Vietnam Vet Deals with PTSD by writing his story
By Judie Holcomb-Pack
Marines. The few. The proud. When George Horton joined the Marines in 1966, he wanted to join the best, the toughest, military unit to test himself. He passed the first part of the test, but wasn’t prepared for the last part that occurred 35 years later – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
George always wanted to be a soldier. After his 1966 graduation from Freedman High School in Lenoir, he joined the Marines, along with five of his buddies. George said, “We knew about Vietnam, but we really did not know about the war.”
On June 6 at 2 a.m. in Parris Island, S.C., George met his drill instructor, who proceeded to scare the bejesus out of him. (He must have made quite an impression for George to remember the date and the time!) The third week of boot camp his grandmother passed away and George returned home for the funeral. When he returned, he was attached to a new platoon, which George admitted “might have saved my life.” His original platoon suffered heavy casualties in Vietnam.
After boot camp, he went to jungle training school in Panama and then to Vietnam. George described Vietnam as “hot, muggy, sticky, rainy and dangerous … you forgot that you were away from home. The only thing you wanted to do was to survive and get back home.” What kept him going was dreaming about getting home and buying a brand new car.
George remembers returning to the states and landing in California, where he was cursed and spit upon – not exactly the hero’s welcome that veterans from previous wars had received. When he got back to Lenoir, he did buy that new car – a 1968 396 Chevrolet Super Sport, Carolina Blue. A friend drove it off the lot because he didn’t have a driver’s license!
His next duty station was Washington, D.C., where he helped bury soldiers in Arlington Cemetery and he was in the detail that went to Kansas to bury President Eisenhower. Finally George had had enough of death and dying, so he left the military and became a D.C. police officer. George says, “It was like leaving one war and going right back into another.”
George left D.C. and moved around for a while, living in Florida and St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands. Until that point, George’s life had been one adventure after another. Wherever he lived, whatever he was doing, he gleaned every bit of joy possible out of the experience. According to George, “There is a sense of adventure in that because you go places and do things, and learning to survive, grow and overcome obstacles is good training for life.” However, after his mother passed away, George realized how alone he was with no family close by, so he moved back to Lenoir. That was a fortuitous move, because he met the woman who would become his wife. They eventually moved to Winston-Salem, bought a home and adopted two lovely children. He was happy and felt his life was complete.
Then September 11 happened. George had just walked into Home Depot where he was working and noticed everyone gathered around the television. He saw the towers come down and just couldn’t believe it. As he left the store, he noticed helicopters flying overhead. With no warning, he was back in Vietnam, fighting the war. He remembers, “I became obsessed with the whole idea of war. All those things about war that I had suppressed once I came back from Vietnam started coming back to me.”
How do you deal with the emotional upheavals from childhood to adulthood to facing death in a war that scars you so deeply that you live it day and night? For George Horton, it was writing a book about what he has experienced throughout his life. Reading “Crosswords in Life” is like having a conversation over a cup of coffee with a friend. The book covers an incredible life in 55 short pages that illustrate George’s positive attitude and a joyful spirit. He writes, “The accolades that you have in life and the money you’ve made don’t make any difference; it is all about loving, being kind, and being generous.” And in the end, all he hopes for is that someone will remember him and say: “He was a good guy.”
George Horton’s book, “Crossroads in Life,” is available at amazon.com.
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