“Uncle Sam did this,” my tío said, as we stood around the hospital bed where my grandpa lay. I was glad my grandpa’s younger brother came by. Because my grandpa needed to look at someone else besides the four of us who’d been taking shifts, sitting with him all day and all the night. So he wouldn’t be alone when he woke up, so he wouldn’t be scared to be in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. “It wasn’t as bad for me because when I was in Korea, I wasn’t infantry,” my tío went on, the tears welling. (Los most machos are the biggest llorones, I’m learning.) “But your grandpa and my brothers? They are suffering because of Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam did this to them.”
My grandpa is one of 11 children, the oldest boy of 8, the first of 5 to go into the service. The ones who are still with us in this world are sick too. He was 17, just out of high school. Too many mouths to feed at home. A real familial desire, passed down through generations, to be considered a part of a country that had occupied our land starting a century before. Conquest continues. War is bad. My grandpa has told me this since I was a little girl. And the soldiers are not often taken care of as promised, he’d said (especially the brown ones–and by brown, I mean not white).
He has been talking a lot about his experiences in the Pacific—more so as he’s gotten older. According to the doc, it is common that WWII vets don’t often get diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until they are older—not like Vietnam vets or the vets coming back from Iraq now. When asked what he worries about, what he thinks about, what his concerns for the future are, my grandpa answered them all the same: War. War. War.
PTSD is not why he’s in the hospital—not directly anyway. But it is, apparently, what got him veterans benefits—health care that the vast majority of people in this world have no access to. I must have known my grandpa suffers from PTSD, but I don’t think I really thought about it until the last couple weeks. Sure I knew about his shoulder injury—when an enemy soldier hit him with the butt of a rifle. And the shrapnel that’s still lodged near his spine. And the missing lengths of intestine and spleen from when he was shot. (When I was small, I thought it was so cool that the scar on his abdomen can predict the weather!) Over the years I’ve heard a lot of stories more graphic than any war movie I’ve seen. His physical ailments right now have to be medically treated alongside the psychological–body and mind. Familia and comunidad is there for the soul.
I’ve read about PTSD in magazines, newspapers, and books before, but it was somehow abstract, distant from me and my world. I hadn’t realized—not really–that it’d been a part of my life since birth, a part of my grandma’s life since he returned to NM. Maybe I’d been avoiding thinking about it. Because I can’t fathom the kinds of things that run through his mind on the day-to-day. Because it makes me so angry–about my grandpa’s situation and all the young brown folks who get lured into fighting wars for Uncle Sam. Like bell talks about–“the killing rage.” Only this time it is really about the immediacy of life and death and global imperialism, not just some white girl acting a racist fool on an airplane.*
Who counts as a “casualty of war”? Seems like some are still living. And not all were in the service.
*Okay, I get how these things are related–global imperialism and institutionalized (US) racism. And I’m not saying that racist white girls on airplanes don’t piss me off too. I just don’t have the energy right now to break it down.