Partial Transcript: Interviewer: Today is March 23, 2015. This is a second interview with Darryl Johnson
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his homecoming to the United States and being met by anti-war protesters when he landed in Seattle (Washington). He talks about being reunited with family and his wedding to his wife, Judy Johnson.
Link to Judy Johnson's interview can be found in Interview conclusion segment below.
Partial Transcript: Johnson: So we packed up the car and moved down to Fort Benning, and once we got there, we had to get an apartment
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about the assignments that he had at Fort Benning including working in an office. He talks about his neighbors who were being deployed to Vietnam, and his experience of living with his wife in Georgia during the 1960s.
Partial Transcript: Johnson: Then, it was time to go back to school, and so we moved back to DeKalb, Illinois, Northern Illinois University.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his time at Northern Illinois University and his awareness of the protests on campuses across the United States. He talks about the public conversations on the war and his belief in diplomacy and peace.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: Do you remember hearing that the war was over, like that instance?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his awareness of the conflict after he left Vietnam and its conclusion. He talks about aspects of military service that he missed such as the regimentation and being a sergeant. He also talks about his regret at not returning to his work as a firefighter.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: You said that you were kind of—well, I’ll go through some of the kind of more standard questions first. You used the GI Bill. Did you ever think about joining any veterans' organizations?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his reluctance to open up about his service in Vietnam to civilians or other veterans. He talks about his involvement with a VFW and other veteran activities.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: What do you think it was that finally kind of encouraged you to open up more and start talking?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about studying for a teaching certificate when he was fifty and how the discussions within the classroom helped him to open up about his experiences. He talks about going to classes at the college to speak about the war and answering questions from students.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: You’d said before, that you didn’t really know what was going on in terms of the secret war in Laos, and the Hmong.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about finding out about the Secret War in Laos through one of his eighth graders and his connection with the Hmong community.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: Just to kind of shift gears a little bit. When did you first hear about, when did you first hear the term PTSD
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about first hearing about post-traumatic stress disorder and attending therapy sessions with George Kamps, co-founder of Artists for the Humanities (A4TH) Return and Recovery Program for Military Veterans (RRPMV).
See below for a link to an interview with George Kamps - Session 1
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: So, aside from those kind of guilt feelings, were there any other manifestations
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about the different ways that PTSD appeared in his life including hyper-vigilance and difficulty communicating. He talks about change and growth that he has been through over time.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: So tell me about being involved with the Artists for the Humanities. How did you get involved?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about being invited to Artist for the Humanities veteran art therapy sessions by George Kamps. He talks about his first art session and the importance of art therapy to him.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: And what’s some of the other pieces of work that you’ve done?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about specific art pieces that he has made and how his style has developed over time. He talks about sharing the process and meaning behind his pieces with other veterans at the meeting. He talks about knowing when the piece is finished.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: So, we talk a lot at the museum, about how the veteran experience is universal, regardless of what conflict you were in
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about the difficulty of communication with home when he was in Vietnam versus younger veterans' experiences.He talks about differences in combat environments and increased roles for women in the military.
Partial Transcript: Interviewer: Well I don’t have anything else written down or anything. Is there anything else we didn’t touch on that you want to mention?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about the importance of finding someone to talk to about experiences and the need for increased access to the art therapy sessions, for veterans.
[Session 2, File 1]
BROOKS: Today is March 23, 2015. This is a second interview with Darryl Johnson,and we are in Green Bay, Wisconsin, today. The interviewer is Ellen Brooks. The interview is being recorded for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. This is our second interview--the first one was pretty painless, I hope?
JOHNSON: Yeah, it was.
BROOKS: Okay, good.
JOHNSON: It felt good talking to you.
BROOKS: All right, great. And so at that point, we had gotten you backstateside. You got back to the States in July, is that right?
JOHNSON: Yeah, right about then--July, yes, the middle of July, I think it was.
BROOKS: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about your homecoming, and just thatinitial steps off the plane.
