Traumatized young Vets

Parish Diary February 2, 2011

Fr. Peter Daly


Fr. Peter Daly talks about two recent experiences in his parish with traumatized young Vets.


            Our young veterans are suffering. They need our help to find peace as they return from our seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are traumatized by what they have seen.

Maybe the Church, in the compassion of Christ, should be helping them.

            Two recent incidents brought this situation home to me.

            The first incident was on the street the downtown of a big city. I was walking from a parking garage to movie theater.

Two young men off to my left at the corner of the parking garage seemed to be covering something up. As I approached them, I realized they were writing graffiti walls with luminous permanent markers. One was writing on an open air telephone booth. The other was writing much larger letters on a mail box. I realized they were gang signs to guide people to illegal drug sales, probably crystal meth.

I was only a few feet away. I shouted at them to stop. “What the hell do you two think you are doing?  You are defacing public property. Stop it.”

The larger of the two men was writing on the mail box in large curving strokes. He was a very muscular guy. I went over and touched his shoulder and said, “Stop that.”

He stood up and raised a fist to me and said, “You touch me again, I might have to go tight on you.” He was furious.

I stepped back and he walked away. The he stopped, turned around and began yelling at me.

“I spent two years in ******* Afghanistan for you ***s. I can do what I want. This is the thanks I get when I defend you. You don’t have any right to say anything to me.” 

I crossed the driveway and answered him. “I’m sorry about Afghanistan. But your service does not give you the right to deface public property, much less sell drugs. Should I call the police?”

He threw something at me and yelled, “Go ahead and call the ******* police.”

I was shaken, but he seemed more shaken. He had come home from Afghanistan and become a drug dealer. What a tragedy.

The other incident happened in our church.

A young man, a veteran of two tours in Iraq, broke into our church twice.

He was looking for a warm place to stay. He had been thrown out of the homeless shelter next door to our church for violating the rule against drinking alcohol. 

Late on a Saturday night, he broke into our church. He must have been in a fit of rage. He threw the candle sticks and the crucifix off the altar. He broke some glass. He did some other minor damage. Then he fell asleep on a floor mat in the lobby.

The organist found him early Sunday morning. When she opened the door she startled him. He got up and ran away, leaving behind his billfold, with his V.A. id and his Marine Corp id.

Later that same Sunday, after the morning masses, he broke back in. He got into the sacristy and drank some wine. He messed things up a bit and then fell asleep in a pew. When people arrived for the evening mass he ran again. The police found him. In subfreezing temperatures he was wearing shorts.

            Both of these young men were young Vets. They both probably suffering from PTSD, “post traumatic stress syndrome.” In World War II we called it “battle fatigue.” In World War I, we called it “shell shock.” It is all the same thing, the trauma of war.

            We cannot just expect traumatized Vets, who have seen things that no human being should ever see, to just come home and go on with life as if nothing happened.

            They need our help. They need the healing that only the Spirit of God can give.