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Stuart Polzin

My return to “the world” after two tours in the ‘Nam with a combat Marine Battalion was a crash course in wondering that still goes on today. Initially, my life was fraught with conditioned responses to loud noises, especially fireworks, helicopters and planes pulling out of dives over the nearby Navy airstrip. I often found myself flat on the ground looking for cover, or breaking out into a cold sweat and uncontrollable shaking. Crowds made me nervous (still do), and any time I entered an area I was unfamiliar with, I was always searching ahead for possible ambushes, noting available cover, a practice that still continues.  Continue


The public sculpture titled "Bearing" will be cast life-size in bronze.

Stuart Polzin

My return to “the world” after two tours in the ‘Nam with a combat Marine Battalion was a crash course in wondering that still goes on today. Initially, my life was fraught with conditioned responses to loud noises, especially fireworks, helicopters and planes pulling out of dives over the nearby Navy airstrip. I often found myself flat on the ground looking for cover, or breaking out into a cold sweat and uncontrollable shaking. Crowds made me nervous (still do), and any time I entered an area I was unfamiliar with, I was always searching ahead for possible ambushes, noting available cover, a practice that still continues.

I had adapted well to the rigors of living out of a pack, sleeping under a shelter half, eating out of a can and drinking water from shell canisters. So my return to a world of modern conveniences and the attendant worries of the populace about trivial matters amused me. However, as time went on, I grew to loath the petty trials and tribulations of modern civilization. I was unaware that there was a growing anger inside of me.

A situation developed wherein a seemingly stupid confrontation became an uncontrollable violent rage that resulted in a deadly situation. Fortunately, there were friends who were able to stop me. At the urging (insistence?) of a police officer, I sought professional help.

The incident caused me to step back and attempt to assess the underlying anger and rage. The rage was easy to control, but understanding the anger has never quite been clear to me. I only knew that I thought differently than everyone else. At least, differently than those who had never experienced war. As I avoided associations with other combat vets, shunned organizations like the VFW and the American Legion, etc, it was not until much later in life that I found kindred spirits when processing through the VA’s PTSD counseling service.

In between, I married, raised children, went to church, contributed to the community – did all the things I thought one was supposed to do. I was able to address my continuing angst writing and performing poetry, especially poetry regarding Vietnam. I thought I was doing well.

An article on PTSD in ’Nam vets enumerating a plethora of insidious little things that by themselves were inconsequential, but together raised alarm bells, caught my wife’s attention. We talked about them, road rage, still wearing my dog tags, wearing combat fatigues, guns and ammunition, aversion to fireworks, crowds, always sitting in the rear of rooms preferably near an exit, lack of compassion, “it don’t mean nothing,” “better him than me,” attitude, and there was my ‘Nam poetry.

Against my better judgment, I enrolled in the VA’s PTSD counseling service. While it dredged up a whole can of worms for me, including reoccurring nightmares and flashbacks, it put me in touch with other ‘Nam vets, men I could relate to, if only on that single plane, we had been there. I have to add that I was dismayed to find that out of some 30 vets in the program with me, I was the only Marine – sort of like I was failing the Corps.

It was a godsend for my wife. Spouses went through the service as well, both in groups, singularly and with their spouse. She gained a whole new insight into what we, vets, had gone through. It helped her cope with some of my unexplainable behavior. Most importantly, she saw, through the stories and experiences of other spouses/significant others, that I/our problems were miniscule in comparison with other couples. It also gave me a check list of things to change or consider that would offer some comfort to her. I quit wearing camo, quit wearing dog tags, changed my road rage to comic relief by blowing bubbles out the window.

Perhaps the most telling change was a conscious effort to try and see others through their eyes, or at least recognize that their reality is not necessarily mine. I am still incredulous at the petty concerns of our culture, and even more so at man’s inhumanity towards their fellow man. The anger is still very much there. I expound and rant through the facebook postings. The only peace I have found has been to remove myself from the struggle, living aboard my boat, making short visits to family and friends. Peace


"far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, content to live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt