Eddie Livingston was a teenage paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne who participated in five European campaigns, was a Prisoner of War for a year in Germany, and returned home with a slew of medals, honors...and a lifetime wracked by PTSD and abject poverty. Read more about him in the "An American Veteran" series we've been bringing to light, here. In this very interesting letter, Eddie takes on the persona of a friend, "Willie," to write to a battle buddy named "Ben," about his own fears and concerns; but also, so importantly, about the bravery of the other, equally "unknown" soldiers who have succumbed to PTSD. With writing that's plain-spoken, deeply emotional, and straight from the heart, the unschooled Eddie Livingston is a match for any of the war writers out there, whose names are far more famous than his. Read on:
Tomorrow is the big day. The day they open the old bean. And what they don't find, will probably worry them more than anything they do find. Ben, I would be the biggest liar in the world if I said I wasn't scared. It started -- the fear did -- the minute I said, "Yes, you can operate." The doctors leave the decision up to you. And that's what makes it so hard, Ben. And scary. And so different from Venafro. Or the other places. It hit me all at once, Ben, that I would be ALONE for this one. Completely, utterly alone.
Ben, I wrote you a letter a while back, and in trying to be funny, I may have left you with some wrong impressions about a wonderful bunch of people. I am speaking of the psychiatrists and related personall -- from ward boy right on up to specialist. These people are rendering incalculable service, Ben.
Because in the case of our mentally and emotionally disturbed veterans, Ben, psychiatry is their best bet, the only bet for many. The tragedy, Ben, in too many cases, that I have aseen is that "My world and your world" is lost to them. Irretrievably lost. Modern medicine with its miracle drugs can relieve their physical suffering. The psychiatrist can snatch one back -- briefly -- from that netherworld. But all too often, Ben, there is simply nothing that can be done, for too many of them.
I do not understand the problem. Nor do I know what needs to be done, or what can be done, even. But, Ben, I do know that we cannot afford the disgrace of apathy. For no group of Americans ever served our country more valiantly, and at greater cost to themselves, than did these men.
Let me tell you about four of them. Their stories are probably typical of most.
Just across from my bunk is a young fellow. Except for his eyes, which remind you of dark windows in an empty house, he looks no different than you or I, Ben. But on that shell-torn purgatory called Anzio, something went wrong with this kid, and he will never be right again. The guns of that inferno blaze and thunder in his mind, today, just as real and vividly, as on those terrifying days when the beachhead was active. Ben, this kid will never know even the make-believe peace of the Cold War.
Right down the aisle from this kid is another young fellow. His eyes are sky-blue, but there is no sunshine in them. There never will be again. The life has burned out of them, leaving two employ blue holes. He was a farmer. He was a farmer until 1940, when he joined the Army. He still had the dreams and visions of a farmer, Ben, until one bleak morning in June '44. It happened at Normandy. On Omaha Beach. The Germans swept in on the unprotected right flank of his outfit, and wiped them out, killing them all, except for him. He doesn't remember green fields. The harvest. Not even his dog, Bozo. But you should see his eyes when he tells you, 'I kept telling them the right flank was open! I kept telling them! I kept telling them!'" When you look into those empty blue holes, Ben, you have a feeling that freedom's right flank is now securet. That, because of the price he paid, the right flank is now secure -- perhaps forever. Thanks to the price he paid -- we can't forget.
The third kid is a youngster you will never forget. He's always in a rush, Ben. If you to stop to chat with him, even for a minute, he is fidgety. Pretty soon he will say, 'Please come back later. I am expecting my wife and two sons.' He will tell you that they come every single day. And, although he expects them momentarily, he will take time to show you their picture.
The picture, Ben, is just a landscape on a postcard. A winding country road and a sunny sky, by some forgotten artist. There are no people in the picture. Oh, yes, he had a wife and two sons. HE HAD THEM RIGHT UP TO IWO JIMA.
The last fellow is one you would understand, Ben. He was in North Africa, at Kassarine Pass. He was with Patton in Sicliy. With Mark Clark at Salerno and Anzio. He was with the first wave in Normandy. He helped to liberate Saint Lo and Paris. He marched clear across France. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He knew war long enough and well enough to write a book about it. And Ben, that's what he's done, he tells everybody. WROTE A BOOK ABOUT WAR.
He smiles shyly when he shows you his book. He tells you he is very sorry that he can't offer you a copy. But he has only ONE COPY at present.
"Here!" he hands you the book. "Look at it! Read a page! Like it?" he smiles.
"S-U-R-E," he will promise, eyes aglow with pleasure. "An autographed copy -- just for you! And very soon, now, too!"
The book, Ben, that he clutches to him so desperately, the book he shows you with such eager pride, is just an ordinary copy of the Bible. One a Red Cross lady gave to him a long time ago. So it's really a little more tattered and worn than most Bibles.
Ben, perhaps he did, well, help to write HIS BOOK. It doesn't seem at all impossible when you look into his eyes. Eyes a world from your own. Eyes that are always looking back ONE WAR. Eyes that are a world, a war, from your own, and always will be. Eyes that make you feel strongly that maybe he did at least help to write HIS BOOK.
Perhaps he researched HIS BOOK at Kassarine, amid the despair of defeat. Then wrought a first draft from the fury that was Sicily. Edited this for feeling in the agony of Salerno. Rewrote for effect in the fear that was Anzio. Illustrated for clarity -- and hope -- in the early dawn that was Normandy. Dedicated it to show the futility of war in the Battle of the Bulge. And prays now that all of us will join him in a rededication to end the need for war, in the Halls of Peace at the United Nations, and in our hearts.
Pray for me, Ben. And with warmest regards and best wishes, I am, your friend and buddy, Willie."