Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wwii Veterans Find Nightmares Returning

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wwii Veterans Find Nightmares Returning

Article excerpt

IN HIS NIGHTMARES, Dom sees the face of the first man he ever killed.

It is the face of a young German soldier. Blond hair, fair skin, eyes filled with surprise. In the dream, as in life, Dom steps forward, raises his rifle and slashes the bayonet across the young German's throat.

Shortly after his return from the war, he went to see his parish priest. In the confession booth, he told his story. He had sinned; he had killed another man. The priest told him, "Say three Hail Marys and three Our Fathers."

Dom prayed, but if it helped his eternal soul, it did little for his transitory conscience. In his dreams, he literally dangled between heaven and hell.

Now, a half-century later, Dom, 72 and tortured with guilt, a tough ex-cop with a 'dese, 'dem and 'dose accent, is among a surprising number of World War II veterans who have been diagnosed in recent years as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder - PTSD.

"I still see myself not going into heaven - going to hell for killing," he says. "I still get all these nightmares. That's what it's all about for me."

Until recently, PTSD was associated almost exclusively with Vietnam War veterans. To the extent that World War II veterans even thought about it, it was often to draw a distinction between themselves and the Vietnam veterans.

But now psychologists are finding that PTSD is ambushing many World War II veterans just as they begin to settle into retirement and the peace of advancing age.

In the past year, many World War II veterans have found their way to Veterans Affairs hospitals with complaints of sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, crying spells and other symptoms that VA psychologists recognize from their work with Vietnam veterans.

"Some of it is painfully emotional, about experiences they haven't told another soul about since World War II," said Dr. Kenneth Reinhard, a psychologist at the FDR Veterans Affairs Hospital in Montrose. "I'm kind of astonished that it's happening to them now."

Reinhard, a 42-year-old whose father fought on Guadalcanal, has long held group therapy sessions here for Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Last year, not long after the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he began a weekly session for World War II veterans and another that mixed veterans of World War II and Korea.

Some in the World War II group, including Dom (who asked that his last name not be used), have been suffering from post-traumatic stress since the war, but were able to keep it more or less in check until retirement.

Others, such as Dr. Bill Klink, a retired dentist from Middletown, N.Y., were seemingly unscathed by the war - until some event popped an emotional cork and allowed long-forgotten memories to bubble out and overwhelm them.

Psychologists theorize that many World War II veterans successfully held their trauma at bay by throwing themselves into their careers and families and, to some extent, simply denying they had a problem. …

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