JOHNSON: I was happy to be heading home, and that I felt real good about the00:01:00service and the work I did while I was in Vietnam--happy to come home. So excited, because we had been planning our wedding--for Judy and I--and that constituted a lot about what we had written back and forth about. We were going to be getting married August eighteenth, and so there was just a couple of weeks. Back at base camp, things went smooth--I thought that maybe it might be delayed, because in base camp there was an incident. Again, I talked to--in this case, we woke up the day I was supposed to be leaving to go home, and a fellow at the other end of the--we were in a barracks, for about twenty or thirty 00:02:00people, and a fellow in the end bunk woke up dead, and I think it was a drug overdose. I never did find out, but we were all detained and questioned and things like that, and it was kind of a strange way to leave. Again, it points to the disappointment I had whenever I was in base camp, something bad was happening amongst our own guys. But, I got on the plane, I was told that it would be better if I wore my civilian clothes on the plane, rather than my dress uniform, and I didn't question that, I didn't care. I'd have gone home in 00:03:00pajamas. I just was curious as to--"I wonder why?" but then I heard that in Seattle, there were some incidences of soldiers getting off the plane and being approached by protestors and not treated well, and so we were cautioned to be cool, maybe just keep walking and don't say anything. So, again, I didn't care, I could do that, I was heading to Illinois.
Sure enough, when we got to Seattle, there were protestors there. We werebelittled and called names, and that was about it. There weren't any physical 00:04:00altercations or anything but it was just kind of a bummer. And then, I had a flight from there to O'Hare, where my folks and Judy were waiting, and when we arrived there--again, as I mentioned--the first thing my dad said, before he gave me a hug or a kiss or anything was, "What's that on your face?"--because I had this big moustache--"What are you doing with that?" That was strange, but it was good to see him. Judy actually wore a wig, I guess just to kind of be goofy a little bit, because she had this pretty, red hair, and this wig was sort of 00:05:00dirty-blonde. I didn't think I recognized her at first, and so that was funny.
My family was welcoming, I stayed with my folks until we got married and it wasa good family welcoming. My sister called--my brothers and sisters sort of were scattered to different parts of the U.S. by then. The whole focus was the wedding and the reception--there was going to be like three hundred and some people there. Frankly, I couldn't remember a whole lot of them--most of them 00:06:00were Judy's friends. My fraternity brothers, a few were there. I think I mentioned that I was kind of disappointed, when I was gone for the year, that I didn't get any letters. I got a couple from my fraternity brothers, but that was it, and they didn't continue writing to me. A few showed up at the wedding--a lot of old friends showed up--but we had over 350 people there, so it was a pretty big thing. I couldn't see anything besides my folks and Judy. It was fun to see and talk with everybody, but I just, I still--so, that event, we had the 00:07:00wedding, but then there was still another a little over five months to serve, so we had to go back to Fort Benning for the last few months of my service, and I didn't know what that was going to be all about or like.
We packed up the car and moved down to Fort Benning, and once we got there, wehad to get an apartment--our first apartment together--and that was kind of fun. Though when we got there, housing in Fort Benning--there was so many people, so many guys coming back from Vietnam and other places, to finish out their enlistment or service, that what you did is you arrived at an apartment complex 00:08:00and you're there Saturday morning, ten o'clock, there's a line halfway down the block. "What is that?" We were curious, so get in line. We get there and the woman says, "Well, we do have an apartment, a one-bedroom apartment, and it's furnished," which we needed a furnished apartment, "what do you say?" We said, "Can we take a look at it?" And she said, "Nope, take it or leave it." So there you go, you're in your apartment.
BROOKS: So you took it.
JOHNSON: Things are going pretty fast. We got the apartment and it turned out tobe a nice apartment, and we were surrounded by all military people. Oddly 00:09:00enough, the people that were our neighbors were all getting ready to go to Vietnam, and so they were interested in my year of service there, and they were all officer candidates, and so we made some friends there.
BROOKS: Did you talk with them about your experiences?
