Our Common Enemy: A Vietnam Vet Returns Home

I am a husband, father, and architect. I've been married to my second wife for 37 years and have two adult children and three grandchildren. I have been a licensed architect in California for the last 35 years and managed my own business most of that time. I have been involved in outreach and support of other veterans of Vietnam, World War II, Korea, Grenada, and Desert Storm for the last 25 years. The resulting anger from the emotional wounds of combat and military service destroyed my life and my first marriage and almost destroyed my second marriage and family.

In August, 1968, I arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division as an infantry squad leader. On my first day in the field with my unit I found myself in charge of and responsible for a 12 man squad and was assigned to take that squad out from our defensive perimeter on a nighttime ambush. Welcome to Vietnam!  But I was trained and ready to take on this new challenge in my life. It felt great! In the first weeks of my new command I relied on a very experienced corporal in my squad to keep me on the straight and narrow. This arrangement worked very well and he taught me a lot about being "combat wise". But this was all about to change because I was about to experience my first contact with the enemy. In September 1968 our Battalion firebase came under attack by a North Vietnamese regimental size force. We were out numbered 4 to 1.  In the middle of the night my platoon was called out of the firebase to go support another platoon under heavy contact with the enemy. While positioned on an elevated roadway adjacent to a rice paddy, our platoon caught a large enemy force unaware, between ourselves and the platoon we came to rescue. In the ensuing firefight my corporal who was laying next to me was wounded, not by enemy fire, but by friendly fire. The next day, having lost my corporal, I realized I was now on my own and things began to change drastically again.

With my corporal gone my platoon sergeant began to abuse me just like the senior NCOs at Fort Hood. I didn't realize until then how valuable my corporal had been in keeping the heat off me. Now my platoon sergeant regularly belittled me and abused me in front of my squad. Why was this so devastating to me? There were two reasons. The first was that if the members of my squad didn't trust me then possibly "combat morality" would take over and they would look for a way to eliminate me as a threat to them. This was not a safe place to be. And the second reason was that this was the way my father treated me and now, in Vietnam, my PTSD from youth was being triggered in a big way. At this time in my life, there were many things going on inside of me emotionally that I just didn't understand and chose to ignore. This was a very dangerous turn in my life because it would ultimately stay with me and the result would be destruction. We had a saying in Vietnam, "it don't mean nothing".  We use this saying to deal with anything that didn't make sense or was too painful to deal with like the death of a friend. After returning home from Vietnam I was dealt some additional heavy emotional blows, the worst being the death of my mother to cancer a year after returning home.

In Vietnam, I knew who my enemy was. They wore uniforms and carried guns. On returning home I was completely ignorant that I was about to face another enemy that is common to all mankind. But I foolishly dealt with encounters with this enemy just like I dealt with emotional difficulties in Vietnam, "it don't mean nothing".  This approach to difficulties of life got me nowhere.  I was just trying to avoid pain in my life. But instead, I had turned into a very desperate and angry person.  My anger and rage was destroying many things in my life.  After my first marriage failed and I had fallen into a very sinful lifestyle, I realized one day that I was not the man I wanted to be and it was time that I do something dramatic to straighten out my life.  Where should I turn?

Having grown up in the church I had deeply rooted inside of me the understanding that God was the answer to difficult situations in my life. However, I had been numbed to that knowledge because many of my prayers seem to have gone unanswered.  Why couldn't God save my mother's life?  She was the only person that ever showed me, unconditional love? Why did my wife walk out on me? Where was God in all this? At this time in my life when there were deep disappointments, I sensed a battle going on within me. Not an emotional battle but a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. I understood that a "dark spiritual force" was at work against me. So I made a simple prayer asking God to win the battle. The next day I responded to the message of an evangelist at the church I was visiting and gave my life to Jesus Christ and made him Lord. Even though I became a brand-new man spiritually, my life was a mess and the real battle was about to start.

It would be nice if I could say that everything was just fine after making Jesus Christ Lord, but that didn't happen. Even though many things immediately improved in my life I still had many challenges to overcome. The foundation of who I was as a man was faulty and needed major repair. As an architect, I have an intuitive understanding of the importance of a good foundation under any type of building. In the same way, it's absolutely mandatory that our lives are built on a sound foundation from God. But my foundation had been built on 30 years of life experience that included a painful and dysfunctional childhood where I lost my mother at eight years old to a mental institution for one year, a very angry and abusive father and a learning disability that caused me to fail in school. Added to that foundation was the good and bad parts of my military experience. It amazes me sometimes how the bad things that happen to us in life can have so much more effect on who we are than the good things that happen to us. But God understands all of this and promises to "heal our broken hearts" and "set us free from captivity" of the bad things that have beset us in life and rebuild the foundation we are built on.

