Guest: Jack Estes
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Jack Estes was a decorated United States Marine who served during the bloodiest years of Vietnam. He previously wrote the critically-acclaimed memoir, A Field of Innocence, which recounts his experiences in Vietnam. His articles and essays have appeared in Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, San Diego Tribune, The Oregonian, and many publications. He created the Fallen Warriors Foundation, an organization to honor the memory and sacrifices of American soldiers and help heal the pain of war.
Segment overview: Jack Estes, author of the new novel “A Soldier’s Son,” and decorated Vietnam Veteran, talks about founding the Fallen Warriors Foundation and support systems that can help veterans from taking their own life and get them the help they need.
Health Professional Radio – The Fallen Warriors Foundation
Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard thank you for joining us today. Our guest in studio is Mr. jack Estes, decorated Vietnam veteran who spent much of his life as an advocate for the needs of veterans both with his charity, the Fallen Warrior’s Foundation and in his writing. Now he’s recently featured in the Wall Street Journals for memorial day but he’s also written for Newsweek, The Oregonian, The LA Times and many others including his critically acclaimed Vietnam memoir, A Field of Innocence and his brand new novel, A Soldier’s Son which was recently released. Welcome to Health Professional Radio Jack.
Jack Estes: Well thank you.
N: Thank you so much for returning. When we were here before in another segment we talked about your experiences in Vietnam, we also talked about some of the effects that seeing the things that combat reveal to you had a huge effect on how you reacted when you returned home. Let’s talk a little bit about what happened when you got back from Vietnam. I think you mentioned that you’re in your second marriage now and it’s lasted for many, many years, yeah?
J: That’s correct, when I came home though from Vietnam I was still 19 and I was married and we had a baby and that was in, I believe it was in August, 1969 and then by November of that year my wife had left me and years later we looked at back through some of the bigger news and the reasons and the main reason that she left was because I scared her. It was the look in my eyes and the way that I reacted to her so I just come from a situation where I experienced things above and beyond the realm of normal human experience and that had an impact on me which in turn had an impact on her. And that’s what PTSD is about, it impacts the veteran, the family and the community and of course the children.
N: Now you are in this situation, your wife had left you. How long was it between realizing that things just aren’t right for me personally and someone diagnosing you correctly with post-traumatic stress disorder?
J: Well I was 19, turned 20 when she left and PTSD wasn’t the find until decades later and so I had these feelings inside of me but I was ashamed to express them and one of the things that impacted veterans of my era and even holds true to some extent was the feeling of that you have a weakness in you if you are allowed to be controlled by the feelings that you have relative to Vietnam and to go see a doctor would be shameful. To see a therapist about this would be shameful and of course there weren’t really any progressive programs at that time so I went through a number of years of dropping in and out of college and working. I worked with the rail road and moved in track and chopping the ice off tunnels and I was an iron worker and… then I started real estate and I met my wife and she had, I told her that I was working on a book and she was fascinated by that because she was a literature major and through my book and trying to sell real estate, building this that she actually owned, we got married and it wasn’t until we were married and a number of years later that I was trying to work on PTSD. For example she’d been after me for a number of years to go into see about getting clinically diagnosed and I just didn’t want to do it because I was too ashamed, I finally went in and sat down with the intake counselor there so that a bunch of questionnaires and she said ‘You’ll be the easiest person to be diagnosed for PTSD that I’ve seen.’ And she says ‘Go home and take these papers and fill them out and bring them back to me’ and I said ‘Okay.’ I went home and I didn’t go back for over a year because that shame and remorse and grief that I felt. So actually it was many years into my marriage before I really started attacking this problem seriously.
N: Well let’s fast forward to the time when you decided that it was time to do something on a much more large scale level to help others like yourself. Let’s talk about the Fallen Warriors Foundation.
J: Well it started in 1993 when I made a trip to Vietnam Humanitarian trip with my wife and actually our two children and it was my wife’s thoughts and consideration that if I were to go back to the village that I used to live in and if I were to carry boxes of toys and medical and educational supplies and was able to…back in my village it would replace the muscle memory I had of carrying a machine gun and so it really started from there and we were able to form a charitable non-profit and bring people into sit on the board and over the years we’ve done many different things. We did, for instance we did three more trips to Vietnam, I took doctors and nurses to the village that I lived in and also to the dilapidated run down hospitals so I took doctors and nurses there to take care for the poorest of the poor and then I was able to take back kidney dialysis machines and other medical tools and I also took a group of Vietnam veterans, all of them disabled and we were able to get them back to their original point of pain in other words to a place where the most horrible experience happened to them and they were also carrying toys and other things for villagers and all of that helped them deal with PTSD or even identified it if they didn’t understand that that’s what they were going through.
N: You’ve done quite a lot of writing to different journals and what not, the LA Times, News Week, have you written specifically about PTSD or helping veterans to identify that original point of pain and then deal with PTSD?
J: Yes, to answer your question and much of the writing that I have done has to do with PTSD. When I was laying in the middle of the field, in the rice paddy one time and people were being shot and killed around me and I felt like God spoke to me and protected me and something that I experienced and I think everybody wonders about what their life is about, what they’re meant to do, well I decided that long ago when I was in college I finally started to settle down that my gift and my duty and my mission is to help honor our veterans and at the same time address their pain and I do that through my writing. But the Fallen Warrior’s Foundation has done many, many more things. For instance we did seventeen years of retreats for veterans and their loved ones and our retreats were different, there were actually ahead the time and this again was my wife’s idea, we brought in a Zen Buddhist monk who happened to have been a Vietnam veteran and was the crew chief from helicopters and shot down several times over Vietnam, his name is Claude AnShin Thomas and he headed these silent, meditation retreats and helped deal with the pain associated with war and we’ve produced or co-produced a couple of videos which you can by the way if you want to look up any of these information, you can go to jackestes.com and there’s also many essays on that and information about the Fallen Warriors but now we’re facing out of the Fallen Warriors Foundation we’ve got one last thing that we’re going to be doing and that’ll happen next year and it’ll be a night of remembrance and it’ll be more on the Christian kind of event and anyway we’re still kind of formulating everything for that but we’ll be doing that.
N: It’ll be coming together pretty quick though, yeah? Let’s talk to our health care professionals who are listening, the folks that are caring for as I said the VA in our respective hospitals around the country and around the world. What is that one thing in your experience as a long time sufferer of PTSD who’s dedicated your time to helping other folks, soldiers with this disorder? Talk to the health care professional who’s trying to understand how to connect with the patient.
J: That’s a pretty difficult question but I would think that one of the things that veterans need to know because they don’t know this when they first experienced PTSD, they don’t know that they’re not alone, they think that what they think and feel is unique. You have to do it in a course and a gentle way. I believe in talk therapy but I also believe in many different modalities but I would suggest that that’s the first thing that they need to do. And the veteran needs to talk about what he’s experienced and what’s helped to me is of course I’ve talked about it quite a bit in high schools and colleges, in other situations and I write about it and maybe a person that can’t talk about it right then in front of the therapist maybe you could ease them into revealing some of their pain by saying ‘Why don’t you just write a couple of paragraphs at home, think about it a little bit, come back and let’s talk about what you’ve written and how you feel.’
N: Great. It’s been a pleasure taking with you Jack. Thanks so much for coming in.
J: You betcha.
N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard in studio with Jack Estes, decorated Vietnam veteran and founder of the Fallen Warriors Foundation. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm and you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.