As the saying goes, ‘you can’t be all things to all people all of the time.’ I guess that would apply to all walks of life. However, throughout my military life I tended to be just that. The combination of this approach and the [at the time unknown to me] effects of PTSD meant I found maintaining a presence of normality more and more difficult. So much so that just to talk to people on any subject would bring on an emotional reaction. I would feel tears welling to the surface, which would cause further frustration as I had always been in control of my emotions. Not understanding the root cause of this reaction would create further frustration and intense anxiety. The cycle or, perhaps more aptly, the spiral had begun.
Naturally my time in Viet Nam was [I believe] a major contributing factor towards this malaise. Then marriage to a lovely Portuguese woman and having to ensure my wife could handle our New Zealand culture, weather and me. Finally, coming back to a country that was totally hostile to the whole Viet Nam affair.
Having seen how we were fighting the war and why [later, I believe, oil was one of the main reasons for our presence] we were actually there I don’t believe the methodology employed was the right way to go about winning the war. Isn’t hindsight wonderful?
I hasten to add we had actually won the war after the Tet offensive in 1968. The North Vietnamese knowing they had lost at that stage cleverly went back to the negotiating table to give themselves time to rebuild their army. For us it was too late as our nation had grown tired of this particular war and of course the press/TV and protests were doing the job at home to turn people against us, and the war itself.
On one particular occasion whilst on leave in Vung Tau I met a group of oilmen. Initially they were reluctant to talk with me about why they were doing in Viet Nam. I jokingly said to them ‘what are you, CIA or something?’ I knew they were civilians by their demeanor. Later they informed me they were there for the oil.
Ahh … what ‘we’ do in the name of freedom and democracy. And where are we now? In Iraq, in the name [of course] of democracy. The corporations use the governments, the governments acquiesce, and deals are done. Who put Saddam and all the other recent dictators there in the first place?
Forget about the Viet Nam War
The other really hurtful aspect of our return and this caused a huge amount of difficulty trying to grapple with was how the army had more or less abandoned us. The first words I heard on return to Burnham were, ‘forget about Viet Nam, we are now going to concentrate on Open Country Warfare.' Bloody digging holes in Tekapo. Our dress code changed. Initially we were permitted to wear our service ribbons on our JG uniforms, this quickly ceased and the only time we could wear our ribbons was on our SD’s, or battle dress blouses. For those senior ranks and officers who did not see active service much effort was spent expunging our contribution to the war.
I emphasis here that the remarks are made as observations and as always ‘in my opinion.’ Interestingly my father related much the same when he returned from WWII. Those who served overseas were the only ones permitted to wear the New Zealand black and white flashes, an edict soon came down from high command to put a stop to this. Everything old is new again.
Root causes continue
On arrival in Burnham newly married men [particularly from overseas] would have to go on a waiting list to gain access to an army house. Until that happened they would have to find their own accommodation and generally this would mean renting in Christchurch. Which in turn meant traveling too and from Burnham under their own steam. If we had a good driver on the married man’s bus we might be able to jag a lift. Later we were able to buy a ticket and ride on the bus or truck. I often wondered why it was that the civilians working at Burnham were not required to buy tickets and we were. So there was another stressor.
Long absences did not help. Many marriages would be under great stress in the service. I hasten to add a sincere thank you to Rusty T for speeding the married housing accommodation for us in Burnham - I never thanked you at the time because I was unaware of your influence and care. Thank you.
The issuing of wives
In the words of one particular ex British soldier who joined our army, ‘If the army wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you with one!’ He was affectionately called Bawana [and I believe this statement encapsulates the army's tolerance of wives]. Much later this fine military gentleman was smitten with the marriage bug and we observed a major shift in his attitude towards the rest of us 'marridies'.
