Vexed by how the mainstream media often pass August 14 with barely a word in remembrance of the end of World War II, veteran Albert Perdeck recently wrote the New York Times, asking the paper to publish something to commemorate the 64th anniversary of V-J Day.
The Times answered Perdeck's request with a 1,037-word story on page A9 of the August 14 paper. But in his story - "Keeping Alive Memories That Bedevil Him " - writer Dan Barry focused on the grim aftermath of Perdeck's struggles with PTSD more than on honoring the Navy veteran and the men who fought and died alongside him to bring an end to the war.
As if to deflectany potential objection from Times readers for writing his story, Barry noted that Perdeck:
[D]oes not care that some people are uncomfortable with V-J Day, given the close relationship the country now has with Japan, and given two other dates in August 1945 (the 6th: Hiroshima, and the 9th: Nagasaki). To him, the day carries its own political correctness: It celebrates the victorious end to a world-saving war in which hundreds of thousands of Americans died far from home. He saw some of them die.
What followed was not so much a celebration of the life and sacrifice of Perdeck and his comrades but rather a story devoted almost exclusively to Perdeck's emotional torment:
On May 11, 1945, a kamikaze attack turned the flight deck of the Bunker Hill into an inferno. Pilots in the ready room died in their seats. Planes caught fire, their machine guns discharging rounds. The smoke created a black curtain that Mr. Perdeck could not quite part.
Wounded: 264. Missing: 43. Dead: 346.
V-J Day came just three months later. Mr. Perdeck remembers hearing the news while on liberty in Seattle. He ran through the streets shouting: "The war's over! The war's over!"
But that black curtain never quite parted. He hated Fourth of July fireworks and struggled with flashbacks, but it was more than that. Mrs. Perdeck said her husband would overreact when disciplining the children, when dealing with a conflict at work, when confronted, really, with everyday life. "He was always angry," she says, with love.
He could not shake free of the war. The burned and mutilated body parts. The rows of dead crewmates on the flight deck. That strange moment in the enveloping blackness when he stepped on a prostrate sailor, then yelled at the man to get the hell up, this is no time to sleep. The sailor, of course, could not wake.
In 1997, 51 years after his discharge, Mr. Perdeck told his wife he needed to talk to someone. She knew what he meant. It's about time, she said.
A clinical psychologist, Dr. Walter Florek, eventually gave a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Now the rage that Mr. Perdeck felt, the isolation, the anxiety and the sadness had a name.
Mr. Perdeck spent six weeks in a veterans' hospital, where he attended lots of meetings but does not recall encountering another veteran from his war, the one a half-century past. Did his hospitalization help? He shrugs.