JOHNSON: A little bit. They were officers and they seemed to be--I don't know ifany of them were headed for infantry duty, and so I don't recall having long conversations about it. I do remember that the last six months, though, other than those friendships, the service was kind of demeaning in that they didn't know what to do with so many troops coming back. And so our work was to go on 00:10:00bivouac--go into parts of Georgia, set up a location--and the officer candidate fellows were to try and find us. We weren't to make any efforts to try and do anything besides stay there and do nothing, be bored, until they found us, and then we had to play dead--they had to kill us all. And I thought, you know I did that once and I said that "I don't care what it takes, I'm not going to do that again, it's just too demeaning, what a waste of time." But luckily, somebody in the headquarters company realized I was a little older than the other guys and had some college--I was a sergeant. They brought me into the office, where I was 00:11:00assigning other people to their work orders. I think, like an operations NCO, and so that was good duty. I was writing everybody else's orders and sending them off to bivouac to play dead. That was okay--I had a chance to meet Sergeant Cisneros, who was a Vietnam vet, and who had actually spotted my record and called me in to work in his office, and that was nice. But it didn't last long--I got an early out for education, so January, I was back to DeKalb, 00:12:00Illinois, at Northern Illinois University, to go back to school. That was that.
I still had some time, you know I guess when you're drafted, you still were partof the Reserve, but I didn't have any Reserve commitments or anything, just if they wanted to call me back they could have, but nobody did. A couple years later, they were winding down in Vietnam, and so there was no need.
BROOKS: So, were you ever formally discharged, was there ever like a ceremony orjust some papers signed?
JOHNSON: No--just paperwork. No ceremony.
BROOKS: Yeah, I guess they don't usually, typically do a ceremony. So you wereformally discharged a few years later then, or do you remember? 00:13:00
JOHNSON: Formally discharged? I figured I was discharged then, to go back toschool, early out for education, but you still were assigned to a Reserve commitment if you were called back. So, everybody kind of crossed our fingers, hoping that, "I don't want to get called back again." I know that there was an effort to try and get me to reenlist. I don't recall if this was true or not, but I seem to recall that, you know, if I would have reenlisted to go back to Vietnam, I could have gotten about a five hundred dollar bonus check, which for 00:14:00a lot of guys was very tempting, but no. Too many plans, too many things that I was planning for were ahead of me, so I had no thoughts about going back.
BROOKS: You've been in Vietnam for quite a while, without exposure to kind ofthe American political climate and the media, what were some of your first reactions when you got back to the States, about people's feelings?
JOHNSON: I didn't like the welcome at the airport. At Fort Benning, the last fewmonths, we were just getting used to getting married, so we really didn't care what was going on around us in the news, but I do remember listening to television at night--the news at night--and the civil rights problems that were going on down in Georgia. Georgia had a governor named Lester Maddox, who we 00:15:00kind of poked fun of, because he just seemed like such a redneck. But there was still an awful lot going on down South, in terms of the integration of schools. My wife, while I was doing my duty, she was a home economics major and certified to teach. She went to the public school system in Columbus, Georgia, to see if there was--to see if she could sub--and she started getting calls to sub right away. Found out that in order to sub there in Georgia at that time, all you needed was a high school degree--we thought that was kind of funny. 00:16:00
My impression of the South was a little backwards, compared to the North. Today,I don't feel that way. I think in some cases, the South is more integrated than the North. Anyway, but back then, I was sort of amused by the climate down there and the civil rights thing that was going on. One of my regrets is that I never got involved in community stuff when we first got married or when we moved back to DeKalb, Illinois, to go back to school and never got involved. I just wanted to sweep things under the carpet and move on. She worked at a couple schools that were all black. Some of the kids would approach her and say they ain't 00:17:00never had no white woman teaching them before, and they wanted to touch her red hair and things like that, and she loved working down there, but it was a different kind of eye-opening situation.
