31 May, 2010

Well Done, Those Men

Well Done, Those Men - Barry Heard

I've had this on my shelf for awhile. While listening to the radio the other day, I heard an interview with Barry Heard and it was enough to get me motivated to find the book and read it.

Well Done, Those Men is Barry Heard's memoir of army training, a tour of Vietnam and the aftermath. It's one of those books that opens your eyes to the awful reality for returning servicemen who are not supported, cared for or understood.

Heard clearly outlines the steps taken to break the men down so they are almost robotic - follow orders without question. It also explains the process of dehumanising in order to survive the tour of Vietnam and how all the emotions many Vietnam Vets pushed down, ignored and masked in a variety of ways eventually break through and cause a illness - both physical and mental.

On his return from Vietnam, Heard thought he had it all together, he studied, he held down jobs, he eventually got married but if he stopped, the nightmares and the fears would start up again. He finds August an almost impossible month to get through as it is the anniversary of a terrible contact during his tour of Vietnam. One that saw a massive loss of life.

What Heard doesn't realise is he is not the only one. The silence many Vets maintained about their experiences and the issues they faced when the returned meant many thought they were suffering alone.

I think the experiences of Vietnam Vets taught us a lot about returning servicemen and how we need to support them. It taught us that regardless of whether we support a war or not, the men and women on the ground need and deserve support and understanding. I'm sure given the choice many would choose not to be in a war zone. We cannot blame them for a government's decision. I am not a supporter of the invasion in Iraq - never have been and have never hidden it. But, I have a huge amount of admiration for the service personnel over there who put their lives on the line everyday. Regardless of my own point of view, if I ever meet someone who has served, I will be saying Well done, those men. (and women!)