” … except for one thing that he has told no one, a dream he has been having ever since:
Harrelson, on fire, asking him, “Why didn’t you save me?”
The dream comes every few nights. He never dreams about the soldiers he did save, only about Harrelson, and only in that way. For a while he could handle it, and then one day, he couldn’t.”
“Thank You For Your Service” is an incredible book by journalist David Finkel that pays homage to veterans who are neither decorated nor fallen, but rather an invisible group of men who have sacrificed for the nation and fallen through the cracks, such as Tausolo Aieti who is quoted above.
The main focus of Finkel’s documentation is about soldiers suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and other psychological problems, which are the results of America’s participation in their two most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Snapshots of the daily lives of these soldiers are presented to highlight their internal struggle in coping with simple tasks such as remembering things and paying attention while juggling with the demands of reality towards their wives, children, work and debt that weigh on their shoulders.
It became really emotional to read about how the invisible war inside their heads slowly took its toll on the real world, crumbling relationships and the men’s sanity, where many attempted to commit suicide. One guy tried to bite his right wrist to end his life because his left was incapacitated, another overdosed on drugs, while the last guy was found by his wife hanging from their house’s staircase.
“They had heard explosion after explosion and seen dozens of Humvees disappear into breathtaking clouds of fire and debris, and by the end most of them had been inside such a cloud themselves… So they knew. They knew. And yet day after day they would go out anyway, which eventually came to be what the war was about. Not winning. Not losing. Nothing so grand. Just trying until it was time to go home and discovering that life after the war turned on trying again.”
When writing about mental illnesses, the biggest challenge is to articulate what goes on inside the mind into actual words, and the author does a splendid job out of it. Through the introduction of multiple voices apart from the soldiers, such as their wives and staff from the Department of Veteran Affairs, the author helped to give shape to this invisible illness that is fought behind closed doors.
As a civilian, I found it very hard to fully comprehend with the war front experiences and emotional trauma the soldiers had been through, but their struggles back home are real and absolutely heart wrenching to read.
“Thank You For Your Service” is a top-notch quality read that will certainly go down my best reads of the year.