“Phantom Pain” by Howard Hinterthuer
A Vietnam Era Memoir in Installments

One

You each have asked questions about Vietnam and my role in it. When you were children I told you how lucky I feel to have gone through it without being killed or wounded, and I may have said that I feel as if I avoided a lot of psychological pain by being so well prepared. “After a year at Madigan,” I would say, “I had no illusions about what could happen to me.”

It isn’t true. Now that you are both adults I can say that. The hardest thing was admitting it to myself. I wasn’t really aware of all the baggage I was carrying around until Jennee Dellegrazzio called to ask if she could interview me for the book about Ozaukee County Vets. I told Jennee my standard stories, culminating with the flight back to the world—a neat and tidy ending.

I was caught off guard when Jennee asked, “Then what happened?”

I said, “They told us not to wear our uniforms home—on the journey from Ft. Lewis to wherever.” As soon as I said those words I began to cry—fifty-three years old and shedding tears that should have flowed a long time ago. Jennee was crying too. I actually felt embarrassed and relieved at the same time; embarrassed because Jennee seemed fragile at the time, and relieved because I recognized there was no point in lying to myself anymore. I have many scars from that part of my life. Some still hurt a great deal, phantom pain that hasn’t gone away.

A year or so later I sought counseling. Paul, my psychologist said, “Grief is like a doorway. You can’t go over it or around it. You have to go through it.”

I took his advice and began a daily journal of my thoughts, dreams, and interactions with others. Over a six month period, with Paul’s help, I unpeeled myself like an onion, discovering some of the reasons behind long established patterns of dysfunctional behavior. Paul helped me to become aware. That’s why I call him Pablo la Llave Inglesa. I am told it means “Paul the Wrench” in Spanish. He adjusts the nuts!

Part of it had to do with Vietnam. I journaled a few episodes I thought he might find significant. The “B.F.R.” episode I had written prior to Paul or Jennee. Now the time has come to tell the whole story as best as I can. I want you to know what happened because there are still fools in the world who make war for faulty, nebulous, or sinister reasons. Mostly I don’t want you to get involved in helping them. This story is for you. I’m also telling it for my sake.

Last edited by Olde.   Page last modified on December 08, 2007

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