A ragged band of prehistoric Cro-Magnon men scouts an unknown forest in search of food for their tribe.  Slowly, the hunters push through the leafy underbrush, their senses tuned and alert to any movement.  Vision limited to a few meters in the primeval woodland, the men maneuver stealthily so as not to alarm their quarry and fail in their quest.  Soon, they hear sounds of movement in the near distance.  However, these animals do not behave in the accustomed fashion, and as the hunters become more vigilant, their brains discharge even more adrenaline into their bodies.

Suddenly, the men are assailed by a terrifying clamor, and a hail of spears and stones rains down on them from every direction.  In an instant, the hunting band is reduced by half, the savaged bodies of tribal confederates litter the ground, and the acrid tang of fear hovers in the air.  During the first moments of the sudden attack, the men are physically and psychologically incapable of immediate response, and now, even though potent neurochemicals released into their systems enable the men to act in self-defense, eons of evolution have limited their options to three.  The hunters will fight, flee or freeze, and in seconds, each man chooses his own course of action.  As the brief but deadly battle develops, the hunters – themselves now killers – wreak havoc on their assailants.  The men slash, grapple and strike the enemy.  Horror all around, psychologically, each man retreats into one of the three protective options.  Some will fight with unexpected bloodlust and determination.  Others will turn away from the sights, sounds and smells of human carnage to ensure they live through the day.  Still others will freeze.  Incapable of action, they will not defend themselves but instead psychologically shut out the overwhelming butchery.

When the fighting ends, the surviving constituents assess the damage, bind their wounds and head for home.  From the first moments of the attack, preservation of life was each man’s goal, and each survivor rejoices in his durability.  However, the men will bear the burden of the memories of the day’s violent encounter.  For some, fading body scars will provide lasting testimony to the ferocity of the battle, but an unfortunate few, psychologically wounded, will suffer the pain of combat for life.

“What’s wrong with Dad?  I don’t understand why he does those things.”

“Aunt Marion is so unhappy.  Will she ever find joy in her life?”

“The whole family was devastated when Roger took his life.  Why?  He had so much going for him.”

Living in the shadowy interior of the brain’s Limbic System and to the untrained eye invisible, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reaches beyond its stricken victims negatively to influence family members and loved ones.   For years, families and friends have heard bits and pieces – snippets – of wartime events the veterans faced in their lives.  Grudgingly revealed, generalized and non-specific, these anecdotes leave the veterans’ loved ones yearning for more information, desperate to understand what made the veterans who they are and if necessary for discovery, to know and feel the horrors their husbands, daughters, sons, brothers or fathers experienced.  This book examines the life portraits of five courageous veterans who suffer with posttraumatic stress order and provides a roadmap to gain understanding of PTSD’s insidious and often counterintuitive symptoms.

Today, an astonishing twenty-five percent of our brave American servicemen and women return from Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with “psychological problems,” and our hearts ache at the evidence of their struggle to adjust to civilian life.  Away from the blood, gore and bared teeth of the combat zone and once again in a safe environment among friends and family, still many experience difficult homecomings.  Seemingly uncomfortable in their own skin, they abuse alcohol and other drugs, seek isolation from loved ones and randomly and for no apparent reason, display levels of anger, even rage that frightens and confuses.

Are these the same men and women who, a year earlier, kissed their loved ones, winked, and then waved goodbye with optimistic smiles?  Could combat so dramatically change someone, or does wartime service create a new, altogether different person?  How?  What happens?  Who gets PTSD and why?  What does it look like?  Can it be cured?

The answers to these questions and a great many more are found within the pages of this book.  This exploration of PTSD’s myriad symptoms and insidious effects will equip you to recognize the disorder in a loved one, and through understanding, take positive steps to facilitate the healing process.

 To explore fully the lifelong effects of war trauma in the twentieth century, the focus necessarily must be on Vietnam veterans.  Sadly, given today’s course of events in Iraq and Afghanistan, thirty years from now, researchers will have another generation of combat veterans to study, but until that unhappy day, only Vietnam veterans provide a lifetime of experience with war trauma from which we can learn a great deal.  Without compensation or promise of recognition, the five combat veterans featured in this book courageously agreed to share their life experiences, to re-live decades of fear, pain, bitter resentment, hope and redemption so others can learn and future comrades in arms will not suffer so greatly the anguish of Soldier’s Heart.

William Schroder
Dr. Ron Dawe