Cover Art_Black Letters

Post-Traumatic Growth

by James Heavy Hackbarth

First let me give you a little background on myself. I served in the Army from April 1968 to June 1971. I was a helicopter door-gunner on a Huey UH-1d Troop Transport. I was in Vietnam with the 1st CAV AHB Airmobile from October 1968 to October 1969. I flew more missions than I can count and picked up more body bags than I want to remember. I have been 100 percent disabled with PTSD since 2003, right after we dropped cruise missiles on downtown Baghdad. I watched it on TV, and all I remember are the explosions and flashes and balls of flames. I sat there and started crying; war is ugly, and I knew too many of our young people would pay the price with their lives or end up like me. I attempted suicide twice and thought about it every day for 35 years.

One question that I faced and I think every combat vet faces is, “Did you kill somebody?” After going through two cognitive progressive therapies, I wrote a poem about this. I call it the “Did You Song.” I remember clearly how many times I was asked that question. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head—did you, did you, kill somebody?

I have a dear friend who is a Vietnam veteran who started a company called First Stage Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A group of veterans and I have done poetry readings on stage in front of a hundred people twice last year. We have a young lady who is studying acting read this poem in front of us on stage. People in the audience were crying. The veterans on stage were crying. The words are like hammers. The accusations hurled at the performers cut deep into one’s emotions.

If it wasn’t for these types of things happening in my life, I’m not sure where I would be. To see the impact of my poetry has given me the meaning and purpose I sought for a long time.

The Did You Song

Did you, did you, did you

Kill somebody did you kill somebody

I want to know, I want to know

Did you, did you, kill somebody

Did you shoot them in the head?

Did you shoot them dead?

Did you kill somebody?

Did you kill somebody?

Were they young or old?

Young or old

Women or child or an old man

Did you, did you, kill somebody

I want to know

Because I didn’t go

Didn’t go to that place

I did not go

Can you tell me?

Can you tell me?

Did you, did you

Kill somebody, kill somebody

Tell me it ain’t so

Tell me it ain’t so

You didn’t kill somebody

You didn’t kill somebody

You didn’t kill women

Or a child like they said

You didn’t shoot them dead

I didn’t go I didn’t go

So how would I know?

So how would I know?

Unless you tell me it ain’t so

Unless you tell me it ain’t so

God am I glad I didn’t go

–James Heavy Hackbarth, September 9th, 2010