It’s 2:00AM, early December 1967 in Chu Lai, South Viet Nam. I am awakened by an ear splitting explosion and a bright flash of light. The earth, my cot and our 10 person tent are shaking. Other Marines are yelling, “Incoming”. I jump out of the cot in my utilities and t-shirt, grab my helmet, flak jacket, rifle and run for the door and the sand bagged, open bunker right outside. I do not stop to put on my boots. The other Marines are already there. I find a corner to sit against. I pull my rifle and my knees up against my chest. I fold my head over my knees and pull my helmet down around my ears. We do not strap the helmet on. If an explosion happens too close, the concussion will lift the helmet off. If it is strapped to our head then our heads will be lifted off as well. I leave it loose. The explosions, flashing lights and shaking earth continue for a time. We wait for orders. I have been trained in the best possible outfit in the world. I knew this day would come. Curled up in the corner, shaking from the exploding mortars and my own fear, I am happy I did not wet myself. KaBoooom, shake shake, Kabooom.
It is someone else’s job tonight to track down and stop the enemy firing. After what seemed like somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 lifetimes, everything stops. All clear is sounded.
We go back our tents, smoke a joint and go back to sleep. I would serve here honorably for 18 months. I was there during the Tet Offensive of 1968. We got pounded.
In the Fall of 1968 I rotated back to Los Alamitos Naval Air Station for the remainder of my enlistment time.
I was fine. Except I tend to get a little weird during earthquakes and very loud noises. During earthquakes I have been known to grab the children and run outside looking for a bunker.
Fast forward to 1989. My wife and I are in a seminar in Newport Beach. Frances and I have been married for 10 years. There are about 100 people in the seminar. We are seated at opposite sides of the room.
An earthquake starts. I am sitting on the end of a row and my eyes open like silver dollars. Frances runs over to me, puts one hand my knee, the other hand on my nose and pulls my head to make eye contact.
She says, “Jim, it’s 1989. This is an earthquake.”
She repeats, “Jim, look here in my eyes, it’s 1989, this is an earthquake. We’re all okay”
I look her I the eye and exhale.
I say, “Oh yeah, oh yeah. Thank you. Thank you.”
She has seen me react to the shaking earth.
Someone I trusted brought me back into current time.
That was the last time I had a PTSD flashback.
We are all whole, perfect, complete and safe. And sometimes we forget.
Dr Jim Dohn Hellerwork, DC