Book Review: Tears of a Warrior

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not a new development for soldiers. For hundreds of years, military personnel have known about the emotional and mental suffering that soldiers endure long after leaving the battlefield. It is a condition that doesn't just go away or fix itself. Soldiers and their families need to be able to identify PTSD and be willing to get help.

Tony and Janet Seahorn have lived with PTSD since Tony's return from Vietnam decades ago. Everything they have learned about the condition and how to treat it has been compiled in Tears of a Warrior: A Family's Story of Combat and Living with PTSD. This subject is personal for them and so the book reads like a friend or an acquaintance sharing their personal knowledge with you and not a dry reference book on PTSD.

Personal Stories

Tears of a Warrior begins with Tony and Janet introducing their personal stories of PTSD. First Janet gets a chapter where she describes her background, how she and Tony met, her first impressions of him, and then how PTSD from his time in Vietnam manifested itself once home.

Those living with PTSD are described at one point as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in how the mental fence soldiers put up can come crashing down from seemingly small things. Janet describes how various things would trigger Tony; the mild mannered man would suddenly become demanding and uneasy, urgently demanding that everyone follow his orders. Not only did these sudden changes in personality cause tension between the couple, but his children also grew up not understanding how their dad could behave in such a bizarre manner.

During the writing of the book, Janet also came to discover that there were a lot of experiences in Vietnam which Tony had never shared with her. As he compiled pictures and anecdotes of his military service, gruesome pictures and horrific stories she never knew were revealed. Despite decades of marriage, the pain he carried from his deployment during the war had been mostly bottled up inside, hidden away as not to distress others.

The second chapter is dedicated to Tony telling his story; from his shipping over to Vietnam through the years of fear and anxiety once he returned to a civilian life. He doesn't hold back when discussing several gut-wrenching incidents he encountered during his tour during the war. You read about his arrival in Vietnam, getting off the transport, and seeing a large wall of caskets awaiting to be loaded on a cargo transport back to the US.

And then I saw them. The rectangular boxes lined up in military formation for the return trip home. We, the live warriors, were about to be replaced on the plane with the dead warriors. They were, without knowing, statistics of those who had served their country and made, without judgment, the ultimate sacrifice.

Tony found himself in a situation where almost any minute could be interrupted by an attack. Staying at headquarters wasn't safe; if anything, being at HQ made him and others feel like sitting ducks waiting for Russian-made missiles to explode overhead - day or night. Tony preferred to go out into the field where he felt that at least he would have a chance to exact a toll on the enemy while being fired upon.

The chapter is filled with instances that shook his psyche and embedded themselves into his memories, not leaving their mental home even after he left the combat zone. The reader gets his perspective of Operation Fishhook as his battalion, 1st Infantry's Black Lions, was sent to serve as both the bait and the trap for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) which was attempting to strike Saigon from inside the safety of Cambodia's borders. While there was a temporary victory, Tony soon found himself having to resecure areas which the NVA had successfully taken over. One night, he wasn't so lucky and took damage to his chest and right arm. Soon, he was pulled out of the combat zone and was getting medical attention for his wounds.

But once home, Tony found himself mentally still engaged in the fight. He experienced his first panic attack while in the hospital, but did little to treat the underlying PTSD. Even forty years later, Tony still can recall so many memories in vivid detail. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that Tony participated in a University of Colorado study on PTSD and came to discover the advancements which had been made in counseling those that suffered. While he doesn't feel that PTSD can ever really be "cured," Tony is grateful for the progress he's made and the effort the Veterans Administration has put into helping soldiers with PTSD now.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Now that the reader has background knowledge of what Tony and Janet have gone through, the book shifts to explaining PTSD, how it affects those around the wounded warrior, and ways people can seek help for this condition. Anecdotes from their lives illustrate the chapters about PTSD symptoms and how to treat it. The authors have filled Tears of a Warrior with quotes and comments from various books and resources they've found over the years. This book may be worth the price just for the list of references and other resources used.

A reader would do well to go through the first two chapters for the personal stories and then flip to whatever chapter highlights a concern or interest. Nearly all of the chapters have a questionnaire at the end to help the reader do self-evaluation or better evaluate their loved one who may have PTSD. Along with the citations in the text, a thorough bibliography is included and should serve as a launching point for the reader to learn more from other sources. While it can certainly be read from cover-to-cover, the book seems best suited as a reference a person comes back to for additional information.

Summary

Tears of a Warrior is an easy-to-read book about post-traumatic stress disorder which demonstrates and explains how PTSD is experienced by the soldier and his or her loved ones. The book is very conversational in tone, like a friend or acquaintance is sharing the info with you. I frequently had the feeling that the book was the culmination of numerous speaking engagements and seminars the Seahorns either attended or conducted.

The only real complaint I have is with the layout and style of the book and not the content. I found Tears of a Warrior to sometimes get sluggish to read because of the abundance of pictures. Frequently, I would come across a picture and have no idea why it was where it was and what it had to do with what I was reading. There are a ton of personal pictures included. While several of them excellently illustrate what is discussed in the text, a lot of the pictures seem crammed in to either fill pages or satisfy a desire by the authors to include them even if they weren't relevant.

I do recommend Tears of a Warrior for any family that has a loved one serving overseas in any type of combat situation (even as support and not on the "front lines"). The passion the authors have for the subject and how personal it is for them carries through well. It is because of that passion, I think spouses and families of deployed soldiers can see how their lives could be impacted by PTSD.

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