experienced after the war but couldn’t really talk about (back then). One man, from Minnesota, had described several traumatic experiences in other installments. He concluded the show with a comment that I don’t have in quotes but is as close as I can remember it. He said something to the effect of, I’ve had a great life; I’ve enjoyed myself; I have a great family…but sometimes the war sucks you back in.
Another gentleman described coming home from being a POW in Japan and being filled with hate for anything Japanese. At some point in his life he realized he had to let it go. As he said, the Japanese weren’t being hurt by his anger, he was. He met with a preacher who helped him find relief and to let it go. But the most interesting part of this little story is that the man telling his story then paused and said something like, but its taken me another 30 years to deal with it.
Isn’t that the truth. We find relief and healing; but that doesn’t mean no ongoing consequences and no ongoing fighting to hang on to truth, hope, sanity, and peace. Healing rarely is immediate and complete. But don’t mistake slowness and ongoing battles as the absence of healing. No, we are being healed–just day by day as we hang on to God and the folks he has placed in our lives.
Have watched only bits and pieces of Ken Burns’ documentary but what I’ve seen is moving and makes me want to watch it all at some point. Just a couple things I noticed:
1. The issue of racism. John Hope Franklin’s bit on how he had everything to run a military office, including an Ivy League PhD but couldn’t because he lacked the right color–very interesting character!
2. How much the whole of the US was involved in the war. The ads telling people at home to ration gas so “the boys” will have gas for their airplanes.
3. PTSD. One man tells of a strafing run where his fellow gunner had a jammed gun. So, he could see the damage, destruction, and death he himself was doing to the Germans. His hand “froze” and he had to fly the plane back with his left hand. For years afterward, he would have nightmares of that day and wake up without the use of his hand. Somehow his wife could sense it and offer him his morning coffee to his left hand. I’m sure he never got to talk much about that in public settings. Though he is now in his late 70s, you can see it still is with him. This truly was the greatest generation!
4. Impact on my family. My parents were in their formative years (pre-teen to teen) during the war. I’ve heard stories about rationing, blackouts, and plane spotting against the threat of a German invasion. My mother still makes “hot milk cake.” This was described as an invention of the war to have a good tasting cake without the usual amounts of sugar and butter. Also, my wife pointed out that my mother still cuts both ends out of soup cans and then flattens the can with her foot, just like they did during the war.
5. Heritage and perspective matter. Listen to Miaken Scott’s reflections of being brought up German after the war: http://temple.whyy.org/tv12/thewar_fm_growingup.html