As the speaker began talking about the manifestations of PTSD, we wives began looking around the room in amazement, pointing to our husbands and chuckling, suddenly aware that he was describing every one of the men. Nightmares and lack of sleep, sudden outbursts of rage, avoidance and periodic self-isolation, hyper-vigilance, and more. That moment of realization formed a real bond of understanding amongst the veterans, and among the wives.
In 1968, my husband left Khe Sanh where he had just survived the 77-day siege, one of the longest battles in US Marine Corps history. As he stepped off the helicopter in Dong Ha, he looked back at the ravaged hills of Khe Sanh, and thought, “That was one hell of a story.”
After coming back to the US, he finished his enlistment, married, had a son and a daughter, earned a degree in accounting, worked in the ag business, and later went through a divorce. He also became an alcoholic, experimented with other substances and rarely talked about his combat experience.
We married in 1985, and although I was aware he had fought in Vietnam, I knew very little about what he had survived. He talked about it a little, and we went on with our lives, building a real estate business together, and then moving on to other enterprises. As I grew to know my husband better through the years, I admired his strengths and rode out his sudden outbursts of rage, his periodic self-isolation, his hyper-vigilance, his regular headaches. To me, these were just a part of his personality, a part of who he is.
Until we attended that presentation on PTSD, and came to a realization that Ken carried the classic manifestations of post-combat stress.
In the meantime, Ken had started writing, ultimately earning an MFA in Creative Writing. Invariably, no matter what he wrote or intended to write, the war always came out. Poetry, essays, short stories, a novel: All about his wartime experience. But he was never satisfied that he had fully expressed what he wanted to say.
41 years after leaving Vietnam, Ken and I decided to combine our skills and make a documentary film about the siege. Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor was born. As first-time filmmakers, we were very fortunate. We filmed Ken and 14 of his comrades who gave incredibly open and vivid interviews as if they had lived through the experience the week prior instead of more than 40 years before. And I learned the full story of what Ken had survived.
Then we were contacted by another Vietnam veteran, John Nutt, who had worked as an editor in the film industry for his entire career with the likes of George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and many other well-known creators. John offered to assist us, and we believe helped create a masterpiece out of our material and storyline.
Since then, we have shown Bravo! all around the country at universities, theaters, prisons, high schools, on PBS, and more. It is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and we have received exceptional reviews. One of the things that has pleased us the most is that we’ve come to understand that Bravo! is a timeless story. The men talk about the same reactions to the experience of war that have been described from ancient times to the present-day wars on terror. It’s a story to which all combat veterans can relate.
And in this journey from 1968 to now, we came to realize there was another important story to tell: My story--the story of wives of combat veterans. The spouses of warriors are a segment of our society that has long been overlooked. So we agreed now is the time to give wives a voice, too, in a companion piece entitled I Married the War.
Wives live with war on a personal level when it comes home in our husbands who are forever changed. Like in Ken’s writing, in nearly every facet of our lives, the war shows up in one way or another. We carry on while our spouses are deployed, we welcome them back, we learn to aid them in their darker moments, to appreciate their newfound strengths, we gradually learn how to adapt to the changes. We support them through manifestations of Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, moral injury, physical injury, and more. We try to shield our children and help them understand their daddies instead of fearing them or blaming themselves for making Daddy mad, or for unrest between their parents.
And we strive to not let our own hopes and dreams fade in the process. We learn to adjust, to “pick our battles,” to really listen to our spouse, to do research for better understanding, to reach out for help when we need it, to take care of ourselves. And to help other spouses by sharing what we’ve learned.
I Married the War is now in post-production. We have completed our final interview, and the cast is a remarkable representation of women from WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, and present-day wars. They have shared their stories with great heart and openness in the belief that they will help thousands, perhaps millions of other spouses, and educate the general public about these hidden costs of war. These women will play a huge part in a growing movement in our country to more fully understand and support the needs of our citizens who have served in our armed forces.
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