Hq Co 9th Marines
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This website is dedicated to the
Marines and Corpsmen
that served in Vietnam with the
Headquarters Company 9th Marine Regiment 3rd Marine Division 
Republic of Vietnam 1964 ~ 1969, 1975
   Home      Huddleston PTSD


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I’m retired. My working life, after Vietnam , centered around politics, labor, and education. I’m a husband, father, stepfather, and grandfather. My wife, Nanette, is without doubt my better half. She manages two exercise/training facilities. My oldest, Amber, is 34 and a nurse with the VA here in Montana and has blessed us with three granddaughters (14, 4 & four months old). The middle stepdaughter, Tara, is 25 and is in her final year of med school at the U of W and the youngest, Erin, is 23 and graduated from the University of Montana and moved to California to get her Masters and works as a College recruiter. I involve my days with aiding veterans, writing, reading, and hosting a weekly television program. I’ve been up and down a few times, but received good help from many when down. Currently, neuropathy, micro-vascular disease, and vertigo limit me physically, but I’m satisfied with all that brought me to this point and look forward to tomorrow.

Tom "Hud" Huddleston


I’d like to talk with you today about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or as it’s casually referred to, PTSD. I do so in the hopes that it will help many understand the “ wound that you cannot see,” and reach out to our newest brave generation of veterans who may need help to come all the way home. To make it personal, I’ll start with “Me & PTSD.”

I left college and enlisted in the Marines in 1962. In 1965, instead of returning to school in September, I reenlisted and volunteered for Vietnam. I returned from an extended tour in 1967 and received an Honorable Discharge in the spring of 1969.

I got lost for a while back on the campus of UCLA. Then a series of unexpected events placed my feet on “fast tracks,” while much of me still remained in Vietnam and in the Corps. While at UCLA, I received a phone call that led me to work for the newly elected U. S. Senator from California, Alan Cranston. I spent the next two years working in California and Washington, D.C. I had a front-row seat to historical events and watched remarkable statesmen and a stateswoman, under the leadership of Senator Mike Mansfield every day. But at night, I fought against sleep and felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was so used to feeling either anger or numb. I didn’t trust anyone. To calm down and get to sleep, I chose either booze or the bong.

After two years, this duel existence and my undependability stretched the patience of all, so I returned to school. I drove a Checker cab on the graveyard shift, attended classes in the morning and slept in the afternoons. This routine worked for a while, but the uncertainty found me again. I escaped to the desert to work in a mine in Boron, California. My nearest neighbor lived over a mile away and I had a dog named, “dog” and a cat named “cat.” Bib overalls were the uniform of the day and shaving and haircuts became things of the past. The work was honest and hard and the pay was good with plenty of overtime. This simple life gave me my first sense of serenity.

After a couple of years, the union went on strike and I was arrested the first night on picket duty. So I went back to LA to look for temporary work. I ran into the VA’s Veterans Services Officer in front of the West LA Federal Building. Rick Sorenson, a former Marine, won the Medal of Honor at Saipan. While I was working for the Senator, we worked together to put into place the process of congressional liaison that’s still in use today. I explained what was going on in my life and he said that if I got a haircut and shaved, I could come to work the following Monday.

That was in 1974 when the VA hired 3,000 Vietnam vets as counselors. It was like being back in the Corps, brothers helping brothers. But the nights of flight soon returned and yet, I found myself on another fast track. I was promoted to Management Analyst, sent to post-graduate school for training and was being groomed for the Assistant Director training program. That’s when I had my first episode of an extended flashback. I completely lost a whole night. I attacked a house with a hose at port arms, made the deputy sheriffs advance to be recognized, and interrogated a suspected VC in the drunk tank.

The judge refused to accept a plea and sent me to the VA for evaluation. I saw a psychiatric nurse who asked me if I drank a lot. I said I did and she said don’t drink so much. She wrote a letter to the judge and all was forgiven. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I managed to hide the problem from most.

In 1979, the VA sent me to be the Management Officer at the VA’s Medical & Regional  Office  Center at Fort  Harrison. Vietnam vets were having real difficulties with the VA around the country over their claims for PTSD and I found myself identifying more with them. Then I had my second episode where I lost a whole weekend. The VA diagnosed me with PTSD. I remained in denial and put a more determined mask on.

That was until Congressman Williams asked me to testify before a Congressional hearing that he was bringing to Montana to address the treatment of Vietnam veterans. I said that I would and the VA folks in Washington went ballistic. I was told that my career with the VA would be ruined if I testified. I was told that I had to make up my mind where my loyalties lay, either with the vets or with the VA? That was the dilemma that made me agree to testify in the first place. I felt there shouldn’t be a difference. A week before the hearing, I crashed.