Then, it was time to go back to school, and so we moved back to DeKalb,Illinois, Northern Illinois University, and the climate there was, there was a lot of protests going on--anti-Vietnam protests. Also, relevancy in education type protests, that was going on in the Ivy League schools, wanting to change curriculum, making it more relevant, and getting student input into the 00:18:00curriculum, things like that. Many schools were operating in loco parentis at the time, meaning that they were in the absence of parents. For example, when we went to school, Judy, in her dorm, had hours. She had to be home at eleven o'clock on weeknights, one o'clock on weekends. There were no hours for guys and no restrictions, but women--they had to be back. So, there used to be this big thing about getting back to the dorm on time, big make-out thing, right in front of the doors of the dorm, and then everybody goes in the dorm. Every now and 00:19:00then, some guy would get caught trying to sneak in the dorm and things like that--that was in loco parentis. Now, students are saying we don't need that any more.
Especially though, in curriculum, it was important. Women's studies, AfricanAmerican studies, Native American studies, all needed to have a place in the curriculum. The right to vote was lowered to eighteen and those were significant changes, and it was all happening about that time. It was just a buzz of community and political activity--the Democratic National Convention in Chicago 00:20:00was a huge thing. I never got involved in what was going on. In fact, I went back to Northern, I had a good semester of classes. I wanted to change the world, really, and so I was going to study sociology now and become a social worker, or someone who did research. I had a good semester, two, and then an opportunity for full-time work came up at the university, and I decided to go to work full-time.
But the significant thing about your question was politically and so forth, Ijust wasn't involved. I don't know that in the five years that I worked at the 00:21:00university that anybody ever talked to me or that I ever admitted I was even a Vietnam vet. I didn't come right out and say it to anybody, nobody asked. There wasn't many Vietnam vets around that I knew of, maybe because they were all hiding it themselves. And as the Vietnam era ended, and you know it was called a loss--we lost the war--it was something that caused me a certain amount of shame and guilt, and so I just never talked about it. When the protests were going on at Northern, I was a manager of the student union, and so my biggest concern was 00:22:00the security of the union. My military background there was--I was suited for the job. I was calm, collected type, and things happened over the years at the union, that I handled them all real well.
But, there was just this always, on one side of my mind I was changing as anindividual, from one where, while I was in Vietnam, I couldn't understand how people could not support our men and women in the service--how they could go to Canada or how they could protest or call us baby killers and things like that. I 00:23:00couldn't understand that. It seemed like such a betrayal. But then, when I got on campus and was working on campus, I was moved by the issues that they were pursuing. I thought that education did need to get changed, that lowering the voting age was the right thing to do, and that the protest movement, there actually was heroes in the protest movement. I really was starting to think differently in terms of my view on that, but it was all being done kind of internally and just through observation and things like that.
BROOKS: Before I forget, Judy was showing me a picture--I think you might havebrought it into the museum as well--of you, when you have a peace sign around 00:24:00your neck, from when you were over in Vietnam. Do you remember where you got that and, or, why you wore it?
JOHNSON: I can't remember where I got it. I wore a rosary around my neck that Istill have, and I still have the peace sign. The things, I wore them the whole time I was there. I don't think I got the peace symbol--I might have got that while I was in Vietnam, from maybe one of the villages, in the villages, but I can't remember exactly. I wore it because it didn't take me long, once getting to Vietnam, to realize that peace was a better solution. That in terms of diplomacy, it's better to seek peace first, rather than acting out of strength, 00:25:00military strength, which, when you study our history a little bit, sometimes previously, it was "Might makes right." You impose your will physically, and then you start asking, "Can we negotiate about this and that." I was coming to the conclusion, after being in Vietnam a very short time, that no, I wasn't going to be part of the solution or we were going to win because I was there. No, I felt like we were going to lose this thing--that it was getting away from us. Not only in the field, where the enemy could come across the border almost untouched anywhere the enemy wanted to, but at home, where the country wanted us 00:26:00out. I wore the peace symbol as a sign that I was for diplomacy and peaceful resolution. I was part of the killing but yet, torn between that and the fact that I didn't think anything in life should be killed. It's a tough situation. That, and the rosary I still have, which was a bright green when I got it and a muddy brown when I got back. I mean religion was huge--or my faith was huge--and 00:27:00then when I got back, politically, religiously, in so many regards, I started to recreate myself, I think.
