I was one of several Vietnam era veterans honored this morning at Arcadia’s observances for Memorial Day. I’d been asked by a friend on Friday, “Well, what are you being honored for?” …and I didn’t really have an answer. I’d been asked several weeks ago, by another friend and fellow veteran Stephanie Stone, “Would you be willing to be honored as a Vietnam veteran in a ceremony in a few weeks?” I asked whether there weren’t others equally deserving…and learned that by participating, I could do so to honor ALL of my brothers and sisters in arms. That won my consent. Additionally, I’d be joined by Justice Eileen Moore, someone I’ve come to greatly admire. She served as a nurse in Vietnam and has a distinguished career on the bench.
Before the ceremonies I wandered around the park grounds, taking in the numerous kiosks and tables representing military and civilian initiatives to serve the largest veteran community in America; 1.9 million Californians are veterans. I discovered the tent for TheSoldiersProject and introduced myself to the volunteers. I’d served on their board for five years. I noticed the Disabled American Veteran’s table, the DAV. I am a Life Member. I discovered Gail’s table…and Gail as well. 😉 Gail heads The Mindful Warrior Project, where Justice Moore and I first met earlier this year. Tomorrow a film will be screened of a performance we’d created earlier this year, involving theater and masks and ritual. I stopped by the American Legion tent, told them I’m a member of Hollywood Post #43. And Two Guys Grilling. David’s daughter was manning their presence (Nick Danger). Once seated, I realize that I recognize this guy holding a large camera. It’s blues harp master Louis Katz, also a professional photographer It’s a small world for me in the veteran community. I’ve lived here 27 years now and, whenever possible I participate in events that support veterans and veteran concerns. And I’m proud to do it.
So, the ceremonies begin. There are many elected California officials present and it’s hosted by NBC weatherman Fritz Coleman. He’s been this events MC for the past 20 years. Dignitary after dignitary are introduced and speak briefly, Awards are awarded. And now comes the time that I and my other recipients will stand and be honored. Our names are called. We rise, move several steps forward and turn to the audience. Now, as I rose, I also pressed “record” on my camera, placed on my knapsack beneath my chair and took my place.
There were five of us and we were each introduced. I noticed a cameraman taking one of our vacated front row seats for a better shooting position. He was right beside my chair. As he lounged and waited to take more photos, I noticed his right leg wandering over to the right…and eventually right in fucking front of my camera lens! I glared at him as tho I might mentally, telepathically induce him to sit up straight. Nope. Didn’t seem to work. I suspect any photos he took in which I appear have me glaring with intense anger at his corruption of my attempted filming. 😉
Well, I did shoot it…tho I guess its now more of an audio than video capture. Afterwards, there were three skydivers – well, parachutists, really – who’d stepped from a chopper and guided their chutes into an adjacent baseball diamond. That was nice…as was the entire event.
Afterwards, I wandered over to their recently installed Vietnam Veterans Memorial. During the ceremonies, they represented many Vietnam veterans as not having been welcomed and thanked for so many years…but that was not me. I was part of the first American parade in NYC in 1985 to honor us and thank us. I was there. I’ll later share the chapter from my book, describing what that event meant to me.
But for so many other veterans of that war – and for their children – todays observances are profoundly meaningful.
Ok. Now I can finally address what’s really been on my mind of late. Yeah I advocate for veteran concerns. The fuck does that even really mean? I’m a veteran. My life has been majorly informed by my service. Because I cobbled a successful existence after my time at war…and because my work made me “ a public figure”, someone whose face was familiar to citizens all over our world….I chose to exploit my “familiarity”. I acknowledged publicly that I was both a character actor familiar for his participation in a few iconic tv shows…and a veteran of combat who contended daily with PTSD and its consequences.
It wasn’t that I was “proud” of my diagnosis…but that I was willing to own it. In hopes of humanizing PTSD to a population not very well informed; their own sons and fathers and husbands came home similarly scarred. “You know my work; you’ve enjoyed some of my characters. Know also that I am a Vietnam veteran who was wounded physically – that you can engage – but also mentally. And those effects remained with me to this day, some 49 years later. I’ve been medicated for over 17 years and I do enjoy quality of life. It is possible to regain quality of life, if you accept, seek and find mental health care.”
OK? So…it’s Memorial Day weekend, 2018. A resonant time for so many of us, because THIS is the occasion for us to reflect upon all who’ve fallen in defense of America. From its beginnings. I have friends with relatives who’d served from our earliest days. But at this time I think about men I‘d met in my life; honorable men, men with considerable courage…who didn’t come home. Connecting to that truth has always been an emotional experience for me, ever since 1969. OK?
Today was the 20th day since I ended my dosage of anti-depressants. After 16 years. I live with PTSD. I ended my dosage with the approval of a VA psychiatrist. I only just met with him for 20 minutes…but he had the juice to endorse MY choice: To experience life without LEXOPRO. 😉 I’m 74. I don’t like a lot of what I see in the news, daily. But I’m willing to try to function in the world in which I exist, without drugs. At least right now.
You still here? 😉 OK, you’ve earned reading what I’d wanted to share. I have noticed two distinct consequences of ending medication:
- Nightmares. Not firefights. Not monsters. Just daily life with adverse consequences. “Lost my passport or ID’s.” “No way to communicate with anyone who could help.” “Projects going south or abandoned because of artistic/financial/political difficulties. Now, these are just dreams, ok? But I LOVE my dreams. In recent months, they’ve become my “safe place”, my sanctuary….my sleep.
- When I left the Army and began my studies as an actor, my teachers Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler gave me access to my emotional life. I’d long been shut down. Their tutelage nurtured my strongest artistic assets: My Emotional Life. Whatever work I did, from 1971 to 2003 engaged My Truth. Meds made my daily life calmer. I accepted that compromise…because I knew I needed to amp down. I just couldn’t handle all the incoming traffic…
- Now OFF medications, I realize that apart from my recent dreams that I am no longer filtered by meds. I seem to have a limitless wellspring of emotion, especially regarding my connections to my service and comrades who didn’t come home. I’m not embarrassed by my emotional responses to my memories. I am appreciating emotional life and access that has long been… sequestered by my anti-depressants. And I’m now tired and want to go to bed J…but I want to express my pride for how I’ve endured, professionally, during my medication. Only after today, do I really appreciate how far I had to swim UP, in each performance, to access my humanity, my training. So yeah, I’m proud of…I guess I’m proud of my WILL as an artist…to swim up thru all that pharmacological fog to the Truth that Sandy and Stella revealed to me.