I remember whilst on the Senior Tactics course at the back of Tangiwai he had hidden his tin of cakes off to one side of the track we were patrolling. His newly issued wife had baked them that morning. Well yours truly was acting as the lead scout. I spotted the article and sent down a silent signal to say ‘I was checking out suspicious sign’. On discovering what the offending article contained I quickly replaced the items with rocks to give the impression his cakes were still in the tin. When we stopped for lunch I shared these with the rest of the patrol.
Now, to give him his due he never said a word until the day we were to leave. Having finished the course, he came up to me and said, "You think I didn’t know it was you, didn’t you." Me, acting all innocent said "About what?" He said, "You will keep, you have to come back to the school [of Infantry] sometime, I’ll be waiting." I guess he still is. He took it well I thought, and he had hit the jackpot - the cakes were fantastic!
My other problem was, I took the cause of others seriously, particularly the soldiers and would go into bat for them to ensure they progressed in the army. This often offending some officers, who did not like having their lives upset by me. As well, whilst in Singapore we lost our first baby [still born] at eight-months. Up to this time my wife had continuously suffered from a number of miscarriages, and because of my exposure to Agent Orange we think this may well have been a contributing factor to our childless dilemma.
So, at the end of my tour in Singapore we were posted to an area office in New Plymouth. Fortunately we would be blessed with another child, a daughter. During this time in New Plymouth my wife became ill with poli-arthritis. To add to my stress I had to endure the vindictiveness of a certain officer who felt aggrieved because he had not carried out the correct training requirements. As I was the offending training NCO who had pointed out the error of his ways he made it his mission to ‘get me’. Later [thankfully] Bob U ensured freedom in the form of a posting with him to the Officer Cadet School in Waiouru. This appointment would be [in my opinion] the pinnacle of my career. The OCS the best place to set a standard and influence young budding officers, and I believe we did just that.
I surreptitiously slipped away from 5WWCT Bn. There was no love lost between 5WWCT and me and higher command. A certain officer's tireless efforts to ‘get me’ were very draining particularly as my wife’s health was poorly and I had a newborn daughter to care for.
On arrival in Waiouru my wife’s conditioned worsened she became extremely ill and as a result was unable to perform even the simplest of functions. These meant very heavy loads on me. My morning routine would consist of carrying my wife to a hot bath to enable her body to relax, feeding both daughter and Flo, cleaning, washing, and getting everything ready for the day and then heading off to work. So a mix of work, wife and 18-month-old daughter was a tough ask.
Eventually I would be posted to Burnham again, to 2/1 RNZIR. Once there I found a terribly run down demoralised unit of soldiers. Is there no let up!
To give you and idea how things were then at 1 RNZIR, I have taken the liberty to exaggerate slightly a typical conversation between the Company OC's and the CO, "Sir, the troops are bored and morale is at an all time low!’ CO, "Right we will have a sort of Battalion parade, gather the troops around the flag pole, I will address them." "Oh yes, I think to deal with the boredom issue we will have a sort of forced march over to the West Coast, that should take at least three or four days." "On the subject of morale, I will tell them they can have some leave after they have completed the route march." To which the OC's reply "Jolly good sir!" And that folks is very much how the unit was being run, until thankfully the CO was replaced.
As a result of the issues in my life, I decided to finish my military career. I came to this decision towards the end of my twentieth year of service and after a particularly unhelpful interview with our local Infantry Corps Rep who informed me I would need to train with a rifle company to improve my chances for further promotion. My words to him were, "Thank you sir, you have helped me immensely, I have now decided what I shall do regarding my future."
Of course my military career came to an end that day. I immediately drove to Trentham Camp and put my discharge papers in. A few days later they reached Infantry Directorate. I received a call from Col Baden H, "You b******d you can’t leave the army now we need people like you!" "Well sir, you should have thought of that before a certain Inf Corps Rep spoke his words of wisdom." I related the conversation I had had. Some time later that day I was asked to report to the Director of Manning Branch. Now things were moving in my favour. I was offered the SWI's appointment at the School of Infantry [a very prestigious Infantry appointment]. Why hadn’t this happened when I needed it to? So, rock the boat, either you fall out, or wake up the captain and get results!
