a Silver Star…
A Sardonic Saga of PTSD
Just as WWII gave us Catch 22 and Korea produced M*A*S*H, Vietnam delivers 10 cents and a Silver Star. No one can laugh off the incredibly cruel Vietnam War, but Bruce Johnson’s sardonic antidote to the plague of PTSD helps recover the truth — if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
An unworldly young man volunteers to be drafted early. He ventures into the essence of an old combat adage: War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. His life is devoured by terror. He dresses it up with outlandish humor as an antidote to PTSD. A haunted life laughed at.
A tough fatherly sergeant orders him to lie low in filthy muck as gunships rip into ambushing enemies. He lives another day, one day at a time, for 13 endless months. It’s never over for the young man who came home with a sardonic ‘attitude’ and a Silver Star for valor. It’s not even his.
PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) spins into a dazzlingly humorous montage of survival over decades of recurring flashbacks. He’s just one of 500,000 U.S. individual PTSD afflictions, each different, but Bruce’s attitude weaves a lasting humorous tale of a civilian ambushed by war.
That attitude wins him a bride and a father-in-law who thinks he can do no wrong because he got a Silver Star. He muddles through the American Dream because his sardonic attitude views that dream as one big long joke.
With no job he finances a car; with no corporate experience he stumbles to the top of his dad-in-law’s chain of Mexican restaurants, pilots a plane and performs his way through life in a Walter Mitty daydream. He buys houses and country club membership, never sure about the Silver Star. Is it a lucky piece or a jinx? Who really earned it?
Surrounded by weirdo characters in Vietnam, they become even more outlandish in civilian life. Upon awarding the Silver Star, the company commander: “I wanted to get this decoration into your hands just as soon as possible; while you’re still alive, that is. I can't tell you how much I detest awarding these things posthumously. It's so, so disconsolate, and double the paperwork … Here you go, kid. Back in the world, this and 10 cents ought to get you a cup of coffee just about anywhere." That was before Starbucks.
A month into marriage, the marriage and family therapist Maria and I procured for guidance caught me looking down her blouse, interrupted my innocent curiosity as "emotional infidelity," and implored Maria to get out of the marriage just as soon as possible. «You’re not having sex with this creep, are you? Thank God you had the good sense not indulge in that! It's a filthy, perverted act invented by Satan to spread disease and corrupt society.»
Rarely do remembrances in snippets of semi-reality fail to come back to life, “The words You must have me confused with someone who gives a shit were neatly painted on his helmet.”
Apparently, my college had been doing some aggressive recruiting of the Psych Ward patients at Walter Reed Hospital. I took a seat next to a trembling fellow who was wringing his hands obsessively. “Hi.” I greeted him. «I hope you remembered to unplug your iron before you came here.” He got up and bolted out the door. We were left with 12 Vietnam veterans in the room (which begged the question as to how many of us it would take to screw in a light bulb) and the group leader, who identified herself as Mindy, a psychology grad student and qualified “psychodramatist.”
A little role-playing?
«Goodie. I want to play an alto cheese Danish.”