BROOKS: Did you keep up on the news in terms of what was happening in Vietnam,when you came back?
JOHNSON: Yeah, and realized that people will go crazy trying to figureeverything out. Everything seemed to be so confusing. The confusions over what we should be doing diplomatically, the confusions over where our society was going, the confusions over--just affected us right down to our everyday lives. Parenting was changing. I didn't feel--it was a whole identity crisis all over 00:28:00again. Where do we stand politically? But I think we started voting right away, and I don't think I've ever missed--maybe once or twice, I've missed a chance to vote in any level of elections. I've always felt strong about that, but yet, the sense of confusion or knowing what the one right way of going in any particular situation seemed to be muddled. And to a certain extent, a feeling of betrayal 00:29:00in that our leaders aren't exactly forthright. Had we been lied to? It seemed apparent that we had been, that information was denied people. I felt bad about the--the people that were involved were so dedicated that you had to admire them, but yet there were so many people. Nixon called them the silent majority, that seemed so apathetic, that they didn't do anything unless it involved them themselves, or their families. I was pretty confused by politics, but yet felt comfortable in our surroundings at the college, in our neighborhood, and in my 00:30:00starting a family.
BROOKS: Do you remember hearing that the war was over, like that instance?
JOHNSON: No. I guess troops were being withdrawn and coming back home. Iremember that at the peace table--first it seemed like you would bomb North Vietnam and then later on, bomb inside of Cambodia and Laos, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, supply routes, to try and negotiate something at the peace table. And then finally, it became apparent that the U.S. was going to be leaving Vietnam. 00:31:00South Vietnam and North Vietnam were to be separated, and free elections were to be held in South Vietnam. Then, when North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, and Saigon was about to be overrun, how that felt like one side of me was saying, "We need to go back. I thought the deal was, that there was going to be a North and South Vietnam." like North and South Korea, and South Vietnam would have a chance for self-determination, to develop their democracy, which would have been a difficult task but yet, you know, we had our history of developing a democracy, which was a difficult task. Now all of a sudden they're being overrun 00:32:00and we're not there. And then the feelings of, well that's not going according to the agreements they had in Geneva.
On the other hand, I didn't feel as though South Vietnam had the wherewithalmilitarily, to stand up to the North Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese always gave me a feeling of there's some committed people in their troops, but then there's some that didn't seem to be embracing the fight--that democracy was worth it. So, therein lies some confusion there. I never felt that where I was at in the Central Highlands, that the Montagnards, to me they could care less 00:33:00whether the government was communist or democratic. All they understood was their leadership from their elders and the things that they experienced throughout the ages, through the millenniums. When the North Vietnamese overran Saigon and took over, I thought a sense of loss, a sense of unfulfillment. But on the other hand, there was part of me that could easily rationalize that the country needed to be unified, that it needed to be one country, and if it was communist, so be it. Over time, they will see the benefits of free enterprise, 00:34:00and people having opportunities to develop themselves. But yet, that wasn't the way we had envisioned it in 1966 or '67 or '68. You couldn't help but feel like you have lost something, that your effort wasn't worth it--where do you go from here?
BROOKS: Were there any aspects of the military that you missed when you weretransitioning back to being a civilian?
JOHNSON: I liked the regimentation. I liked knowing that there were clear-cut00:35:00orders. That assuming that those who are leading you, were, had good experience and good decision-making abilities, that you'd just follow orders and execute orders, and that you were a good soldier if you became very well at the execution of things. I missed that regimentation. I missed the fact that I had rank--I was promoted to sergeant and so there were people that counted on me. I missed the adrenaline flow of certain aspects of the combat, and the fact that I took all these guys, throughout the year, on patrols, and never--a lot of guys 00:36:00got hurt, but nobody in my small groups ever got killed. That part of the military I missed.
