And War Vets Still Suffer After All
Sleep my sons, your duty done…for freedom’s light has come.
Sleep in the silent depths of the sea or in your bed of hollowed sod.
Until you hear at dawn the low clear reveille of God.
The poem is inscribed on the monument to the Pacific War Dead, in Corregidor, Philippines. The huge dome-shaped Pacific War Memorial in Corregidor resembles a vintage World War II parachute, from the parallel lines running down the dome’s side to a hole right at its center. The memorial shrine was funded by the Americans and it is positioned in such a way that on May 6 of every year, the high noon sun that shines directly through the hole falls right straight in the middle of a round marble altar dedicated to fallen soldiers in the last war.
Corregidor comes from the Spanish word “corregir,” meaning to correct. One story states that due to the Spanish system wherein all ships entering Manila Bay were required to stop and have their documents checked and corrected, the island was called “Isla del Corregidor” (Island of the Correction). Another version claims that the island was used a penitentiary or correctional institution by the Spanish and came to be called “El Corregidor.”
In early and pre-hispanic times, it was likely populated by fishermen and no doubt provided a base for pirates who could easily launch an attack against any vessel entering Manila Bay. During the Spanish era, this tadpole-shaped island was a signal station where bonfires were lit to alert Manila of a homecoming galleons. Later on, Spaniards built a lighthouse on the island.
The big guns of Corregidor in 1941 were used in support of Filipino and American defenders of Bataan until the island itself was invaded by Japanese Forces. The restless pounding by Japanese guns including intermittent bombings reduced its defenses and compelled its surrender. On January 22, 1945, Corregidor was once again caught in the fury of war as the Americans retook the island after a bloody battle.
After more than 50 years, Filipinos, as well as American war veterans, still remember their history by heart about the fall of Corregidor to the Japanese.
However, not only did the Fall of Corregidor left a mark on the war veterans, wars also left them many serious problems and illnesses. Memory problems, chronic fatigue, depression, stress and other mysterious ailments and mental disorders are some of the issues that afflicted thousands of war veterans.
One significant problem that is common among war veterans is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). During World War I, PTSD was called “shell shock,” and on World War II, it was referred to as “combat fatigue.” After the Vietnam War, it was often mistakenly called the Post Vietnam Syndrome. Indeed, the understanding and effective treatment of PTSD were actually described in the psychiatric literature well before the Vietnam War. A psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Eric Lindemann at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was the first to report on the systematic management of PTSD. He did this work after the Coconut Grove fire and tragedy in the 1940s.
A significant number of soldiers suffer lingering distress from the trauma they endured while overseas. And the trauma can stay with them for the rest of their lives, preventing them from sleeping normally, facing large crowds, focus or commit in a relationship, or even looking at a simple garbage bag without worrying that a bomb might be hidden inside.
PTSD can be seen as an overwhelming of the body’s normal psychological defenses against stress. Thus, after the trauma, there is an abnormal function (dysfunction) of the normal defense systems, which results in certain symptoms. The symptoms are produced in three different ways: (1) re-experiencing the trauma, (2) persistent avoidance and (3) increased arousal.
Fortunately today, unlike 50 years ago, support is available for military personnel experiencing PTSD. Acting on lessons learned from World War II and other conflicts, the military and other government agencies of countries such as the United States have focused on early intervention of PTSD among active-duty soldiers. They offer counseling to prepare service members for overseas duty and send teams of chaplains and other mental health personnel into the field.
It is indeed comforting to know that the various methods of treatment for PTSD are highly effective. Moreover, there are trained clinicians experienced at handling the difficult problems of posttraumatic stress. But, of course, we hope that we will never have to experience a repeat of the appalling tragedy of non-sense fightings such as what transpired at the Fall of Corregidor.