by Dale Dye
(originally posted Apr. 16, 2016 on DaleDye.com)
As many of you know, I talk about the effects of combat on those who’ve seen it, not only in my blog and other social media outlets, but in the books I’m writing, and when I’m out speaking at various venues. PTS(d) is real, it kills a LOT of people every year, and leaves many more scarred and changed for life. I’m very happy that my friend Dale Dye let me repost this great piece about his take on this silent killer, and the toll that close infantry combat takes on those that have been there… Jim Kuiken
Some sage said that one picture is worth a thousand words. There’s some dispute about who said it first, but I’ve got no doubt that whoever it was hit the proverbial nail right on the head. In fact, in my case one picture — like the one reproduced here — can prompt at least a thousand words. I’ll try to stay under that count, but I’m moved to talk a bit about what the photo means to me as a Marine, a writer, and a filmmaker.
The painting was conceived by Time/Life Magazine war correspondent/artist Tom Lea during his experiences with the 1st Marine Division fighting the bloody battle for Peleliu in September 1944, during World War II. It depicts a war-weary Leatherneck that Lea saw after the fight on Bloody Nose Ridge, one of the Japanese forces’ most sternly defended strong points on that South Pacific island. In a brief caption, Lea describes his subject thusly: “His mind is numbed in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head.” Those words are certainly descriptive but they are also unnecessary, particularly to observers who have seen infantry combat. I’m one of those.
During my time at war in Southeast Asia, I saw a number of similar men, standing post-battle and merely looking at something only they could see. Their mind and spirit ravaged by close combat, perhaps not thinking at all, barely conscious in the standard meaning of that condition, or maybe just trying to deal with the fact that they’d survived. It’s been called “the thousand yard stare” and most combat veterans are familiar with it — first or second hand. Such images haunt me as a Marine because I understand from my own wartime experience they depict the brutality of combat and define the limits of endurance beyond which human beings are too often asked to go. Put this guy in a snow-spattered parka standing on some Korean hill; put him in camouflage standing in a jungle clearing with an M-16 on his shoulder, or make him a man wearing a Kevlar helmet dusted with desert sand and the effect would be the same. This is a strong image, which says silently what war in general, and infantry close combat specifically can do to the human spirit.
Lea’s haunting work has stayed with me since the first time I saw it as a boy growing up after the end of World War II. I got a chance to visit Peleliu when I was doing research for the popular HBO mini-series “The Pacific” and crawling around those coral ridges where discarded and ignored combat detritus lay rusting, rotting and undisturbed by tourists, gave me a new-found respect for the men who fought there. No combat in any theater of war is ever easy or inconsequential to the people who have to endure it but Peleliu must have been a particularly exhausting and brutal experience. Afterward I interviewed several Marine veterans of Pacific campaigns. Those who fought on Peleliu mostly just took a deep breath and shook their heads. Peleliu was indescribable beyond simple terms like rugged, bloody and profane words I can’t quote here. I came away from that experience sobered and determined to the best of my ability to make the Peleliu episode of the mini-series as real as I could to reflect how different and difficult the fight must have been. I hope we did that. Certainly all of us involved in recreating the Peleliu fight for TV were dedicated to it and while we were filming, I carried a copy of Tom Lea’s painting to convey to all involved what we were trying to show.
That image was impetus to me as a writer when I was deciding on a setting for my second book in the Shake Davis series of adventure stories. Shake and his buddies — U.S. Navy Seals this time — were hunting for terrorists who were experimenting with a particular virulent form of biological warfare and it seemed to me that what they should face in such a world-threatening scenario would be interesting if it happened on Peleliu where so many of their military predecessors fought just such a determined foe. So I had Shake Davis and company chase their enemies through the ridges and jungles of Peleliu. At the end of a brutal final fight, Shake stands numbly gazing out over the Pacific. In my imagination he looked at that moment just like the shattered Marine in Tom Lea’s painting.