When you're with a group of seven or eight on patrol, you become very close as aunit, and so back in the world, back in DeKalb, back in the university setting, you're surrounded by thousands. That was hard for me to deal with, the fact that now, I don't have the power to tell people what to do. Except I had a nice job 00:37:00at the university and I could tell people what to do there, but I mean, it didn't seem to have any kind of lifesaving ramifications. So that part of the military, I missed. I always, still to this day, think in terms of like some organizations--whether it's the military or other organizations--there's a reason for every one of their rules, there's a reason behind it. Just find the reason and the reason is a good one usually. You're only as strong as your weakest link, and you're only as fast as your slowest person, was something that I always felt strongly about, in no matter what kind of work situation I was in. Those are things that, initially, that I missed. 00:38:00
BROOKS: Did you ever think about going back to become a firefighter again?
JOHNSON: Yeah. At the time, they had passed some sort of resolution where youwere guaranteed your job back, and with time in the service. While I had been a fireman for almost two years before I was drafted, I'd have come back as a fireman with four years, and my pay would have been appropriate and so forth, so it was very tempting to do that. Being a firefighter was the second best thing I ever felt that I did in my life, besides being a teacher, was first, because I love the camaraderie and the regimentation of being a firefighter. And the fact 00:39:00that there was reasons for everything and procedures for everything. You just became very good at doing all those things, and I was very tempted to go back to do it. My wife and I talk about, "I wonder what life would have been if we would have gone back as a firefighter." And I don't know. In a way, I kind of regret not going back, but I've never admitted to really regretting it, because life has worked out very well. [telephone rings] Sorry.
BROOKS: It's okay. Do you want to get that?
JOHNSON: I'm going to turn my phone off. Sorry, I should have done that. What00:40:00was I saying?
BROOKS: That you wouldn't regret it.
JOHNSON: I don't regret it. I'll always wonder what it was like, what it wouldhave been like. I don't think I would have wanted to actually been a firefighter for thirty, forty years. The paramed thing today is, to me, a wonderful job within the firefighting, ambulance work and I think probably, I would have wanted to become part of the--like an assistant or a fire chief. But at the time, I was thinking I need to finish my education. It's funny, how you can go 00:41:00away to war and come back, and you're still remembering the things that your folks want you to do--to get a degree like everybody else in the family had degrees. To graduate, to be involved in business, or something like that, to my folks' way of looking at things, that would have been given a great deal more favor than going back as a fireman. So I went back to school, and the GI Bill paid for my expenses, and so I opted for that.
We were in DeKalb, where there was the fire department and the university. Therewas something about the university life, the ivory tower thing that was also 00:42:00attractive for me. It became easy. I went back to the fire department and didn't recognize a whole lot of people. A couple of guys were on a different shift now, and so I didn't make much of an effort to do that. Something inside of me¬--maybe it was that introvert inside of me--was just shying away and saying "Don't get aggressive, don't go back, and say you want this back. You've got to start over." I felt that going back to school was a way of starting over.
BROOKS: So you were in school for a few years, a couple years, before you andJudy relocated?
JOHNSON: I was back in school for a semester. School for me has been an ongoing00:43:00thing forever. It took me twenty years to get my bachelors degree. I went back as a semester as a sociology major, totally enjoyed the coursework that I took for first semester. Then, during my second semester back, an opening at the student union, where I was working part-time, a full-time manager's job opened up and my wife was teaching. She became--we became pregnant, and I thought it was time to reverse roles and I've got to go to work and she has to be home. I got that job as the night manager and she was at home, and that started almost 00:44:00five years of really good work at the university. It was wonderful, overseeing all the student activities that went on at the student union, but yet, the one who had a workforce of part-time and full-time people, to make sure that things ran smoothly. That was a really wonderful environment to work in, because every night was different activities. A lot of them were educational, but a lot of them were entertainment. I got kind of lost in that.