So how do you go about repairing faulty foundation? 

In the beginning of my marriage to my wife Geneice my anger and rage was the weapon I used to deal with anything that was threatening or uncomfortable in my life. This was the biggest part of my foundation that God needed to rebuild. But my anger and rage were very familiar and comfortable to me, and it wasn't easy to let go of something so familiar and comfortable. But it had to go because it was destroying my marriage and my two young children. In the "rebuilding process," God took me back to a time in my youth when I was eight years old and my mother was being taken from the house in a straitjacket because she was having a nervous breakdown. My father always told us, kids, that if we would just behave better and not put our mom under stress, she wouldn't have a nervous breakdown. Unknowing at the time, as an eight-year-old boy, I took on the responsibility of my mother's nervous breakdown. This was revealed to me many years later as an adult when in my journal reflecting on that night I wrote, "I’m sorry mommy, next time I'll do better.” The result of that was for me to try to remove my guilt by "doing better" by keeping my family and household in order. The only effective tool at hand was the same one that my father used to keep order, and that was anger. But this approach was destroying - not building - my family. I had to be set free.

But my uncontrollable anger was not just coming from the trauma I experienced as a young boy, it was also coming from my military experience. At that time in my life I desperately needed to "prove myself" as a man and I staked it all on the achievements I would make in the military. Even though I performed well as a soldier, in combat the way my platoon sergeant had treated me (with such disrespect) is what stuck with me. Remember how I said the bad things in life seemed to have more impact and influences on us than the good things?  I know because I've experienced it myself. And those bad experiences in my life continued to add to a faulty foundation. I was in a battle and I needed desperately for God to come to my assistance. I was losing ground to the enemy.

I began to fight back with God on my side. He was faithful to begin healing my broken heart by revealing truth in my life. I vividly remember one day when I was dressing for work and heard some loud conflict between my two children downstairs in our home in. Immediately this triggered my anger. I had a debt to pay and anger was my tool! But that's not what I wanted!  So I stopped, and asked God to help me not be controlled by my anger and He clearly spoke to me in that moment and said, "Speak truth to yourself.” For a moment this confused me because I didn't know what "truth" to speak to myself. I even asked God "What truth?”  And then it came to me. And I spoke out loud, "It wasn't my fault that my mother had a nervous breakdown.” At that instant my anger left me and I felt completely at peace. God had started me on a path of speaking truth to myself that ultimately overcome the faulty foundation under me and the resulting anger and rage that controlled me. This was the beginning, and in the years to follow I would need a battle plan and strategy to gain position over the enemy of my soul

In presenting the lesson on "Our Common Enemy” at the veterans programs at Sky Rose Ranch, I came to understand more clearly the reality of the battle that I faced after returning home from Vietnam when my "It don't mean nothing" attitude only blinded my eyes to the fact that there was a Common Enemy out there trying to destroy me. In many ways I thought I was engaging the battle in an effective way, only to discover then I really lacked a plan and the proper “moves” or tactics to counter what the enemy was throwing at me. Unlike my military training, where I received the best education on military tactics, I was lacking in spiritual tactics to engage the spiritual forces that were working against me.

In my preparation as an instructor I was impressed by how simple and practical were the "Eight Moves to Gain Position Over Our Common Enemy.” In many ways as a longtime Christian, I had been practicing some of these moves but others I was ignoring.  As my life ebbed and flowed through different seasons I found that the enemy changed his tactics and any time I failed to change my tactics to counter his new means of attack, I would lose ground. But if I employed all of the eight moves I would gain position over my enemy.  I especially found Position 1; "Submit and Resist” very effective in defending against the enemy's attacks. In my marriage relationship Position 4 "Pursue Financial Freedom" was very important in gaining my wife's trust in me as a provider. I found that implementing the appropriate “move” for the unique challenge in my life was essential and being a godly husband and father.

Being an instructor at Sky Rose Ranch has made a significant impact in my life as I have continued to allow God to rebuild the foundation beneath me so that I can be the godly man I have been called to be. Participating in the Fight Club program has given me cause to reflect in detail on who I am as a man, and provided more peace and stability in my life. I will continue to fight, with God's help, for what is valuable in my life for the rest of my life.