They went away as boys and those who survived came home as men. Some volunteered to answer their country's call and others were drafted. All collected memories, and sometimes guilt, they would like to forget.
In the world wars and Korea, the most extreme result of experiences etched on minds and souls was called shell shock. An infamous example came during WWII. Gen. George Patton angrily slapped an otherwise healthy soldier who had suffered a mental and emotional collapse. The general displayed the kind of incomprehension too often displayed by the public. The less obviously wounded hid their emotions. They lived in a society that said men don't cry.
It wasn't until long after the Vietnam War the result of buried memories was diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, or not-so simply as PTSD. WWII and Korean War victims of the malady largely were ignored. Vietnam veterans carried the additional anger of coming home to a hostile public. More sufferers of PTSD are coming home from the Mideast.
One Mauian apparently was killed by PTSD. By all accounts, he was not diagnosed, but showed many of the symptoms. To protect the memory of this widely known island character, let's call him James. This is his story.
Characteristically, James traveled a winding road on Maui. At one time, he was a professional diver, working with tourists and hunting the sea bottom off Lahaina for puka shells. For this high-risk job, he breathed through an air hose running from a gas-engine compressor on a boat.
"I nearly died when the compressor sucked in carbon monoxide from the exhaust," James once said. His war experiences went untold. Although he maintained an interest in diving, he went ashore to work in construction. He didn't want to dive, even recreationally. He wanted to remember the lush ocean off West Maui as it was, not as the barren reefs of today.
James dove into what he called nail-bending, taking on all sorts of jobs, including the construction of several clothing stores for the woman who shared his unsettled life for a time. At one point, he talked officials into renting him a state-owned house in Olinda and was introduced to marijuana, which proved to take the edges off his personality. It's called self-medication.
Eventually, James acquired an Upcountry store. He bought a place devoted to outdoor and hunting gear and acquired a federal license to sell firearms. To maintain some sort of income, he slowly shifted from selling knives and guns to more benign goods.
James spent his days holding court behind a counter near the front entrance. He had a vintage M1 bayonet in the drawer under his cash register. Nearby was a fax machine he used for business and salty letters to the editor.
On the streets around his store he displayed a quick temper when faced by rowdies. Neighboring store operators appreciated his efforts. In his pocket, James carried a sap, a lead-weighted, leather cudgel that could flatten the biggest tough. In one boot, there was a .22-caliber pistol. At home, he had an AR15, the civilian version of the M16 assault rifle.
His temper was well-known. One individual goaded James. The first time, the confrontation was verbal. "The next time he gets in my face, I'm going to take him down," James said.
A friend counseled restraint. "That's what he wants you to do and you'll end up in jail." That same friend once responded angrily to a letter James had written. It was only by a feat of control - the effort was visible on his face - the friend escaped an extreme reaction.
One fateful day at a social event, James suffered a stroke. He awoke in the hospital, looked around, ripped the tubes out of his arm, got dressed and called for a cab to take him home. He claimed leaving the hospital against medical advice was due to a lack of insurance. Others should have known better. It was more likely not wanting someone else in control and a lack of trust that prompted the move.
James had lingering affects of the stroke, which could have been cured with drugs he would have received in the hospital. A couple of years later, he had another stroke. This one proved fatal for the Vietnam veteran. He didn't need to die.
Other Mauians suffering from PTSD don't need to suffer. Veterans of military service protected those of us who didn't go. Now it's time to fight for them.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.