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Posts Tagged ‘Liza Long’

Guest Blogs

May 14, 2014

All I Ever Did Was Love My Country: What we don’t—and can’t—know about PTSD (because we weren’t there).

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By Liza Long

“Oh yes, you asked me about the rocket attack on Danang, and well, honey, just don’t worry about rocket attacks at all—they’re really inaccurate. Of course, we’d take it very personally if one hit us, but they are very inaccurate, and since I’ve been here, rockets haven’t hit at all.”

Captain Theodore T. Long Jr., USMC, in an audiotape mailed from Vietnam to my mother in Layton, Utah, February 1970.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’m obsessed with the show Madmen. This season, the clothes get ugly, the soundtrack gets funky, and it’s time to talk about hard truths that never seemed possible in those early 60s Camelot times of JFK and Jackie, pearls and Hyannis Port. The one scene from an early Madmen episode that still stands out for me is Don Draper and his (then) wife, Betty, picnicking beneath stately trees in early summer with their picture-perfect children. When they leave, they don’t bother to clean up the mess they have left—why would they?

What a mess. That’s what a group of veterans told me on a Monday in late April 2014, when I was invited to visit a group of Warrior Pointe members in the recreation room of a cinderblock Christian church in Nampa, Idaho. The men ranged in age from grizzled Vietnam veterans to young soldiers who had just returned from Afghanistan. Their leader and Warrior Pointe founder, Reed Pacheco, walked in with a cell phone to his ear. He was talking with a family member of a veteran who had threatened suicide and needed an intervention fast.

Liza Long head shot 2013

Pacheco, himself a veteran, founded Warrior Pointe because he wanted to create a space where former soldiers could come together to talk about the issues that continue to haunt them. “The VA just isn’t there for us,” he said, as heads around the table nodded emphatically. This group of 20 men have taken a new mission upon themselves: no soldier left behind.

“The first thing people ask when you get back is ‘Did you kill somebody? How many people did you kill?’” one Vietnam veteran told me. “They just don’t understand how inappropriate that question is. We did what we had to do. You can’t know what it means to sit, 40 years later, in front of a television set reliving the same 40 seconds, over and over and over. You can’t know. You don’t want to know.”

I learned more than a few things about courage in my hour with this veterans’ group. And I also learned more than a few things about how the United States has let its soldiers down. I often wondered why so many veterans’ groups were opposed to the Affordable Care Act of 2010. “It’s the same thing as the VA,” one Afghanistan veteran told me. “You wait and wait and wait for care. And when you finally get in to see someone, they just give you painkillers instead of recommending surgery or something you need to actually fix the problem.”

That delay of care has been in the news recently, with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki facing allegations that VA clinics delayed treatment to vets who desperately needed it, then covered it up. You can read more about this issue here: No one disputes that patients died while waiting for care.

The Warrior Pointe organization recognizes that all of its members, no matter where or when they served, suffer from some sort of PTSD—Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The controversial DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) revised criteria for the disorder which is now described as “a history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.” You can find out more about that here:

Pretty much everyone who went to war to defend our country could suffer from PTSD.

But the Warrior Pointe veterans feel empowered to help each other, where they feel the Veterans Administration has failed them. “We are all brothers,” says Tom Bosch, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. “We understand each other. We can talk to each other. We can support each other.”

My father served in Vietnam. While the Don Drapers of the world were enjoying three-martini lunches and free love, my dad sent anxious audiotapes to reassure my mother, who heard nothing but bad news about the war at home. Dad didn’t have to serve. He was his father’s only surviving child. He set out to write his senior thesis in Political Science to defend the Vietnam War. As he researched the subject, he concluded there was no justification for America’s involvement in Indochina. Then he graduated from college and went to Vietnam anyway.

Theodore and Liza Long

Theodore and Liza Long

My dad flew medical rescue missions. As far as I know, he never killed anyone. He came home to life as a husband and father and used the GI Bill to pursue his passion to study law. But I will never forget the morning we were running errands in Bakersfield, California. The road was blocked to allow a parade, a hero’s welcome for the warriors of Desert Storm.

When I looked at my dad, I was surprised to see tears streaming down his cheeks. “They spit on me when I got home,” he said quietly. “They called me a baby killer. All I ever did was love my country.”

And as a defender of our country, my dad most likely suffered from PTSD.

Liza Long is a writer, educator, mental health advocate, and mother of four children, one of whom has a mental illness. She lives in Boise, Idaho. You can read more of Liza Long’s thoughts here:

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 17, 2012

What It Means to Be the Daughter of a Marine

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Liza Long, friend and supporter of BRAVO! muses on her memories of her Marine father, among other things.

