Some wounds of war never heal; instead they remain a reminder of wartime service for those veterans who bear the physical and emotional scars. For these disabled veterans, the challenges of daily living are great, but many persevere, secure in the belief that their sacrifice was worthwhile.
In honor of Memorial Day this month, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), a program of the American Folklife Center, spotlights stories of disabled veterans in “The Unhealed Wounds,” a special web presentation accessible at www.loc.gov/vets/. The presentation covers veterans of four wars whose afflictions range from amputated limbs to severe facial trauma to diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Among the eight veterans profiled in the presentation is Arthur Guerrero, who arrived in Vietnam in September 1966 as a member of the 1st Cavalry Division. On his first mission in the field, he saw the man next to him killed and others around him wounded. He escaped injury that time, but he wasn’t so fortunate seven months later. Horribly wounded, Guerrero hung onto life and underwent extensive rehabilitation. “I never thought of myself as being courageous, but self-sustaining,” he told a VHP interviewer many years later. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years after his wounding, and from his wheelchair he has been fighting another battle—this one for veterans’ rights to the best medical care possible.
The new online presentation also showcases the experience of Connie Spinks, who served in Iraq with a U.S. Army civil affairs battalion. A suicide bomber set off his charge next to her armored vehicle, and the explosion severely injured her and burned her face. She spent four months in a wheelchair before she could walk on her own. Spinks received her Purple Heart from a very special fan of the military—movie star Denzel Washington.
Raymond Kasten was drafted in 1952 to serve in the Korean War. Trained as a medic, he was ordered to drive a troop truck. For 12 days, Kasten transported soldiers to the frontlines of the North Korean and Chinese armies’ big push. Kasten’s view was that the soldiers were headed to certain death. Though he was reassigned to duty as a bodyguard to a medical officer, the horrors of his early days never left him. Since 1991 he has been treated for symptoms of PTSD.
The Veterans History Project was created in 2000 by Congress to record the first-hand remembrances of American service personnel in major conflicts beginning with World War I, and it actively collects veterans’ personal accounts of the Global War on Terror. The collection comprises more than 60,000 individual stories.