No writing is more important to war veterans than books such as Firefights of the Mind: When the Demons of War Follow You Home (CreateSpace, 322 pp., $15, paper; $9.99 Kindle) by Ed Kugler. And here’s why.
I served in Vietnam in my thirties, well beyond the impressionable teen years. In various jobs, I helped haul the dead, wounded, and dispossessed; re-supplied grunts in hellholes; and set convoys of NVA trucks ablaze. All of it was part of the job, neither good nor bad. Having spent ten years rehearsing those roles, I hated when they ended in 1973.
Did I suffer from PTSD? Maybe. But in the 1980s, I wrote about my Vietnam and Laos experiences, and eventually the weird dreams subsided.
Now, I read autobiographies of groundpounders and helicopter crewmen who went to Vietnam straight out of high school and I occasionally weep for them: How did they endure nearly a half century of post-traumatic stress disorder?
Ed Kugler feels the same way. He spent two consecutive years in Vietnam as a Marine sniper and wrote about it in a book called Dead Center . Firefights of the Mind examines a later time in his life—1993, twenty-five years after Kugler returned from the war. It was an eye-opening year, but Kugler still needed an additional fifteen years before he accepted help for his PTSD.
His new book is part diary, part biography, and “a guide for everyone out there with a loved one who ‘came home’ from war, ” Kugler tells us. “There is life after combat, ” he writes, and he’s “living proof.” He aims his advice at veterans of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Kugler offers guidance in how to cope with the aftermath of exposure to combat. He doesn’t exactly offer a “twelve-step program” for subduing one’s demons, but he does lay out a plan to ease the transition from a war zone to the peacetime world.
The core of the book recounts Kugler’s activities for practically every day of 1993, most of which triggered flashbacks to his time in Vietnam. He was a corporate executive with a beautiful family, yet life’s trivialities often stressed him to his limit. However, he recognized this weakness and the need to fight a constant battle to maintain his psychological balance. He knew that “it’s great to be alive” even while “holding [his] own with the black that’s still hovering close like a thunderstorm about to let loose.” Kugler vividly shows that he has walked the road that he points out for others.
This is Kugler’s eighth book. He has strong opinions, as reflected by his book, Obamunism: The Enemy Within . But as I read him, Kugler’s heart and intentions are pure. Furthermore, he and I agree that America’s approach to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wrong and psychologically crushes people who deploy there.
We also agree on the best way to fight PTSD: Tell your story and expose your demons. Once you see them, then you can pick them off, exactly like a sniper.
The author’s website is www.edkugler.com