A couple of weeks ago, while “saleing” with my daughter, I came across a fascinating book called, A Treasury of Civil War Tales: Unusual, Interesting Stories of the Turbulent Era When Americans Waged War on Americans by Webb Garrison. (Rutledge Hill Press, 1988) One of the stories in this book was about the young drummers and buglers on both sides of the war that served during the American Civil War. All of these boys were under 18 with one very special one being only nine years old. Here is his story…
After being told that the U.S. Army was not “enlisting infants”, John Lincoln Clem went from command to command in his attempt to serve his country. He finally found a home with the Twenty-second Michigan unit not as a member but as a mere tagalong. The men liked the boy though and before long they were “passing the hat each month to collect thirteen dollars for Johnny’s pay.” The men even found him an old drum and Johnny “became a Union drummer boy in every respect except for official enrollment.” However, once the real fighting began and by the time of Shiloh, he was enrolled. The newspapers made Johnny famous calling him “Johnny Shiloh”. Before long “Johnny Clem came to be admired throughout the North and hated everywhere in the South.”
“At Chickamauga, Johnny was a sight to see,” said an aide to Major General George H. Thomas. “When we decided to move in and break the Confederate siege, Johnny rode a caisson to the battle line. He waved a musket that someone had trimmed down to size for him…a Rebel chased the piece of artillery on which Johnny rode…he (the Rebel) shouted out, ‘Surrender, you damned little Yankee!’ Johnny Clem didn’t say a word. He just raised his sawed-off musket and took the fellow down.”
Now Johnny was touted as the “drummer boy of Chickamauga”.
Perhaps he had had enough of the horrors of battle and bloodshed, but a few months after this battle, Johnny left the field to become “a courier for the rest of the war.” When the war was over, Johnny applied to West Point “but couldn’t qualify because his education had ended during the third grade.” Never one to give up, Johnny appealed this decision.
When “General U.S. Grant, who had been Johnny’s commander at Shiloh” and was now the U.S. President heard of Johnny’s plight, he personally “bypassed the U.S. Military Academy” and gave him a Presidential appointment to “second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in December of 1871.”
In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “and now, the rest of the story”…
The nine year-old drummer boy who just wouldn’t quit spent fifty-five years in the uniform of a United States soldier. He retired in 1916 as a Major General.
As a combat veteran, there is a special way I go about enjoying fireworks every year with my family. It has a lot to do with grounding myself in reality and in the present. To do this, I use what I call a “grounding point”; something, anything that did not and could not have existed during my combat service. When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I reassure myself by looking at this thing.
This year my grounding point was my youngest daughter. To know her is to know happiness and joy. She has a smile for everyone. But the best part about her? She did not exist and in no way reflects my combat service. Therefore, if she is with me and I can see her, then I am grounded solidly in the present.
The fireworks this year started like any others. They were beautiful and one even looked like Saturn! How they do that is beyond me. Anyways, things were good. I had a little trouble, as always, with the flash bangs, those that go up and then just boom with a bright ball of light, but my daughter casually reached over and held my hand. A little extra “grounding”. And then, toward the end of the fireworks, someone thought it would be funny to set off some kind of firecrackers in the parking lot. Whatever these firecrackers were, they sounded exactly like automatic rifle fire. And they were coming not from the fireworks in front of me but from my right flank. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I freaked and all thought of any “grounding point” was gone.
I immediately began to assess the threat when I realized that my family was with me. What the hell were they doing here? Total confusion set it. The soldier in me wanted to move toward the threat to better assess yet the parent in me wanted to get my family out of there. How in the hell could I be both at the same time? All my life the two things had been separate. Any threats I had faced had been oceans away from my family. Two different worlds.
I looked around at the people around us only to find them happily watching the continuing fireworks show. No one else appeared threatened. As I was trying to process and understand this observation, the finale began. The continuous booms and flashing lights left me a huddled, confused mess on the blanket until it ended. I do believe we were the first ones out of the parking lot.
Once home, my daughter came in to talk to me. She told me that after those firecrackers in the parking lot, she couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show. She said that with everything going on in the world, she just felt like a target sitting out there on the grass.
So the threats aren’t oceans away anymore. They are here and her fear is real though it saddens me. No one else seemed concerned. Have I done this to her? And now I have to also wonder…how will I be able to continue to take my family to public places while the soldier wars with the parent leaving both unable to function?
And back to therapy I go…..
Though I did mention PTSD Awareness Day earlier this month on our Facebook page, it would appear that I let the day go by on this blog without a single mention. It’s true. Part of the reason is that I was busy with a couple of medical and mental health crises within my own family, but mostly, I think having a “day” for PTSD Awareness or even a “month” is simply ridiculous.
