Life After War, My story

As we celebrate Memorial Day, May 27,2002. The Worldwide News would like to thank all who are serving or have served in the armed forces.
By Michael L. Zorn

SPOKANE, Washington—It’s New Year’s, Jan. 1, 2002, and they just set off fireworks. I’m having a hard time because my body is telling me that it hears mortar fire, and I want to hide. This is part of life after war.

The morning after, one might ask: "How did I sleep?" I had nightmares of a mortar attack and a flack vest with shrapnel in it. In fact, I have had 30 years of nightmares. Nights where I slept for only four hours and nights when the nightmares were so horrible I felt I was in the presence of Satan. I was too scared to go back to sleep again.

Reality of war
Hollywood can present war in graphic detail, but the reality of living through it, and after it, is a never-ending tale in itself. What I experienced in Vietnam runs the gamut from exciting new things and experiences, to stark fear.
One of my worst experiences in Vietnam was when one of my sergeants, a quiet, gentle, black man from the Carolinas, asked me to check to see if his weapon was on semi-automatic. I did as he asked, not realizing his intentions.
He walked 50 feet away, disappearing behind a sandbag wall. Then I heard the weapon fire, and before I could reach him another sergeant came running out and said: "It is too late. He has blown the top of his head off."
You see, my friend had received word that his daughter had run away and that his wife was filing for divorce.
I had to live with the horror and guilt that he had really been crying out for friendship. The Army tells you not to talk to anyone about these things, so for 25 years I lived with horrific nightmares.
I experienced being responsible for the protection of Vietnamese civilians and their families. I stopped fellow soldiers from stealing from a helpless woman, then I retreated out of fear for myself and the lives of the men with me when five Vietnamese soldiers broke into her home, beat her family and all five raped and beat her.
How do I look her in the face? I was sent to protect those who could not defend themselves.

Coming home
What is it like to come home, where the people you have known all your life have forgotten you?
Where the media, wanting a bigger paycheck, have joined the enemy camp and accuse veterans of the very things we went to stop. Where the very people you were willing to give your life to serve will take a vet who lost his legs to a land mine and throw him on the ground and call him a baby killer.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to see someone disemboweled while alive or see their children taken and killed before their eyes? I know, and I live with that kind of horror in my mind.
I also know the reality of living with abandonment and being totally devoid of human emotion. You cannot deal with the places that America asks its young men to go and the things it asks them to do.

Emotional wounds
To do what the military requires, you cannot allow your emotions to enter into your daily thoughts and then come home to a nation that does not want you anymore.
I lived for 30 years without ever letting my guard down. A civilian may not have any understanding of a life constantly on guard duty. You spend your adult life wondering why you’re alive and why God didn’t just let you die and spare everyone a lot of misery.
I’ve stood in the shower many times and said, "God, it would have been so much easier just to have died over there." I’m not alone. Two hundred other vets have told me the same thing.
In the military, a purple heart is awarded to a soldier who receives a physical wound. No purple hearts are given for the psychological damage you may receive through a war. Then there are those things you inadvertently pass on to your family—anger, fear, bitterness, resentment, betrayal and a spirit of wandering through life. Wives and children don’t get purple hearts, but the Veterans Administration says that a Vietnam vet adversely affects at least 18 women’s lives.
I was born in 1947, right after World War II. My father was a veteran, and my mother’s father was a Spanish-American War veteran. If you follow my family tree back to its beginning in America, you would find us involved in all kinds of wars.