I am the oldest daughter of a United States Marine. Born in the Pink Doctor Building during the final years of a Cold War conflict we did not win, I learned to walk on Honolulu’s sandy beaches, waving to the improbable sky hippopotamus that hovered over the sea behind my base house, its tandem rotors thumping rhythms I felt in my bones, its lights flashing red and green, port and starboard, my father’s way of signaling his love to my mother and me as we collected blue glass balls that washed up on our beach. The glass balls, my father said, once floated fishing nets in far-away Japan.

My father, USMC Captain Theodore Thomas Long, Jr., piloted CH-46 Sea Knights during the final gasps of the Vietnam War. He earned his nickname, “Machine Gun,” when he asked his CO to transfer him from an assault squadron to a unit that flew medical rescue missions. Anybody who knew my father knows he could not have flown a gunship. He was not that kind of guy—he was the kind of guy who wept every time he read the ending of A Tale of Two Cities, who sang “When You Walk through a Storm” so clear and sweet it gave you goose bumps.

My father’s Vietnam was not Ken Rodger’s Vietnam, not the “confused alarms of struggle and flight” described so vividly in Ken’s documentary of the siege of Khe Sanh: Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. You see, my father was an officer. He joined the ROTC in college, where he majored in Political Science. Dad started his thesis with the intention of defending the Vietnam War and the United States’ role in it. Upon researching the subject, he concluded that the war was indefensible. Then he graduated and went to fly helicopters in Vietnam anyway, because that’s what you do when you love your country: you support it, right or wrong. And my Dad, the fatherless liberal Democrat Mormon boy from Utah, loved America.

Here is what it means to be the daughter of a United States Marine who served in Vietnam. Your first word is “jet” (“No, helicopter! Helicopter!” my Dad would say). You belt out “From the Halls of Montezuma” while the other kids are singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” You are never, ever allowed to say the word “Army.” When you forget to do your chores, your Dad yells, “Drop and give me 20,” and you do. On Sundays, the only movies you can watch are the following: Patton, The Great Escape, Victory at Sea, and Chariots of Fire. But mostly Patton. You and your siblings can reenact the entire film.

Theodore Thomas Long, Jr with his chopper. Liza Long and a friend are in the lower left corner of the photo.

In sixth grade, on your Dad’s advice, you read The Iliad, holding your breath: “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles.” Your teacher is disappointed with you because you write an epic poem in dactylic hexameter about a war between ants and wasps instead of a pretty lyric about butterflies. In high school, you have your first crush on Lawrence of Arabia and begin to contemplate the oxymoronic problem of Heroism in the Modern Age. You learn what the word ambiguous means. You learn that things are not black and white. You learn to love America anyway.

In 1991, when you are home on break from college, driving with your Dad, who has just been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (a war he will not win), you find your way blocked by barricades, a parade with tanks and ticker tape to honor heroes of the Gulf War. Your Dad starts to cry. “They spit on me,” he says. “When I came home, they spit on me.”

I thought of all these things when I saw Bravo for the first time. Author and 1968 Khe Sanh siege survivor Ken Rodgers has been a longtime friend and mentor. I wrote my first novel (probably for myself) under his tutelage. There is nothing like learning the power of strong verbs from a man who experienced them like Ken did. Seeing Bravo made me understand some things I’d always wondered about my own father, about the war that shaped him, and by extension, me.

What I learned from watching Bravo is this: you are never more alive than when you are facing death. In that moment, you are the Ubermensch, hyper-alive, hyper-aware. You can see bullets pass you by. You can contemplate their curves, their hard, deadly tips, the lovely crimson clouds that they create when they impact something not protected by a flak jacket. Watching Bravo, I learned that war is hell. But I also finally understood why we keep waging it. At some level, war is black humor, war is exhilarating. And nothing else in life quite lives up to that powerful chemical cocktail your body slams when you face death (except maybe childbirth, but that’s another story).

Here is what it means to be the daughter of a United States Marine who served in Vietnam. When your father dies at age 50, they bury him near Hill Air Force Base, in the shadow of mountains, beneath the flight path. A bugler plays “Taps.” The guns salute. They hand your mom a folded flag. You don’t know whether the cancer that killed him was part of a cluster that afflicted Vietnam pilots, or whether it was because he was born in Reno, Nevada in 1944, or whether it was just one of those things.

You love America anyway. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Liza Long is a writer, designer, musician, and erstwhile Classicist who lives in Boise, Idaho. Her most recent book, Little White Dress from Mill Park Publishing, won a 2012 Bronze Ippy Award for Women’s Issues. You can follow her blog about single motherhood, theology, science fiction, and politics (inter alia) at