Invisible Wounds

By Keyser, Jim | The Christian Century, February 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Invisible Wounds


Keyser, Jim, The Christian Century


WE HEAR ABOUT the U.S troops killed in Iraq, and we sometimes see their faces on the TV screen or staring out at us from the newspaper. The number of dead stands at about 1,442. There is a second statistic: 10,770 troops have been injured. For many of them, their bodies are terribly damaged and disfigured, and they will never be the same.

There's another category of wounded that is almost always ignored and neglected. We'll never see this statistic, but I am certain these wounded will number in the tens of thousands before the war is over. These men and women may look fine. They may have no burn scars, gunshot holes or missing limbs--no visible evidence that they've been in combat. Yet their lives are as irreversibly damaged and debilitated as if they'd lost arms, legs or sight. Their wounds are emotional and spiritual, and they have left deep scars.

I recently had a preview of what we're in for with Iraq veterans when a veteran of Vietnam, a man who had gone to Sunday school in the church I'm serving, came into the office and asked if he could talk. He was 50-something, dressed in jeans, denim jacket, and a T-shirt with a picture of the American flag emblazoned on the front. He looked fine. He wasn't drunk or drugged. He wasn't asking for money. He was a truck driver who "just wanted to talk." I'll call him John.

John said he needed to tell someone things he couldn't tell his wife. A few days earlier, he'd been driving in his truck and had almost hit a motorcyclist who "appeared from nowhere."

"Imagine what I would have done to him," John said, his hands trembling as he spoke. When he told his supervisor, John added that he wasn't sure he'd be able to drive a truck any more.

John's close call reminded him of a time on the road outside of Saigon when the driver of a jeep he was riding in turned and casually said to him, "See that eight-year-old kid on the bicycle up ahead? He ain't goin' home tonight." He swerved and hit the boy, John recalled, his voice cracked with emotion. "What we did to that little boy flashed back to me when I nearly killed the motorcyclist."

He went on to tell of other horrific events, some of which he participated in, others he merely witnessed. …

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