I thought it was all over
When I came home on April 30, 1969, to a wife and daughter, I thought it was over. I was through with the government and all that I was asked to do. I wanted to put it behind me forever, but you cannot be involved with something as life-altering as war and come back and pick up right where you left off like nothing ever happened.
I went to college, got a degree, had three more children, was baptized, went to church and tried to make my life right. No matter what I tried since Vietnam, nothing worked, nothing would fit.
I have been asked: "What is it like to sit all night with a rifle waiting to kill anything that moved?" I knew without a doubt, that when it came, I would kill without a thought. "What is it like when you see blood running out of a man’s neck?" I am not shocked, as this is part of day-to-day life. I have lived with it for the past 33 years. It followed me through every day into every night, and it molded every thought and influenced every decision, until I was totally broken.
I’ve spent the last three and half years learning how to examine every thought, and still there is a rage that burns like a pilot light waiting to be triggered. Only God’s grace gets me through each day
My sister wrote a letter to the Veterans Administration. She said she took her brother to the airport in March 1968 and met him when he returned to Fort Lewis, Washington, on April 30, 1969. My family got a body back, but the man we sent to Vietnam never has come home.
Through God’s grace I am now coming home a little each day. Larry Barkemeyer, who, like me, is involved in Point Man Ministries, which helps heal vets, has a music tape called "20 Years of Tears." One of the songs is "The Boy I Used to Know." The lyrics are: The boy I used to know was strong, yet with a kind, gentle way. He is not here anymore. But every once in a while he comes around."
What is it like to not have a marriage that works, or not see your child go to his first day of school or to be able to watch their high school or college graduation? What is it like to never be able to succeed at anything you try?
What is it like when you set out as a young man with all the right intentions but what you agree to do is not what you thought it would be. Then the rest of your life is not what you agreed to. We all had dreams, ambitions and goals, but what we endured in a year of war changed us so much. We are happy to just get by one day at a time without tears. Is that all you expect out of life?
What is this thing that the medical community calls Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? It is not just emotional scars; it’s chemical imbalance, loss of brain mass, and the very violation of what God created us for. It is not something new. It has been here since the day Cain slew Abel and God cursed Cain with wandering.
Medical science now has the tools to connect all the pieces of the puzzle, except one, of what goes on in a man’s mind. Without the grace of God you cannot find peace in your life. I found peace when God humbled me while I was homeless. I was physically broken and unable to work. I had lost all will to go on with my life.

The answer
Then through a long road of discovery, God showed me how Paul could abound in whatever circumstances he found himself. Facing death, chained to a guard, Paul said, "I have a peace that surpasses all understanding." When your life gets so desperate that the only thing you can do is cry out in prayer, God is waiting.
He wants to lead you out of the darkness into the light. When you are unable to produce anything in yourself, God is able to abundantly bless your life beyond comprehension. When you’re all alone and you cannot bear the loneliness anymore, God can bring a wife and children into your life. Without God’s grace to sustain me through each day, the horror and reality of what I have been through and how it stole everything I desired in life, I could not go on each day.

Sobering statistics
More than 200,000 Vietnam vets have killed themselves. Just over 58,000 died in Vietnam. Our suicide rate is 33 percent higher than the national average. Compared to people our age who did not serve in Vietnam, it is twice as high. Of unexplainable one-car fatalities, 70 percent involve Vietnam vets.
At best, 60 percent of us have some level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to live with and deal with for the rest of our lives. We have the highest rate of drug and alcohol problems for our age group, and the highest percentage of incarceration. The divorce rate for Vietnam veterans is twice the national average. In Seattle, Washington, 87 percent of the street kids (runaway, throw away children) were children of Vietnam veterans. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average for our age group, and 25 percent of us live on less than $7,000 a year. One third of all of the homeless people in America are veterans.
Now our nation is involved in yet another war. We’ll have a whole new generation of young men and women who will come home to what? Only God in us through Jesus Christ can make a difference in what this new generation will face. Can we love them just as Christ would? Accept them just as he called them. After all, he did the same for all of us.
Michael L. Zorn, a member in Spokane, Washington, entered the Vietnam War during the Tet Offensive in 1968 and served until April 1969. His e-mail address is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

SERVING COUNTRY—Michael Zorn in Vietnam, 1968.3-young_Michael_Zorn3-young_2_Michael_Zorn

Right: basic training.