David W. Powell

David W. Powell

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
September 17, 2006

Q.    What inspired you to write your memoirs of your experience in Vietnam?

A.    Two compelling reasons:

The first was an invitation to write my memoir with the editing help of my friend and Traumatic Incident Reduction practitioner, Mr. Gerald French. Gerald thought that it would be compelling to create a memoir that was co-authored by the "client" and his "practitioner". Shortly after starting the project, we lost contact with one another due to changing priorities. I was extremely fortunate to connect with my editor and friend, Mr. Victor R. Volkman, who greatly influenced the format and content of my book.

The other and much stronger reason was my observation of our brave military service members going to Afghanistan and Iraq, then returning home to loved ones and friends in silence to our nation who disapproves of our war efforts. I know their pain and despair when they come home and are not lovingly embraced and are not asked, "What happened to you?" I wanted desperately to speak for them, for I believe that combat and trauma experiences are the same, regardless when or where it happened.

Q.    Would you share with the reader out of your experience in Vietnam, what was the most traumatic one for you?

A.    Each traumatic episode has its own particular intensity, or "charge", but to pick one for the reader that may resonate most clearly, it was the time I was shot in the chest by the enemy while I was on a daylight patrol.

"I should have been looking up, 'cause Jimmy had come to a stop halfway through the crossing. I almost ran into him when all of a sudden several VC lying prone on the causeway ambushed us.

My 'slow-motion memory' kicked in again.

A bullet, moving at about one inch per second from my left to my right, grazed the back of Jimmy's flak jacket. As it inched its way across his back, I could see it ripping through the cloth. It looked like a thread was being pulled out of his jacket. I was transfixed, staring at this amazing sight. I broke away from my hypnotic state. I had been shot."

Q.    Would you explain to the readers what PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is?

A.    I'll abbreviate the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM), version 4. I will try to summarize it instead of quoting it. Then I'll tell you what PTSD means to me.

   A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event, which contained:

        1. Actual or threatened death or serious injury

         2. Their response involved intense fear.

   B. The event is persistently re-experienced:

         1. Recurrent distressing recollections of the event, and/or

         2. Dreams of the event, and/or

         3. A sense of reliving the event, and/or

And it goes on along those lines, ending with "Delayed Onset" when the symptoms are at least 6 months after the stressor.

My version is that I committed horrific acts and watched others do the same. All of them were outside the range of ordinary human living. My life as a common citizen, living a common life was forever compromised.

Q.    How did your family cope with your PTSD illness?

A.    The majority of my PTSD symptoms fell into the category of "Delayed Onset", and didn't manifest themselves until several years after my discharge from Active Duty.

My initial family experiences were based upon my acute combat readiness and instinctive responses to perceived "danger". My actions were ignored. For example:

"My parents, in an attempt to integrate me back into a life-as-usual program, took me to a nine-hole golf course for a July 4th 1968 outing. At the sixth hole that morning, around 8am, we were all approaching the green, readying to putt out. Someone near the golf course lit off a string of firecrackers in celebration of our Independence Day. The next two things I remember from that episode are: (1) I found myself prone in a sand trap adjacent to putting surface with the business-end of my putter buried in my right shoulder, pointing my would-be 'rifle', as it were, toward the origin of the noises, and (2) coming back into real-life in time to see both my mom and dad turn 180 degrees away from me, shocked and bewildered at my behavior. Embarrassed and humiliated, I stood up, tried to brush sand off my clothes with my trembling hands, and broke the stony silence, announcing 'Happy Fourth of July!'"

Q.    Is there anything that you would like to share with the reader that was not mentioned in your memoirs?

A.    I would like to tell the reader that having PTSD does not make you an evil, or "damaged" person whose value to him/herself and the whole human family is worthless. PTSD can be treated and there is no shame in seeking help for the condition.

Q.    Do you feel you are coping with your Vietnam trauma a lot better now that you have had therapy?

A.    Immensely better. I now sleep through most nights (something I couldn't do), I remember my dreams, and I've had other private victories. For example, I can sing the Star Spangled Banner from start to finish without choking. I am a good, patient conversationalist. I can make friends and keep them. I can look toward my future with optimism and hope.

Q.    Where are you in your spiritual life?

A.    I believe that in war my life and limbs were spared because of my belief in God and His mercy.

I believe that I didn't commit suicide because God wouldn't want me in His house if I did, and that I was meant to do something good for my fellow human beings.

God, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost walk in front of me and by my side as I go through each new day.

Q.    What advice would you give fellow soldiers who are experiencing PTSD?

A.    Acknowledge to yourself that you are suffering, mentally. Report your condition to your superiors and ask for mental health intervention. Investigate the Traumatic Incident Reduction Association and/or visit their website at: TIR.ORG. Talk to one of their fine practitioners yourself, and encourage your family to get involved with your repair immediately!

Q.    What message would you like the reader to receive from reading MY TOUR IN HELL?

A.    I hope they will feel like they have gone through my experiences and my healing right next to me and come away with the belief that they can understand what is often only shared in a therapeutic setting. For the wounded warrior, I encourage them to tell their stories and to find help. For the loved ones who have a wounded warrior back in their lives, I encourage them to find help for their impaired child/spouse, even if the wounded one denies any malady.