PTSD is all around us, People. If you aren’t aware of it by now then you need to crawl out from under the rock you have been living under and join the human race. Believe it or not, I’m betting that a lot of people who have never served in combat are beginning to get a little understanding of a small part of combat PTSD.
With all of the shootings aimed at civilian gathering places around the world, a simple car backfire outside a venue could cause mass panic and a stampede towards exits. At the very least, a backfire will cause people to jump and tense. It can’t be helped. It is an instantaneous reaction, without thought, to a threat that is real or perceived. So welcome to a little slice of combat PTSD. There’s your awareness for the month.
Later in July, we plan to bring you some tips and advice on staying safe in this crazy world. Check back with us every Wednesday so you don’t miss a thing!
Please continue to support your veterans.
Purchase Faces of Combat on our website and you will also receive Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors: A Lifeline to New Connections as well as Brain Injury Rewiring for Loved Ones: A Lifeline to New Connections.
And remember…every purchase of Faces of Combat results in a donated copy for us to get out to a veteran.
About the books:
Traumatic brain injury causes damage to the connections in many parts of the brain besides the focal point of the injury. It’s not enough to heal medically. Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors discusses medical care and goes beyond that to help the survivor heal spiritually, emotionally, cognitively, physically, socially, and vocationally through traditional and complementary medicine and good nutrition.
Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors is one of two well-received books designed to help survivors of brain injuries. The companion book, Brain Injury Rewiring for Loved Ones, describes how family and friends of the survivor can help the survivor during recovery.
It’s a new year here at Faces of Combat and we have set some pretty lofty goals. In the past couple of years, we have given out over 2,000 copies of our book to veterans’ organizations, veterans themselves, or to those who love a troubled veteran. This year, we want to reach even more.
We have all seen the movies or read the reports in the media where some veteran has supposedly gone “postal” due to their PTSD. We wish that stereotype would just stop. I have spoken with many, many veterans and, in reality; those with PTSD are more likely to hurt themselves than others. According to the current reports, it is to the tune of 22 per day. Twenty-two veterans per day take their own lives and that is only the number of those who succeed.
Many veterans try for years to hold their demons at bay through a combination of drugs and alcohol and many have ended up in trouble with the law due to this self-medication. Before we throw the key away on these veterans, we want to reach them. Throughout this country, there are now special veterans’ courts. A veteran can choose to go through this system for their non-violent offense and the judge is then able to consider the veteran’s military service and combat experience in relation to their sentencing. Sentencing can even result in inpatient, intensive PTSD treatment. It is these veterans we want to reach in 2016. (Please note that these courts are ONLY for non-violent offenders. The veterans I have spoken with feel that those veterans who use PTSD as their defense for their violent, criminal actions are an affront to the tens of thousands of veterans who suffer from PTSD and only encourage the ridiculous stereotype portrayed by Hollywood.)
For 2016, our first goal is to provide copies of our book to the 160 Veteran Justice Outreach Specialists in the country. This will ensure that each veteran who comes through their program will receive a copy of the book and information on our website. Currently, our website has over 200 free resources for veterans and their families. We hope that each of these veterans will read this book, see themselves in it, and get the help that they need before it’s too late. That’s what happened with me and that’s why I do this today.
Also in 2016, we will be preparing and starting our non-traditional healing classes. Like many of you, I’ve been to the Veteran’s Administration. I’ve taken their pills, still take some. I’ve participated in a number of their therapy programs and I have learned an important thing. Not every program works the same for everyone person. We are all different. We all have different values, belief systems, etc. Everything that makes us unique as an individual is exactly what makes it difficult to find just the right therapy for you. So this year, in our local area, we will be offering healing classes using expressive writing, meditation and shamanistic rituals. We hope that by next year, we will be able to offer some of these programs across the country.
Speaking of “across the country”, the first week of April starts my annual Faces of Combat road trip sharing our programs along the I-90 corridor. Last year, I was accompanied east by one set of grandchildren and west by the other set. We had quite a time! If you are a veteran group and you are along the I-90 corridor, I’d be happy to stop in, drop off some books and discuss what we are all about! (Just as an FYI, this trip is fully-funded by me, not our organization. They only provide the books.)
2016 is going to be exciting! If you like what we are doing, visit the “Get Involved” page on our website and join us!
Faces of Combat
Have you served in a combat zone, area of hostility or experienced a military sexual trauma? If so, you qualify for free community-based counseling at a Vet Center and you qualify whether you are active duty now, recently separated or served many years ago. Families dealing with bereavement are also eligible for counseling. There are 300 Vet Centers across the nation that offer free counseling, referral services and other assistance to eligible Veterans, Servicemembers and their families.
On Jan. 28, VA partnered with Team Red White & Blue for an #ExploreVA Facebook to spread the word about the services that VA Vet Centers provide….continue