My Grampa Carl Warren Harrison served with the US Army in WWII.
He fought Battle of the Bulge, and at Normandy. His simple account told to me of these battles was that he “saw so many men shot and died” He also was a messenger, and drove a Harley Davidson, in which he described some of his buddies “get their heads sliced off…they strung piano wires between the trees, and if you didn’t keep ya’ head down to the bike – ya, head would get chopped off…roll on the ground.” As told to my mom, near the end he helped in recovery of Nazi concentration camps and he mostly remembered the pits where bodies were piled up, dead and alive. Some could be saved, but most not.
After the war, he returned to Spruce Pine North Carolina. Later, he moved the family to Highland Park to get a job with Ford Motor Company in Detroit. He was one of many southern men who took that road. Later, after being laid off from there he worked for Saunders Baking Company where he stayed to work until he retired. While working at Saunders the family moved to Warren to a small house with a huge lot with enough land for him and gramma to cultivate a fine garden.
My gramma would witness my grampa’s PTSD affects through the years. She did not describe it as such – just that he had bad dreams and fits and lost his mind sometimes. His PTSD he managed as best he could, to keep it from doing what he felt he had to do.
With Operation Desert Storm he just could not keep it at bay the pain that continued to build up….which was probably not even a sliver of what he was actually feeling. He was hospitalized and returned home. He was retired by now and my grandma had passed away by then. He did not go back to his gardening…cut down all the apple and pear trees…tore down the Concord grape vine that lined the side of the yard. None of us knew how he could do such a thing…they were so beautiful and the fruit was delicious. I think now it was just to keep his sanity and put his built up anger, sadness and frustration somewhere that would do the least harm.
Then 9/11 happened and he just went back into that place. He did not leave his home, heard voices all the time, and began to lose recognition of family, neighbors and friends.
Soon after maybe he was a bit better on the outside. He did have an abdominal aortic aneurism which had to be taken care of. While he was in the hospital he expressed such a great fear to my dad that he would for sure go to hell for all the Germans he killed. He hoped God would forgive him.
He died in the hospital after his surgery. There were complications from pneumonia. I think also that he knew he would not be going back home. He was going to lose what he had left of his sanity… No nursing home for him. He was as southern god fearing man. So, he went to where he considered his true home…to God.
There are accounts now from past and current veterans and their family members in abundance that shed some light on service people/soldiers and their battle with PTSD. I would guess though that any words cannot begin to even express what are…the affects…the horror.
My grandfather was a quiet man in my days with him. The picture of him and his brother is the most heartwarming smile I have ever seen from him. Even though it was taken before I was even thought of, and after the war, the photo shows truly what he gave to all around him his whole life. His strongest weapon against his inner demons…Love.
After visiting my grandpa’s gravesite on Memorial Day, while driving home I heard the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack 3 times on the radio. Yea, I hear you Gramps. I love you!!