Editor’s note: This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
In economics, the first lesson I teach my pupils is the lesson of things that are seen and things that are not seen. Actions produce some effects that are readily apparent and others that are not.
This truth applies to military veterans. Many return from their service scarred. Sometimes those scars are visible, as in the case of Ronny Porta, about whom I wrote last spring, or the Vietnam vet with whom I shared a poignant experience many Veterans Days ago. Other times, the scars are invisible.
The psychological wounds may be more common. A close friend and a cousin both have disturbing memories from their deployment to Vietnam. A young woman who played softball on my team in the ‘90s went through counseling after returning from Iraq a decade later.
The most vivid example of haunting memories came from the uncle who raised me. Pop was as tough and fearless as any man I've ever known, yet after a few stiff drinks at night, wartime memories that haunted him would come pouring out.
The experience that haunted him the most happened on the aircraft carrier Essex during World War II. Pop was in charge of making the planes flightworthy. One day, a fighter plane returned from its mission intact, except that when Pop checked the belly gunner's turret, he encountered a gory sight. The belly gunner's head had been blown off and the turret was a bloody mess.
With the ship’s chaplain conveying the messages, the captain of the Essex wanted to know if the aircraft could fly again. Yes, the plane could fly again, but the bloody mess within would smell horribly in the tropical heat. Pop recommended that the identity of the dead man be confirmed and that he be buried at sea in the plane in which he had given his life for his country. Upon receiving this message via the chaplain, the captain signaled “thumbs-up” from the bridge, and so the plane became a coffin that was pushed off the flight deck into the Pacific.
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