Frank

Age at interview: 68
Outline:

Frank suffered three concussions while serving in the Marine Corps from 1967 to 1969, two of which he sustained form rocket and mortar strikes while deployed in Vietnam. He lost his hearing in his right ear and upon returning home noticed that beyond trouble with his hearing he was having issues with vertigo and trouble processing. He still struggles everyday with pain, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus or multi-task and attends group therapy sessions to help with symptoms stemming from both his brain injury and from PTSD.

Background:

Military branch: Marine Corps

See full story

Frank suffered three concussions while in service as a Marine, two of which he sustained from rocket and mortar strikes while deployed in Vietnam, the latter of which killed the soldier in front of him and took the hearing in his right ear. This third concussion, which he refers to as his “million-dollar wound,” caused enough damage to have him sent back to the States. While the previous incidences caused him pain and trauma, they did little to deter him from his duties as a serviceman. “When you’re a Marine, you shake it off,” he says.

Frank struggled to reintegrate into society after his service in Vietnam. He was “dizzy, thoughts were kind of rambled” and he had trouble with his hearing. He felt isolated at home, struggled with the onset of PTSD, and turned to drugs and alcohol to ease his pain. Frank took work at the Redmond Air Center in Oregon and later joined the forest service as a smoke jumper. “Fighting fires literally saved my life,” he says, referring to how the work helped him get back on track, focused, and in shape. “I could lift my weight in wildcats.”

Using his GI Bill benefits, Frank returned to school, receiving an education degree and graduating with honors. He struggles everyday with issues arising from his injuries such as pain, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus or multi-task. He doesn’t know if he can attribute this completely to his concussions, or if some of it has to do with his age. He regularly gets together with other Vets at his area VFW and they talk about their conditions and struggles. “We’re always forgetting stuff. So, we just joke about it,” he says, “Oh jeez, do I have old timer’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease?”

In his retirement, Frank spends much of his time volunteering at the VA and other local Veteran organizations and tries to “focus on the positive.” He attends regular group therapy and feels that it is important to develop a support system because “it behooves us in that group to check in. We establish a bond, and we know each other after years of doing this. We know each other and there’s always a telephone."

 

Frank had three concussions, the first two from impact and the third “million-dollar wound” in a blast incident.

Frank had three concussions, the first two from impact and the third “million-dollar wound” in a blast incident.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

Then I joined the Marine Corps, and I got three concussions there. One I got – a guy hit me in the head with a rock. Took ten stitches here. And messed me up pretty bad, but you know, when you’re a Marine, I mean you shake it off. And the second concussion, I don’t know if it was my first or second tour, I just don’t remember. All I remember is I got hit, and I think it was from a 122. That’s 122-millimeter rocket that the enemy would engage us with. But the last one was my “million-dollar wound.” I got a, I sustained a concussion from an 82-millimeter mortar when we were overrun. Landed about four or five feet away, and the only thing that saved me was, a mortar has a trajectory, and so the shrapnel, the concussion, concentric with the shrapnel went this way. I was in my fighting hole, you know, with a guy over me, and he got killed. I got, I lost the hearing in this ear, and woke up in the hospital. And, and then that’s, that’s it, they sent me home.

 

Frank discusses coming to terms with his memory issues.

Frank discusses coming to terms with his memory issues.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I’ve got too much trauma. And now I don’t know if it’s affecting my, my memory, or if it’s age, but I forget things more. And it’s frustrating. I don’t like it and I’m trying to have a program of acceptance. I can’t do anything about it just by my paralysis. I’m still active, but I’m limited in what I can and can’t do. But like I say, I forget, I forget more and as one gets older, that, that tends to, you know, go with the aging. So, I mean I, I can’t blame it on my lifestyle or my, my past trauma, or age, or what; it just is. And I accept that, and go on with life, but it’s very frustrating. When I get up from watching TV, and go get another cup of coffee, or beer, or glass, you know, whatever I’m drinking, and I’m in the kitchen, “What did – what am I doing? Why did I, why did I come in here? Oh, shit.” You know, so I go back to then TV. “Oh yeah, that’s right,” you know?