DALE DYE was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He graduated as a cadet officer from Missouri Military Academy but there was no money for college so he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1964. He served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1967 through 1970 surviving 31 major combat operations, and was highly decorated including three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat. He spent 13 years as an enlisted Marine, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant before he was chosen to attend Officer Candidate School. Appointed a Warrant Officer in 1976, he later converted his commission and was a Captain when he was sent to Beirut with the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in 1982-83. He served in a variety of assignments around the world, simultaneously earning a B.A. degree in English from the University of Maryland. DYE worked for a year at “Soldier of Fortune” Magazine when he finally decided to retire in 1984, spending time in Central America, reporting on and training troops in guerrilla warfare techniques in both El Salvador and Nicaragua before leaving the magazine in 1985 and heading for Hollywood.
(You can preview or order Havana File, Dale’s latest novel in the popular Shake Davis series here!)
The Leader’s Lesson
by Clint Goodwin
The first thing I think of about war is how a man discovers his ability to lead under deadly circumstances. No reasonable thinking, mature adult can truly understand war nor their ability to cope until they experience the last breath taken by themselves or their brothers in arms. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was ordered to a leadership role in-country. I willingly accepted the assignment with no break in thought, while living in a place that combat brethren in-country called “Sanctuary Ops.” A term not meant to be disrespectful to those serving countless hours in agency cubicles and offices supporting the war, however, there is a huge difference when one can’t take a federal holiday off from their weapon and boots in the sandbox.
How does one know if they can lead in war? You don’t know until you are there. The books talk to the decisions, but not to the person’s DNA. I can attest that one does not know how they will react when presented with multi-dimensional situations where the bullets, shrapnel, smell, and fear are real to the senses. For me, I had legitimate insights. My brother and I had the benefit of growing up with two “men” who fought during two wars; WWI and WWII. I always complained about the Viet Cong during the ‘60s. I told my father I wanted to go to Vietnam. Using a stern voice and serious piercing blues eyes, that man looked at me and said, “Son, you have no idea what you are talking about.” Thirty years later, I experienced what he was talking about. While in Iraq, I witnessed the horrific, insane, unpredictable nature of a mankind that rears its ugly head when life and death is at stake.
One death of many came. The poignant moment I will never forget, amongst the countless unwanted memories stuck in the recesses of my mind, is the day my friend did not show up for lunch. I appreciated the friendship, camaraderie, and trust I had with Colonel L. One late morning, I asked Colonel T, with a smile of my face, “Where is my battle buddie?” His eyes changed to sorrow as he calmly said, “Clint, he is dead.” Three days later we were having a closed circuit video feed with my friend’s wife and two teenage sons. I can’t count the tears that fell that day. My heart hardened. I walked in the desert searching for an answer. I looked up and said to my father, “Why? I now understand you.” I did not know what I was talking about then, but now I know one thing, there is no damn good reason for one drop of American blood to fall on foreign soil not willing to sustain the soles of our boots. No one wants war. I have known death and wish to never see war again. I leave with one comment. A young sailor crossed my path in Norfolk. He saluted me and said, “Excuse me, sir. Did you just get back from Iraq?” I said, “I did son.” In a higher pitched voice, the young sailor said, “I just got back from Kuwait, I had a great tour.” I looked down at him and denied the anger welling up in my chest. I calmly replied, “There is no damn good thing about Americans dying over there. None. Remember that son.” The sailor went his way and I went mine.
Clint Goodwin served in United States Navy, both active and reserve, for over thirty years. He enlisted in the navy as Seaman Recruit; he retired as a Commander. Clint served during the Cold War, Desert Storm, Balkans, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, with one tour in Iraq as senior naval officer. Clint served in both operational and intelligence capacities in the Navy, and now with the US Department of Homeland Security, and is a writer and published author. He lives in Virginia with his wife Karen and two dogs, Yank and Dixie.
