American POWs of World War II: Forgotten Men Tell Their Stories

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Lifestyle Shock: The Psychological Experience of Being an American Prisoner of War in the Vietnam War

Charles A. Stenger

The following is an attempt to describe the profound psychological impact of being a POW. It is based on information and input from a number of sources: studies of POWs. from World War II and Korea, U.S. Department of Defense interview with Vietnam-era servicemen who escaped or were released, and the analyses of those knowledgeable in this area. It also reflects the views of the author who was a POW during World War II. Its purpose is to increase the understanding and sensitivity of anyone who may become involved in the lives of returned Vietnam POWs. While it should be considered a generally accurate portrayal of the realities and impact of life in a captive environment, it must be remembered that each POW is an individual whose experiences in captivity were unique to him alone.


PERSPECTIVE

The manner in which we humans live, work, play, and plan for tomorrow is of central importance to our existence. Through this lifestyle we seek to find meaning, direction, and fulfillment in life. Through it we function with reasonable confidence in our ability to cope with change, adversity, and threats to survival and with reasonable confidence that we can count on the support of our families, associates, and society.

What happens when that lifestyle is suddenly and completely altered? What happens when all of the things that sustained and gave direction to life are missing? What happens when this occurs because environmental force, physical and social, no longer can be relied on to be supportive but instead are seen as unfamiliar, unpredictable, and hostile? This is the lifestyle shock

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