Then the cycle of PTSD repeated itself again and again. I would deny that I was ill, put on a new mask, and get back out there. After a while, the fearful nights would return and the duality would drain me until I would crash. I lost my VA job and returned to Carroll to get my degree and crashed. I taught school and coached in Boulder and crashed. I became a budget analyst for the State and crashed. I substitute-taught, coached football at Helena High, and served as a Helena City Commissioner for eight years and crashed twice, once very publicly. Then I spent four years as a labor educator and labor leader and crashed for the final time.

I couldn’t get back up and I was ready to give up. I wanted to check out and cross over. I had lived seven careers with three wives and many broken relationships in between. I found it easier for the world to know me as a bully and a drunk than for it to learn that I had a mental illness.  After two hospital stays for depression and suicide at Fort  Harrison, the doctors referred me to VA’s National  Center for PTSD in the Palo Alto VA Medical System. While there, one of the “Understanding PTSD” instructors handed me a page to read to the class. It’called  “The Mask.”

Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the face I wear. I wear a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them are me. I give the impression that I am secure, that all is sunny and unruffled within as well as without; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game; that the water’s calm and I need no one. But, don’t believe me! PLEASE! My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is a mask. Beneath, dwells the real me: confusion; fear, lonely. But I hide this. I panic at the thought of my weakness and frantically create a mask to hide behind, to shield me from the glance that knows. Yet such a glance is precisely my salvation. I know it! If it’s followed by acceptance and by love, it is the only thing that will assure myself that I am worth something! But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare, I am afraid to! So I play my game, my desperate game with a facade of assurance without, and a trembling child within. So begins the parade of masks, and my life becomes a front. I idly chatter to you…surface and top-of-the-head talk, saying nothing of what’s crying within me. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I am not saying, what I’d like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I cannot say! I don’t like hiding, honestly. I want to be genuine, spontaneous, and me…but I need help! Please, hold out your hand, even when it seems that it’s the last thing I want. Each time you are kind, gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand me because you care, my heart soars with small and feeble wings, but they’re wings. Your sensitivity, sympathy, and your power of understanding breathe life into me. Your help gives me the help I need to be the creator of the person that is I. You can help me break down the walls and strip away the mask and my shadow world of panic, uncertainty, and loneliness. Don’t give up on me. I may fight against the very help I need, but I really want your gentle hands of love and caring…firm, but gentle hands.

 When the class was over, all of us wanted extra copies. We wanted to send it to our spouse, our exes, our children, and our families. It said what we didn’t know how to say. After returning from the National  Center, I was referred to the shorter program at the Boise VA Medical Center. I always tell my fellow veterans that the Palo Alto program gave me the “want to live” and that Boise showed me how.

I’ve learned that PTSD is a normal reaction to a series of abnormal events. Let me give you an example. Imagine a family returning from their summer vacation. They’re good friends of yours. While driving home, they’re playing family games to pass the time. Suddenly, a drunk driver in the on-coming lane swerves toward the family car. There’s hardly any time to react. They almost hit head on, but their inside headlights crash together as they swerve away and both vehicles spin and begin to flip over and over. Fortunately, all of the family were wearing their seatbelts and crawled out of their car with only broken limbs. The driver of the truck was thrown from his vehicle and was crushed by his pickup. That first vision of that truck coming at them, their huddling together in shock, the memory and the sight of the crushed body, along with all of the sounds and smells, all of these are imprinted into their thalamus’, the brain’s multi-dimensional camera, forever.

It would be totally understandable to feel that the whole family might need some professional help to cope with the memory of that terrible event. Prescribed medications would certainly be in order. They might also be pretty jumpy for a while at the sounds of horns and squealing tires. They’ll probably stick to themselves and have a tough time getting back into their old routines. All of this would be normal and expected. Now, imagine that a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine has an accident like that every month, or even once or twice a week, for an entire year. Wouldn’t it be normal to assume that they would be greatly affected by that tour, or multiple tours, of duty?

Even before they’re deployed, there are other factors that affect every man and woman who join the Armed Forces and are later deployed into a combat zone. For those of you who’ve served, remember your time in basic training or boot camp? The mission of that training was to tear down that feeling, human being and rebuild a warrior-unit in its place. At first, having to growl, scream and grunt seemed comical until the DI caught you smiling. By the time graduation rolled around, that had become your norm and you were proud of it. You were into it with your whole being. You were proud of being powerful warriors fearing no one. You were now a skilled aggressive unit; different from the “jodies” of the world who had chose to sit it out at home.