William “Rick” Smith
Let me try to tell you what using a service dog has been like for me, using as an analogy something most everybody uses: shoes. You have a pair of shoes. They are the first shoes you have ever found that fit like they were made just for your feet and are really nice-looking shoes. In these shoes, you can go about your whole day and your feet and back and legs feel great and never get tired. In these shoes, you can conquer the whole damn world.
There’s just one problem with the shoes. They attract attention. The first couple of times people smiled at you and said “Nice shoes” it was pretty flattering, but then things started getting a little out of hand. People would stare at your shoes, wherever you went, in a way that made you feel like you were nothing but a way of displaying your wonderful shoes. People would approach you while you’re just trying to buy some milk at the store and get out and go home and expect you to tell them where you got the shoes, how the shoes are working out for you, and then listen to them tell you all about their favorite shoes. Disturbingly, some people will ask to touch your shoes. Sometimes they are still standing when they ask, but other times they are asking as they kneel down and reach out for your shoes. REALLY disturbingly, some people just lunge for your shoes without even asking. Once or twice, you’ve nearly tripped and fallen because someone was grabbing for your shoes. When you act alarmed that these people are trying to take your shoes away while you’re walking in them, people respond by being defensive and angry. Why would you be wearing such wonderful shoes, after all, if you didn’t want to let people touch them or you didn’t want to talk about them? Can’t you see how much they want to touch your fabulous shoes? Why are you being so mean by denying them something they want so much?
When you’re out and about, nobody talks to you about anything but your shoes. You might be in a class you’re really excited to take, because you want to meet other people who are interested in the subject matter, but the other students and the instructor just want to talk to you about your shoes. Even worse, they assume that your shoes are all you know about and act totally surprised when you speak up about things that are not shoe-related. When you ask for help in a shop, the person you’re talking to addresses your shoes rather than you. People say “good morning” to your shoes. People assume that you won’t be able to do things because you won’t want to get your shoes dirty, or you can’t do them because your shoes are not their idea of appropriate footwear for the activity, and they inform you of these exclusions as if you’re supposed to be grateful.
What you’re actually grateful for is the one or two people every day who treat you just like your shoes are nothing remarkable. You come to cherish the people who act as if they don’t even see your shoes. And despite the fact that you love your wonderful shoes, you begin to deeply, deeply wish you could find another pair of shoes that did not attract all this attention that worked for you, but no matter how many pairs you try on, you never can. You find some shoes that are kinda workable and sometimes you wear those just to avoid all the problems with your favorite shoes, even though you know that by the end of the day your feet and legs and back will be aching. After enough painful days, you start feeling pretty bitter towards all the people who make your life so much harder when you’re wearing your favorite shoes, because if they’d just be polite, it would make such a huge difference to you.
So what should you do when you see wonderful shoes / a service dog and its handler? The answer is easy: ignore the dog. No matter how much you want to talk about the dog, touch the dog, ask the dog’s handler questions about the dog, tell the dog’s handler about your own dog - don’t. Treat the handler exactly like you are busy treating all the people in the world who do not have dogs with them. If you have a customer service job, or you actually need (not just want) to approach the dog handler, speak to the person, not the dog. Ignore the dog, no matter how hard it is for you. A service dog is not “just” a dog, to its handler it’s a trusted partner and a vital part of what its handler needs to get through the world. Remember too that service dog handlers deserve privacy about their medical issues just as much as everyone else, and asking “Why do you have the dog?” or “what does the dog do for you?” is exactly like asking “So, will you tell me about all your medical problems?” (i.e. none of your business).
The people I am going to happily let pet my service dog are the ones who see me and the dog when the dog is off-duty. In other words, my friends and family, people who might come to my house and hang out, or at whose house I might hang out long enough to ask if I could let my dog be off work, as it were. These are people I know pretty well, obviously. If you’re not one of those people, if you only see me and my dog in public situations, then I’m sorry but no. You can’t pet my dog, and you need to be OK with that.