My father, my father-in-law, and my uncle were all combat veterans of World War II. The stories Dad told when I was growing up were in the vein of Twelve O'Clock High, colored (or perhaps discolored) by Hollywood's inevitable falling-short of the ugly realities of battle. When my father-in-law was stationed in Munich from 1960 to 1962, my wife and mother-in-law had the chance to take a tour of the Dachau concentration camp. My father-in-law drove them to the tour, but refused to go in. When my mother-in-law asked him why, he said, "I've seen this before." Having confronted the horrors in real life, he had no need to replay them. It's perhaps natural to shy away from such things, at least until they come calling at one's door.
I'm one of the lucky members of the Vietnam generation, as my draft number was high enough to spare me the need to spend two years as a guest of Uncle Sam. Many of my friends, however, spent time there and I've drawn as much information from them as I dare. How they handled those experiences ranges from, "I was young and knew nothing could kill me" to remaining close-mouthed. One incident which impressed itself on my mind was back in 1980. My wife and I were newlyweds and celebrating Independence Day in our first house. We invited two friends from our church to a cookout. While Harry (not my friend's real name) and I were tending the grill, the kids next door started setting off strings of firecrackers. When the pop-pop-pop-pop of the first string sounded, Harry went straight for the ground. It was a protective reaction so deeply ingrained ten years hadn't wrung it out of him.
I have an outline for a novel with the working title Down a Lonely Street. The protagonist is a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran named Roger Davenport. When he and his bride take a tour of the D-Day beaches during their honeymoon, a chance meeting with an elderly Dutchman yields an invitation to visit Nijmegen, a city heavily damaged during Operation Market-Garden (think A Bridge Too Far). I've excerpted this episode in the form of a story titled "Woman in Light, Man in Shadow" in Tangled Woods and Dark Waters. It's a case of a man confronting demons that have been his constant companions for years.
What demons do you and I need to face down?