The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


October 10, 2006

Name: Zachary Scott-Singley
Posting date: 10/10/06
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

I cried. It was Memorial Day and it hit me so hard, my first Memorial Day since leaving the Army. My wife watched me and felt helpless as I sat there and quietly broke down in long silent sobs as the memories came flooding back and the guilt started again. She didn't know exactly what to do. She made sure my son and daughter were still playing together in the other room and she held me.

She suggested we go to my father's house so that I could talk to him. He had served in Vietnam and I knew he would know what I was going through. I drove without saying a word as I turned on the radio to NPR and listened to vets talk about those they lost. They had one vet for each war since World War I. I drove with big rolling tears quietly so that my children wouldn't know that their father was so weak right then.

I saw my father in his backyard watering the grass and as I walked up to him Tara drove off with the kids. I crumpled in a heap when he turned to me and I couldn't make it stop. Memories I thought I had filed away came flying back hitting me, and without control I finally sobbed aloud as he walked over and extended his hand.

The only thing he said just then was, “You feel guilty don't you?” He knew without even needing to ask. I was so very grateful for him at that moment. Not to have to talk about it and try to explain, just being able to have someone understand without asking anything was like gold. After a few minutes I calmed down and asked him if it was ever that hard for him. He told me it was. The memories, and feeling that guilt for coming back alive while so many others have died, both soldiers and civilians. That was all I could think about that day: Why me? God, why did you let me live when you took so many others? But it wasn't God; it was us, mankind that did this.

My father helped me put myself back together piece by piece until I felt complete again and that it was over. The rest of the day was uneventful, but in the back of my mind I realize that the guilt is still there. It always was, I just didn't see it until that day. I
love you Dad, and I know why you came back alive from Vietnam. You came back because I needed you.


Thank you for your posting. You've helped me see that there can be healing and meaning even in war. I'm so glad your dad can understand.

Crying is not a sign of weakness - it is the sign of strength in a person who can do what he or she needs to do, and who still has a conscience with which to think about what has been done. God bless you for doing your duty in uniform.

I strongly identify with your reactions and emotions. Even after 37 years from Nam, guilt and sorrow burns in my heart and head. Your Dad is probably the same way. If you think it goes away after time, don't bet on it. My PTSD is private and not being treated by the VA or TRICARE For Life. The antidepressants I take under the guise of Clinical Depression help and take a lot of the edge off, but at times - special days, noises, smells, memories, lack of sleep or over-exertion - I'm pushed back to a different time and places. The flashbacks are the worst; daytime or night. But the thing is to keep on keeping on. You can't control the past, but you can work at controlling your reactions. My prayers are with you and our Brothers and Sisters, those lost and those still in the Stuff. "To Those Gone Before Us, and To Those Yet To Come" is my toast on those occasions when I think it appropriate. Please hang in there. And tell your Dad, "Welcome Home".
First Sergeant
US Army

Why do you feel guilty?

One comment: Crying is not weakness. You're not weak. It shows you still feel and that's a good thing. I tear up when I think of friends I lost years ago in the Navy, I tear up when ABC shows the names of the dead every Sunday morning. Worry about yourself when you can't cry anymore. And God bless you for your service.

You made this old Vietnam vet's eyes misty ... I'm glad you have your Dad ... I'm also glad my son never had to go to war so we didn't have to share the pain you both experienced and are experiencing ... Keep your head high and be proud ... No one else thinks you're guilty of anything at all!! Bud

Stages of recovery from emotional trauma (imho):

Denial, anger, grief, fear, shame, acceptance.

My prayers go out to all of the soldiers that serve our nation, in the hopes that one day we will fight no more.

Thank you for your post Zachary.

I was a signal Soldier. After the first 5 or 6 months of the Iraq conflict we had minimized the amount of time spent outside of the wire. We drove back down to Kuwait after our relief showed up, and I returned home in late March, 2004.

I know the type of guilt that you speak of. My first exposure to the news after returning from Iraq was the multitude of stories regarding the first major assault in Fallujah. I couldn't help but think that those same Marines that we passed on our way back down to Kuwait were the same Marines taking part in this assault. For the longest time, I just wished that I was still in Iraq, still doing anything that I could to relieve some of the pressure that those Marines and Soldiers were under.

It was by far the most intense, lingering emotion that I have ever felt. I've since come to terms with it, but still rarely bring it up when non-military people ask about my tour to Iraq. It's just one of those things that I'd rather deal with amongst those who understand it without explanation.

Thanks again,

You're not weak at all. You're alive. It's good to be alive. You're lucky. It's good to be lucky.
Forgive me if I sound flippant . . .

Thank you for returning home! You have a mission in life that has not been completed. My heart breaks for your pain and I hope that someday you will know how precious your life is. For those who have been left behind, their life is worth some tears and I wish for you to know that many here shed tears with you for them. Bless you and your father for living with the impossible. Thank you! And Welcome Home!!! May you find peace - you have earned it.

Echo on the "it is not weak" to cry, especially when it is for your lost comrades and "brothers."

To you, to John (above) to all those that served before, that served alongside me, that serve today and have yet to...

I stand and raise my glass to you all. As we veterans know, "freedom" is not free, and while politicos "play" to the media, we pay with our life's blood and youth.

God speed on you all.