That training really came in handy in combat. It really brings to light the “fight or flight” syndrome. A civilian will try to avoid or evade threats of danger. If he steps off the curb and sees a bus barreling toward him at 45 mph, he immediately jumps back onto the curb to avoid the danger. The combat warrior swings around and tries to take out the bus.

That warrior also goes through a series of disconnects. He or she must be forever alert to danger and threats and react without hesitation. They can’t afford to have their concentration “filtered” through the old values.  They can’t afford to be thinking of their loved ones, their friends or even their God. Those distractions will slow down their reaction time and will endanger themselves and their comrades. So they learn to live in their insulated, single-minded world. The security and support of their previous lives disappear. They take their emotions and put them into a jar and seal the lid tight. Their only emotion is anger. It suppresses fear and kick-starts them into aggression. It becomes their life-blood. When they’re not angry, they’re numb, awaiting the next action.

Then, they’re told to board a plane and they’re reunited with their loving families. But they still have one foot in combat and the other in the world that they disconnected from. It took months to train them to be fighting machine and now, after a few days, they’re expected to return to the innocent life they lived a long time ago.

They can’t figure out why it’s all so confusing. They can’t understand why their spouse seems like a stranger and they don’t feel safe around their children. A month ago, someone else’s wife and children were “collateral damage.” Their old friends are boring and just don’t get it. The returned vet always seems to be angry and ready to explode. They begin to avoid and withdraw. They isolate from the world that they don’t seem to be able to “fit” into. They seek out the “adrenalin rushes” found in bars and casinos. They drink hard and fast. Their nights too often have screams in their dreams and they fight sleep to say alert. They begin to miss days at work and they don’t care.

They’ve heard about PTSD but there’s no way that they’re going to be labeled as one of those crazy vets.  Why? PTSD to the military command is counter-productive. Their mission is to train, equip and deploy the right numbers. To society, mental illness makes you different, misunderstood and dangerous. So these wounded warriors fake it to make it, while slipping deeper and deeper into a hole. In the hole, they can escape back into numbness, not realizing that with each passing day, it gets harder and harder to climb back out. The cycle of hurt, loss, failure, shame and guilt recycles a lifetime.

The relationship between Vietnam vets and the VA has come a long way from the early days of estrangement, enslavement and “thorazine-laced” kool-aid. Now, the diagnosis is much better understood. The treatment programs have improved and are helpful. But many of the old attitudes still exist. That keeps many of the newest generation of veterans from seeking the very thing that can help them reconnect. For the vets who have the “wound that you cannot see,” and are afraid to reach out, many will slide into addictions, divorces, job losses, and, God forbid, suicide.

It doesn’t have to end up like that. In addition to the national treatment programs, the Behavioral Health Services Unit at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center has implemented a new process to complement their treatment of PTSD. While “peer-to-peer” support has been used in mental health treatment for years, the PTSD veterans and the VA staff in Montana have structured it for trauma stress. They call this new process “Vet-to-Vet.” The first two groups have expanded into many more groups around the State.

The sessions are open to all vets who feel that their lives have been affected by their combat trauma experiences and/or those who experienced trauma in non-combatant roles while on active duty. Strict confidentiality is observed. The veterans share how they’re doing, talk about what they’ve been struggling with, and the tools they’ve used to get through onsets of anger, anxiety, insomnia, isolation, depression and substance abuse. The groups’ goals are to help all vets get out and stay out of their holes, reengage with the world, and to come all of the way home.

Veterans who attend these groups understand when veterans feel as though they still have one foot in Montana and one in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Somalia, Panama, Vietnam, Korea or even the two theaters of operation in World War II. They’re driven to create a “safe place” to share, help and heal for all who are struggling from the “ugliness” of war. 

Whenever a new veteran needs to enter the VA “system” for medical evaluation, treatment, and/or to file a claim for compensation for service-connected injuries and illnesses, a member of their group will be there for support. Service-connected vets know that the application process is a long journey that is often filled with its own trauma. Veterans have always taken pride in knowing that they took care of each other and left no one behind. 

I hope all of you will help remove the social stigmas that keep many in denial and away from the treatment that can help. Understand this please. You do not get PTSD from being a slacker. You get the invisible wound from doing your job too well, too often and from seeing your friends and the innocent die.

