“…I hope that any veteran would know that recovery is not only possible, but a reality when we allow Jesus to walk ahead of us and show us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The process of recovery works,” writes Michael Wilkins, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
It was forty years ago that Wilkins, Biola’s Dean of Faculty at Talbot School of Theology, and professor of New Testament, was trudging through the jungles and mountains and rice paddies of Vietnam, sent on “search and destroy” missions. His year of combat significantly altered his life. Wilkins’ article, “Jesus’ Healing for the Horror of War,” in the most recent edition of Sundoulos, Talbot’s magazine, narrates his time in Vietnam and experiences upon returning to the states. Today, he hopes his story can help other veterans in their healing process and recovery from the horror of war.
Biola University joined the nation this Veterans Day, November 11, 2009, in honoring veterans through a special chapel including a ceremonial presentation of colors and introduction from Wilkins.
Biola also launched the on-campus campaign, “Holiday Mail for Heroes” in conjunction with Pitney-Bowes and the Red Cross. Students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to create cards to be sent to family of veterans during the holiday season.
In the recent edition of Sundoulos, Talbot’s magazine, he tells of his experience in war and his healing process.
The Horror of War
“I would like for people to quit saying to me, ‘I understand.’ Because they don’t, and they can’t. It’s better to say nothing.” Those words came from a young Marine sergeant talking about how he dealt with coming back home from the war in Iraq. His response is not unusual.
Any young man or woman now serving in Iraq or Afghanistan would agree, not tritely, that “war is hell,” whether they experienced personally the trauma of battle or saw the consequences in those around them, civilian or military. But the trauma of war doesn’t just go away.
How does a young veteran recover as he or she attempts to re-enter civilian life? Many find it very difficult to rediscover what “normal” is, because their sense of normalcy has been altered by their experiences in the horror of war.
Exactly forty years ago I was trudging through the jungles and mountains and rice paddies of Vietnam carrying an M-16 rifle, with a 50 pound rucksack on my back loaded down with C-rations, hand grenades, knives, ammunition—and everything else that I owned. My assignment was to search and destroy the enemy. I was a young nineteen year old who had enlisted in the Army to be a paratrooper with airborne infantry training. Then I found myself in 1968 assigned to the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade in the central highlands in some of the most intense fighting of the war.
It took only one day in-country for any glamour of war to be dispelled. My very first day in the field as I was choppered out to join my new unit, I was greeted by the sight of a helicopter gunship that had been shot down the evening before. It had attempted to provide support for my new platoon as it was pinned down by enemy fire. The chopper crew was all killed.
And so began my year of experiencing the horrors of war. It is no trite thing to say that war is hell.
Ask anyone of any war who has held buddies with limbs blown away as they wait for medical aide. Or as they die. Ask anyone who has watched innocent civilian children lose parents and homes and any semblance of normal life in the daily swirling horror of war. Or anyone who has seen those little children killed.
Ask especially anyone who, for the first time, has looked the enemy in the eyes and killed him. That was one of the darkest moments in my year in Vietnam. There was an immediate bravado as the conqueror, but later while sitting in the dark of night, those eyes would come back to haunt me. The “enemy” was just another person who was caught up in trying to serve his country. He was no older than I, probably younger, and probably had a mother and father and siblings, perhaps even a girlfriend, all waiting for him to come home.
And so began the plaguing thoughts, the doubts and the recriminations, but also the reasonings and the justifications. So also come thoughts of an afterlife—for the enemy, and also for myself. It is a heavy power to take the life of another. To dwell in that power can turn a person into a monster, or into a wimp. A hardened heart accompanies the former, while paralyzing fears accompany the latter. And a person in combat can’t be either of those extremes.
I had to adjust my heart and fears, and thoughts of home and eternity, and images of the enemy, so that I could be efficient in getting myself and my buddies home safely. I became a very efficient war machine for the next eleven months.