I am formally farewelled from the army…at last we're getting rid of him. On my retirement from Her Majesty's Service and to ensure that I would actually leave the army, I was formally dined out at the WO's and Sgt mess in Trentham. I was further privileged to have Johnno, my best man and our radio op from Viet Nam with me as a guest. I spoke about how I saw the future for the NCO's if they continued with the current attitude that prevailed throughout the service. I referred to them as 'paper tigers'. Full of self-interest with no real concern for their soldiers. Rather surprisingly I received a standing ovation and many came afterwards to thank me for telling it like it was.
I know some twenty years later things are not much better. There is nothing wrong with the soldiers. And Kiwi soldiers will always be held in the highest regard. But an army poorly led with self-interest the corner stone and a democratic philosophy to lead with doesn’t work. As Dame Edna Everidge has oft stated, ‘call me fickle, call me strange, but that’s the way I see it possums.'
The Road to Damascus
I start this aspect of the story with an excerpt from the bible as this is what literally happened and, I believe, saved me at a time when nothing else seemed to help. A quote from the bible:
Then one day, while Saul was on one of his journeys of persecution, as he was nearing Damascus, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a very bright light. He fell to the ground and heard a voice from the heavens say to him; Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?Acts, Chapter 9
Because I felt I was steadily deteriorating and could not find a way of controlling my stress and the reactions emerging from PTSD [being in control was a large part of my make up] I decided to buy my home, settle up my affairs and ensure my wife and daughter would be well cared for. Why? Because the effects of PTSD had reached an unmanageable level. Remember PTSD had yet to be recognised as an affliction in our services, let alone recognised and understood by me. I thought I would die and soon. If not my plan was to end my life.
Whilst I was still in the Wellington Regional Recruiting Office part of my role was to travel to Masterton and conduct recruiting presentations. This was also where my wonderful Auntie lived. She was without doubt the gentlest lady and very Christian into the bargain! On a particularly difficult day I called in to see her, she spoke to me [as she always did] about family, friends, events of the week, and then as simply as I write this she spoke of Jesus and his love for us no matter what etc…Well, I thought, ‘yes Monica that’s fine and well for you, but I am a tough military soldier and that sort of thing doesn’t apply to me.' I bid her farewell and drove on to Palmerston North.
Now I guess God has His time for all of us and on this particular day His time would become mine!
The pressure is building
As I drove along the pressure inside of me became almost intolerable, until I called out ‘Jesus save me!’ I have no idea where this came from, but I suddenly found himself surrounded by a very bright light! Yes that’s exactly how it happened. I was completely enveloped by an incredible fog of light. I quickly pulled off the road, not a moment too soon as a mufti cop [traffic officer in a plain car] was trailing me and I think I was traveling quite fast [as I usually do]. He went past with his lights flashing chasing another car. I have contributed much money to the Ministry of Transport to assist them in their benevolent fun, both in New Zealand and more recently here in Australia. Well I really have no idea how long I sat in the car experiencing the love of Christ, [that is how Christians describe this type of event] but eventually I gathered enough strength to drive to Palmerston North, do what ever it was I had to do and then headed home.
My wife noticed the immediate change, as wives tend to do. Over the next few weeks many people noticed the change. I was baptised and received these words [and many more]:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.Isaiah 43:18-19
Humpty has successfully been reassembled! ...Although some would say there are parts that are still missing! As the saying goes, ‘Blessed are the cracked for it is they who let in the light’.
I believed at the time and under the circumstances nothing short of a miracle could have saved me. I still have issues but these are [to some extent] manageable thanks to the salvation that Jesus bought me. Again, to those who like me were, or are skeptical or simply don’t believe in higher power, the simple but powerful statement that issued from my mouth did an enormous healing both physically and mentally. As the saying goes, ‘its not rocket science’. If in need try these words, ‘Jesus Save Me!’
