I enlisted in the Army at the height of the Vietnam War—1967. I came from a southern family with a strong military background and felt that serving the country was the right thing to do in a time of need.
Because I wanted to see some action, I volunteered for army aviation and ended up in an air cavalry squadron in IV Corps. Not satisfied with the safety of the ground crew, I volunteered for the Scout platoon. Participation in dozens of combat missions provided a great deal of close combat with both VC and NVA fighters. I was quite successful.
I loved it.
However, I quickly became confused about the ARVNs’ unwillingness to fight. I witnessed these failures on numerous occasions and mistakenly chalked it up as cowardice.
The confusion persisted when I returned home. I began reading everything I could find about the Vietnam War and the US role.
I did not like what I learned. While I thought we were fighting a northern invader, similar to the Korean War, it was obvious that we had started a civil war then intervened in order to support a puppet government.
This knowledge caused decades of overwhelming guilt. I questioned my role in the war and wondered if my actions were honorable, or evil. It worsened my PTSD and eventually led me to seek therapy from the VA.
After several years of therapy, my VA counselor suggested that I write a memoir, detailing my war experiences and the feelings they caused. My original intent was to write the memoir for my immediate family. Because these war experiences are difficult to discuss with loved ones, I believed that putting them in writing was a good way to communicate with my family, and help them understand my post-war behavior.
Writing a memoir can be a risky undertaking for combat veterans and others suffering the effects of PTSD. It sometimes causes the individual to re-live the traumas and leads to increased PTSD episodes. Therefore, I discussed the project thoroughly with my VA counselor. She thought the project would be worthwhile and encouraged me to proceed.
I found it to be a very therapeutic exercise. The research I performed allowed me to organize my memories and placed my actions into the context of the times. The memoir, combined with my VA therapy, enabled me to overcome decades of guilt. I recognized and accepted the fact that volunteering for combat was something I had to do. To do otherwise would have resulted in even more misery.
The memoir achieved my immediate goal. It created a platform that I could share with my family. Through it, I opened a dialog that allowed me to discuss my experiences in a non-threatening way. This gave them a better understanding of those experiences and my behavior.
The most rewarding aspect of the memoir was the positive feedback I received from other veterans and surviving family members. Warpath sold approximately 11,300 copies, following its January 2022 release. Hundreds of veterans reached out to me, through direct emails or Facebook comments. Most were appreciative of my description of my post-war experiences with PTSD. I spoke directly with several dozen veterans. All of these conversations were positive. Many thanked me for getting their thoughts and experiences on paper in a way they could not. Some asked for help with enrolling in the VA’s therapy sessions. Some just wanted to talk to someone who could relate to their experiences, both during the war and after. For many, this was a first time experience.
You might find it helpful to write your own memoir. However, you must consider the potential risks. If you are undergoing PTSD therapy, you should discuss those risks with your therapist and decide upon the best course of action for you.
Your memoir does not have to take the form of complete and polished book, ready for publication. You can start by writing short stories, describing particular incidents and recollections that you want to memorialize. The key here is to start writing. Start today!
AJ Moore served as a Scout with the 7th Squadron, 1st Air Cavalry Regiment in 1969. When he enlisted in the US Army in 1967, he was a patriotic “true believer” in the war effort. His combat experience changed that. He is the author of Warpath: One Vietnam Veteran’s Journey through War, Disillusionment, Guilt and Recovery.
See also previous posts in this conversation:
“…After All These Years,” Susan Dixon
“Why writing about the Vietnam War is still relevant—and necessary,” AJ Moore
“Vietnam War: Facts and Opinions,” Tom Gery