This is a memoir of his experience on the battle field and how it affected his civilian life when he left.
This should be mandatory reading for everybody, force the teens in the classroom to study this instead of Frankenstien. Perhaps it will make them understand and more sympathetic. Or maybe not.
At first, I thought he was sanitising the story. It felt a little awkward in the first couple of pages, as if he was being careful with what he was saying. But that soon disappeared and he delved into the story. Nothing was sanitised. Every f-bomb, every splatter of blood, and every emotion was laid bare.
Van Winkle isn’t shy about describing how he enjoyed moments of war; the thrill of the firefight and acting on survival instinct. Or the disappointment for not pulling the trigger. Or for pulling the trigger. The hope. The anger. The confusion.
In everything, he seems to be confused. He gives us glimpses of how his mind worked when he returned to the US. Scenes from his civilian life would morph into those of combat, comrades who are on the other side of the country or globe would appear in his lounge room and talk to him, they would also remind him that things didn’t happen the way he was remembering.
The most horrible to invade his mind are the dead. A little girl he may or may not have killed. A fellow marine, dead, who was left behind.
The way the veterans are treated when they return shows how little care the government has and how little civilians know and understand. Van Winkle was diagnosed with PTSD after a handful of questions and was prescribed drugs. His panic attacks were not explained to him until a nurse, who must’ve been sick of him coming in and saying he was having a heart attack, final said something.
Excuse me? Is that really mental health? Flick and tick through some questions and dose them up on drugs?
But I cannot say anything. Honestly, I have no experiences to compare to his, nothing that gives me the right to pass judgment or even attempt to have a conversation with a veteran where I know so little. Instead, and I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to ask this, but I feel like I want to ask the next return service personnel if they’re alright.
Coming to read this story after reading Jarhead… I was not truly prepared. Though, the two service men cannot and should not be compared, the mental scarring seems to be more on display in Soft spots. Front and centre.