Others with more cred than I (a civilian) will ever have have said it, but since when is it weak to weep for the fallen? Your tears honor them!

And when people ask me if it's weak to cry, I say "Is it weak to bleed?" Your emotional wounds need you to weep as your physical ones need you to bleed; and the same cleansing effect holds. If you can't stop, that's a problem. But expect to be wounded anew each Memorial Day.

You know who I weep for? Servicemen such as yourself, who feel guilty though they've served honorably, only because they've survived.

But your question "Why?" is a good one. Why did you live? If you'll take a suggestion from me: Make your life the answer.

Bright Blessings on you and yours, and may your fallen comrades find peace and joy.

Crack!! *echos* -Did you hear that.... that's the sound of my heart breaking. Your writing has touched me deeply. You said you asked... "Why me? God, why did you let me live"... Well it could be because your family needs you! You also said you feel guilty for living when so many did not; just think of it this way, would you have felt guilty for leaving your wife alone with children to raise? When guilt grabs you and drags you into a dark, bottomless pit... think of your family and the ones around you that love and support you, then you'll see the light and rise above.

I stand up and solute you
*Thank you*

Heather L.

I'm saddened that you feel guilt.

You've paid a huge price that so many Americans simply do not understand.

Thank you for serving.

It's called "survivor guilt". The gods in charge of such things left me alive, both to mourn the loss of my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms and to build a better world that they can never share. I feel unworthy of the blessing, and inadequate in my accomplishments. There's a black vacancy in the world from their loss. The Wall is but a pale reflection of it. It is hard to accept that I cannot fill that void, with work or tears.

Welcome home, Zachary, if I may be so bold, and to your father as well. Semper Fi!

It's been 34 years since I was in Vietnam, and I still am filled with sadness when I think about it. I was fortunate when I left the service, as many of my Vietnam buddies separated from service at Ft. Lewis and we got to see each other, albeit briefly. Three of them settled here in the greater Seattle area. Before I got married I shared apartments with all three of them at different times. I went to a gathering of friends two weeks ago and two of them were there. Life-long friends that really don't need to say anything to one another when they meet. We played bocce ball together with our families and laughed a lot. It has really helped me over the years to have friends who understand a part of me that no one else does.

Having never been in combat, nor been an American for that matter, it is hard to fathom how deeply a war works on the soul of a soldier.

I was touched by your writing. My prayers go with you and yours, all the people touched by the war.

I hope you can find peace.

My dad, a WWII vet who for years refused to talk about his war experiences, passed away a couple of years ago. Starting with the 50th anniversary of D-Day, it had become a tradition that I would call and get him to talk a little about what he did and how he reintegrated to civilian life after two tours as a Staff Sergeant.

Your post reminded me how much I've missed those Memorial Day conversations.

Thanks for coming back, thanks for protecting your kids by being strong around them, and thanks for sharing with us your love for your dad.

See? There was a reason for *you* to come back, too.

You are so incredibly brave and my heart goes out to you. No words can express the sadness it causes me to know what all of you have and are going through.

Thank you for everything,

You have should have no guilt or shame. The people that died did not welcome death. They would not wish it were you instead of them.

It would make them proud to know that you made it through that "hell" and are now safe at home with your family.

I had been down your "road" and my best friend (since bootcamp) basically told me what I told you above.

(Ditto on Bud Lee's post " You made this old Vietnam vet's eyes misty ... I'm glad you have your Dad ... I'm also glad my son never had to go to war so we didn't have to share the pain you both experienced and are experiencing ... Keep your head high and be proud ... No one else thinks you're guilty of anything at all!! Bud ")
With much respect;
Another old 70s vet.

Thank you. I cry every day for you and all our brave children. My son is still struggling. I know that you and my son will "overcome" and be there for the next generation.

...and *you* came back because your family needed you. I am happy for you that you are alive, in one piece, and recovering from the experience. Stay strong, be proud. You owe it to your family, but most importantly, to yourself.

You touched me to the core with your post and put a real human face on the media images that I see. I wish that no one had to deal with such raw suffering. You have certainly opened this Canadian's eyes to the realities of what must be endured...... peace to you

You're going to be OK.

I know you're going to be OK, because you have a wife who knows what you need, you have two children who show you the way to the future, and you have your dad, who can help you with the past.

Your post touched my heart. Thank you for sharing your feelings so honestly! I think it is only natural to have some guilt at coming home when others did not. I am so glad your father was there for you and understood. It isn't weak to cry, it just shows you are human and still feeling! I am sure you will find that there will be times that those feelings come back again, but know the fallen are glad you are alive and want you to move forward and enjoy your life to the fullest.

Thank you for your service.

I work in the news here in Los Angeles. I remember as a kid listening to my grandfather and uncles talk about their tours in WW 2 and Vietnam. I watch what we, the media air that doesn't even pass as unbiased journalism, and I cried when I read your post. Up until my granfathers passing, I still remember his stories of being shipside for Normandy and watching his buddies die. My uncle's tales are equally powerful. I wish you all the best for your future.

believe me you are not weak i dont think crying is
a sign of weakness cause im doing it right now it just means you have a heart
and soul thanks for sharing thanks for taking
the responsibility that you
did i do deeply appreciate every troop over
there and reading these messages help this middle
aged housewife understand
what its like

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