The Indian Nations have a tradition. When the warriors returned from battle, they were called to come before and sit with the elders who apologized to them for having to see the things that they saw and to do what they had to do. Then they gave them honor for putting the needs of the tribe before their own survival. They told the warriors how glad they were that they had returned back to the tribe safely and how important they are. Then the warriors entered the sweat lodges for a purification ceremony.

The VA treatment programs at the National  Center and the treatment programs at Boise, Hot Springs and St. Paul VA Medical Centers all have sweat lodges on the hospital grounds. They are led by those who honor their tribal traditions.  They have proved to be very effective in the treatment for PTSD. When I made my first sweat at Boise, I was hesitant to enter. The Lakota Sioux staff member, Cedric Decry, asked me if I was okay. He sat with me and listened as I told him that I respected the traditions and the sacredness of the lodge, but I had been disconnected spiritually from the comfort of the God of my early Franciscan Seminarian days. He suggested that I might consider asking the Creator to adopt me during one of the rounds. I did and He did.

I would like to remind you not to forget that it isn’t just the warriors who struggle day and night with PTSD. There’s also the 23% of all American women have been raped during their lifetime. Over half of them eventually develop PTSD. An average of two million people in the U.S. experience injury and property loss from natural accidents and disaster each year and many of them struggle with PTSD. From 5 to 20% of our population experienced significant abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) as children and most of them struggle. And just think of the trauma of being homeless. There are many to care for and much to be gained in the helping. Please hold all of these sufferers close as well.

In closing, I’d like to share with you the thoughts of a Nez Perce Elder on PTSD:

“They said I would be changed in my body. I would move through the physical world in a different manner. I would hold myself in a different posture. I would have pains where there was no blood. I would react to sights, sounds, movement and touch in a crazy way, as though I were back in the war.

They said I would be wounded in my thoughts. I would forget how to trust and think that others were trying to harm me. I would see danger in the kindness and concern of my relatives and others. Most of all, I would not be able to think in a reasonable manner and it would seem that everyone else was crazy. They told me that it would appear to me that I was alone and lost even in the midst of the people, and there was no one else like me.

They warned me that it would be as though my emotions were locked up and that I would be cold in my heart and not remember the ways of caring for others. While I might give soft meat or blankets to the elders or food to the children, I would be unable to feel the goodness of these actions. I would do these things out of habit and not from caring. They predicted that I would be ruled by dark anger and that I might do harm to others without plan or intention.

They knew that my spirit would be wounded. They said I would be lonely and that I would find no comfort in family, friends, elders or spirits. I would be cut off from both beauty and pain. My dreams and visions would be dark and frightening. My days and nights would be filled with searching and not finding. I would be unable to find the connections between myself and the rest of creation. I would look forward to an early death. And, I would need healing in all these things.”

Let the healing begin. If you, or someone you know, is having trouble coming all of the way home from their deployments, or from their experienced traumas, help them through your kindness and compassion to reach out for help. For the VA, call 447-7596 or 442-6410 and tell them that you have been struggling since returning from combat deployment or related traumas and that you need help. I would suggest that the families and loved ones of these wounded vets reach out to NAMI Montana at 443-7871 or visit their website at namimt.org. An important lesson that I learned in treatment was, “If you want to get out of the hole, let go of the shovel!”

Webmasters note:  Hud has offered to help answer questions that you may have about PTSD.  You can E-mail him at tnnhud@bresnan.net and you can also check out his website at http://www.hudscornerpub.com/ .

This page is still being constructed and we hope to soon offer additonal links about PTSD and also to add a video link of Tom speaking on the subject of PTSD.

Semper Fi & Welcome Home



9th Marines
RVN Operations
Apache Snow
Big Horn
Big Lodge
Cameron Falls   
Chinook II   
Con Thien
County Fair
Dawson River
Dawson River
Deckhouse V
Dewey Canyon I
Double Eagle   
Double Eagle II
Eagle Pull
Frequent Wind
Georgia Tar
Harvest Moon   
   Deckhouse II
   Beau Charger
Hickory II  
Khe Sanh
Lancaster I
Lancaster II
Montana Mauler
   Saline II
Neosho II
Prairie II
Prairie III
Prairie IV
Prairie V
Scotland II
Utah Mesa
Virginia Ridge
War Bonnet 

TAOR-Tactical Area of Responsibility

I Corps, Da Nang, Red Beach, China Beach, Hill 55, Hill 327, Hill 282, An Hoa, Leatherneck Square, Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Con Thien, Gio Linh, Cua Viet River, Quang Tri, Khe Sanh, Rockpile, Vandergrift, Ashau Valley, Dai Loc