But I found out – you know, here I am, you know, quite a bit of education. And you know, that line, this psychological thing. And caveman – he goes out to hunt. He gets saber tooth tiger – you know, leaves the campfire and, and old lady and kids, or something like that. And his focus is in – this is a survival, it’s in our genes, survival. He doesn’t think about the campfire and all that. Well this is a carry-over from our, it’s a survival thing. Now head injuries probably, you know, exacerbate that. But it’s natural for a person to get up and go someplace and then, you know, he forgets, well he forgot what he was doing because - it’s like, I’m terrible at multi-tasking. Use to be able to, can’t now. I mean it’s all I can do to do one thing at a time. But I used to do, whatever that one thing pretty well. And of course, I can do two things at once, but it’s harder splitting my attention. And, but like I say, I’m sixty-eight and I’m not going to attribute it to any one cause, and all that. That’s just the way it is.

 

Although Frank struggled with substance abuse in the past, he went through treatment and now takes part in a weekly PTSD group.

Although Frank struggled with substance abuse in the past, he went through treatment and now takes part in a weekly PTSD group.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

And I was using booze to cover it. And it works for a day or so, then it comes back; it exacerbates the condition. And I’m saying this for the benefit of who’s watching this interview. I’m not saying anything you do not know, but this, this knowledge is power. And I’m more than happy to participate in this, because if people could benefit from my experiences, which this project is all about – that’s what happened to me. I did a short stay at American Lake, and then the thirty-day at Seattle VA. And you know, I learned so much. Then we had, you know, follow-ups, outpatient treatment. And you go from heavy to moderate, you know, to light. Now I go to a weekly PTSD group at the Roseburg VA. And, you know, I go on vacation, miss sessions. No problem. It’s – but it behooves us in that group to check in. We establish a bond, and we know each other after years of doing this. We know each other and there’s always a telephone. Now I learned that in AA. I went through AA for a while. And that telephone; pick up the telephone. It can weigh ten thousand pounds. Pick it up and call somebody. And that’s, when we first got back home, we did not do that. We isolate, you know, we, because that shows weakness. You know, we cry alone and because nobody else is, “Nobody’s going through this shit. I’m nuts. What’s happening with me?” And all that. And so, the education was a lifesaver.

 

Frank spends about forty hours a week helping other Vets and is building a project patterned after the Wounded Warriors.

Frank spends about forty hours a week helping other Vets and is building a project patterned after the Wounded Warriors.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I’m a service counselor, I devote my life to service. So as soon as I got my disability, and I’m one hundred percent service-connected, and I receive social security. So, I have a rather comfortable living, especially being single. And so, I work on my two acres that I’ve got on the river, and I devote – I work forty hours a week, probably. Helping other vets and – well other people. I mean that’s – it’s a catharsis for myself as well as helping. I’m building a project patterned after the Wounded Warrior Project. I got, right on the river I’m, I got a boat ramp. Trying to develop it for wheelchair Veterans. And I’m going to do this for the rest of my life. I’m slowing down, so I have to work on getting grants. And so, there’s more paperwork. I welcome it. As long as I, you know, if I don’t get overwhelmed in doing more than – doing too many things at once. But see, the VA’s been good to me, and everybody bitches about the VA and on. So, hey, I’m a volunteer there, at our hospital. I’m the military with Purple Heart delegate.

 

Frank says that many combat Vets bring back survival traits they learned in combat, but find they are no longer appropriate.

Frank says that many combat Vets bring back survival traits they learned in combat, but find they are no longer appropriate.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I’m always looking, looking for booby-traps. Well okay, I don’t do that anymore, but I’m, I’m always, I try to be cognizant of my surroundings. It’s a survival mechanism, and it’s, it can be relevant in today’s society. But when, when a combat Vet, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, whatever, they bring these survivor, survival traits that they’ve learned in combat. They bring it back, and what was appropriate is no longer appropriate. And they get in trouble. And it’s, you know, “I don’t want any part of this society,” and all that. So, they tend to isolate and be by themselves and, and stuff like that.

 

Frank doesn’t want other Vets to go through the same things he did, and encourages them to seek benefits at the VA.

Frank doesn’t want other Vets to go through the same things he did, and encourages them to seek benefits at the VA.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

For one thing, I don’t want these kids now ever go through the same, same stuff I did. And a lot of us Vietnam Vets are – I can’t speak for the whole, whole demographic group, but there’s a lot of us that feel the same way, and we’re helping these guys coming back because we don’t want them to go through the ignorance and or abuse that we did. And, and I help them in that, you know, like I said about the, about the benefits, the, the VA has. Not, not just for PTSD – housing, education, the whole gamut.