Incidentally, I never found one soldier in my time of war that was a true atheist.
I would like to end the Christian aspect of the story of ‘humpty’ by making an observation. I believe there is much criticism of charismatic churches today. Some is sorely justified, some stems from envy or ulterior motives. We are after all human and therefore flawed, prone to weaknesses and foibles. Often, in my experience, a church will tend to focus on the ‘man’ of God rather than the God of man. Although a church starts out with the best of intentions...as it grows even bigger and more prosperous all the energy begins to focus on the ‘man program’ and the Jesus of the gospels becomes less important, and in some extreme cases fades into obscurity. I call it ‘the circle of growth and decline of the charismatic church.’
I believe Jesus intended we should be there for each other. When we fall, stumble or simply seem not to be one with the big picture, the tendency in the church is to be cast aside. So, sadly today there are many casualties of the church [these are called by the church ‘the wounded’]. These people who fall by the wayside are often ‘left behind’ as the juggernaut called ‘the church’ marches or ploughs ever onwards. I believe it is these people and those who are suffering without the care and knowledge of a Jesus who specifically came to save the lost, lame, halt, weak, sick and depressed, suicidal and of course let’s not forget sinners. And if we look at the early church after Pentecost this is how the disciples ministered to the people. As a result, everyone shared what they had, cared for each other and ‘had compassion for one-another.’ As I write this, I believe there are many wounded and hurting people who are in need of a compassionate and caring church.
My point? If you are a born again Christian and struggling for direction or purpose in life, just be who you are where you are. The ‘when’ is God's business. You see [I believe] we do not have to go to Africa or some other country to be a compassionate caring person; we just need to be available right where we are now! If my own experiences are anything to go by, you don’t have to tell people you are a Christian. They, oddly enough will see it in you. They may not actually know you are but they will discern the compassion of Christ in you. So don’t be surprised if you are approached by someone when you least expect it. Be real, call a spade a shovel if needs be!
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.
PTSD also significantly impacts psychosocial functioning, independent of co-morbid conditions. For instance, Vietnam veterans with PTSD were found to have profound and pervasive problems in their daily lives. These included problems in family and other interpersonal relationships, problems with employment, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
These are some of the associated ailments that plagued me then and still to some extent now.
For a long time I thought the above ailments were ‘normal’ and so, for many years lived with these and of course behaved as if they were ‘normal’. It was only when I spoke with other Veterans recently that I realised it wasn’t ‘just me’ and that I was suffering with the effects of the resulting fallout from life in military service, but more particularly active service.
After I left the army I found being around crowded places was a difficult and stressful experience and would [and still do] take my leave and return home, a place of obvious familiarity and a sanctuary. If I sat in a crowded place, restaurant, and office or entered a building I would sit or position myself where I could observe all the activity going on around me. I find staying in one place for any length of time stressful and will take my leave.
At night I still wake at exactly 0300hrs and lie in bed listening and always wonder ‘why I have woken at this particular hour and what woke me'. To enable a return to sleep I will need to go around the home checking all is well. All this has to be carried out without lights. If I hear a sound, or a sound has woken me I will immediately search for the source, often this will cause my long suffering wife to wake and ask what I am doing usually in a loud voice. I then tell her to 'be quiet' as I don’t want to alert the cause of the noise.
I will often [without my wife knowing] go outside during the night and walk around the home looking for likely ‘intruders’ [I know, sad isn’t it]. This behavior was and is to me quite normal. As I get older I find I do not handle stress well; this will often cause me great difficulty in focusing on dealing with the issue that is the cause of the stress. PTSD is not just my problem and confined to me, obviously all those closest are affected and so the fallout from this dreaded malaise impacts on many and needs to be acknowledged and treated accordingly.
Read more Lloyd Roberton memories here.