P Lynn Ouellette MD, Brunswick
The war in Vietnam Nam was in the back drop in my life shortly after infancy through my adolescence. However, while it was going on and affecting other people so profoundly it was not very present for me other than what I may have see on television in those later years. No one in my family was directly affected, we didn’t talk about it in school, and what I did see confused me. I finished high school, went off to college, and then to medical school and began my residency training in psychiatry.
I trained in Boston where I had the good fortune to do my training at variety of different hospitals. Early in my training and throughout my four years, I trained at a Veterans hospital and VA facilities. It was the Vietnam Nam veterans at those facilities who taught me about the Vietnam Nam war. I was a young female physician who worked intensively with veterans who had had harrowing experiences in combat, witnessed horrific scenes which they revisited, always unwelcome, time and time again, lost comrades, and in many ways lost the people that they had once been before they entered Vietnam Nam. At the time, I could not imagine why they would entrust their stories to me, a young woman, inexperienced psychiatrist, whose life must have seemed so unscathed by comparison, yet they did because what they needed most was to tell their stories. They so impacted me that I still remember their stories and I still remember their names now thirty years later. Although they all had returned from Vietnam Nam years earlier, Viet Nam was still with them every day in the form of hypervigilance, distrust, nightmares, feeling estranged from their loved ones and their country and so much more. Viet Nam had changed the course of their lives and had fundamentally changed them as people. After I finished my residency later in my own practice, another Vietnam Nam veteran found his way to me and we worked together for a number of years. He told me of many experiences, but one of the most most horrific was of the night that his company was ambushed and only 5 survived. Later the five of them found each other and made a mission of traveling to the Vietnam Nam wall to find all of the names of those who died that night and cried together for the first time since they left Viet Nam. However, he went on to to tell me that, since that day at the wall, two had killed themselves, one had died of alcoholism, and one had died a paraplegic. He was the sole survivor, and later he also died of alcoholism. It seemed to me when I heard that story that perhaps there many other names of men who didn’t die in combat, but who died as a result of the war, that should also be written on the Viet Nam Memorial. I feel honored to have known these men and to have been entrusted with their stories and their pain. I went to visit the Viet Nam Memorial myself and I have no words that can truly capture how it felt to me, other than it overwhelmed with powerful and deep feelings from all of those stories and all of those veterans who taught me in a profoundly personal way about their war in Viet Nam. I felt compelled to write this because It is my wish to honor them.