I thought that's what I would be doing the rest of my life, was student activity00:45:00type work. I should say, while I was there, I felt as though I really had a good operation. I hired an awful lot of students, and many of those student supervisors that I had went on to get really good jobs after they graduated, and that was a great source of pride for me, but yet, the university itself--I had received an award from the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, for fair hiring practices, because my workforce was so diverse. I was feeling pretty good about myself but the director of the student union took the award--claimed it as his 00:46:00own. Again, a little bit of one of the--one of those things with post traumatic stress disorder is the feeling of betrayal, and boom--I think I got pretty depressed because of that, and so I thought it's time for me to leave this university and go on and work at another university. But because I didn't have my degree, I couldn't get work, the type of work--student activities, student affairs-- without having a bachelors or a masters degree. That's what led us to moving to Green Bay. 00:47:00
BROOKS: You said that you were kind of--well, I'll go through some of the kindof more standard questions first. You used the GI Bill. Did you ever think about joining any veterans' organizations?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Judy is an only child, and as it turns out, our daughter Kristenis an only child also. Her mom and dad were very, very close, so were mine, but her mom and dad were visiting all the time. He was a World War II veteran that I was just so proud of, because of his service. What was the question again?
BROOKS: If you joined any veterans' organizations.
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. And he was involved in his VFW stuff in Chicago, but mostly00:48:00as a social and a source of good meals. I went and joined the--when we moved to Green Bay, I joined the Ashwaubenon VFW and right away was a little turned off. Every year, I've participated in some of the activities; selling poppies to raise funds for the VFW and disabled vets, but the actual going and socializing at the VFW--I couldn't do it. I couldn't tell the stories about my experience in Vietnam, I guess for a couple of reasons. I didn't feel as though my stories 00:49:00were as good as their stories. I felt their stories were fishtails, exaggerations. I'm sure many of them were true, but that's all they did was tell the same stories over and over again, and I didn't want that atmosphere. I never got involved with that. So, just sort of my experiences, my stories, were again, internalized and you left it like that.
BROOKS: Did you talk with your father in-law at all, or even your brother,seeing as they were both--
JOHNSON: My brother is gone now. I would like to talk to him about it now,because I felt as though I could never talk to him about it, because he was an officer and a pilot. He had two tours of duty in Vietnam--both of them were 00:50:00non-combat. Mine was, but I was not an officer, and so I never felt that I could stand in his shadow, and maybe he felt like he couldn't stand in my shadow because I was a combat veteran, but he never really asked me about it. Whenever I did talk about being a forward observer, it seemed like he wasn't all that interested. But that's just the way I felt. I always felt as though, as the youngest in the family, it didn't matter what I did, or the importance of anything that I might have done, that it could never be as important as anything they could have done, because I was the youngest. That's a problem I've always dealt with, and so we didn't talk about that. 00:51:00
My father in-law, never talked much about his service in World War II, untillater, until he was almost eighty, until we started recording him at Thanksgiving dinner, we recorded him, and got--he opened up. But before that, all our talks were about family and work. Yeah, I think that's probably true of a lot of World War II guys--they just don't come right out and talk about it. Some do and the ones that do probably don't--they talk too much.
BROOKS: So, when you did go to the VFW, was it mostly World War II veterans?00:52:00
JOHNSON: It was. I don't know where the Vietnam vets were. Now, VFWs, a lot ofVietnam vets are there, and it seems like they're always looking for newer guys and women to join. There's a tendency amongst veterans to just get with their lives, and they don't spend a whole lot of time in the VFW scene until maybe later.
BROOKS: What do you think it was that finally kind of encouraged you to open upmore and start talking?
JOHNSON: I was almost fifty years old and decided to go back to school again,00:53:00this time here, at St. Norbert College, because I wanted to get a teacher certification and start teaching. I'd been in sales for twenty years and supported the family and did a good job in sales, but there never was really, a great deal of fulfillment or a sense of satisfaction, and now at fifty, I wanted to go back to school. My wife had her financial planning business and it was really starting to do well and taking off, so it could offer us another opportunity to do a little role reversal and me to back to school.
When I went back at St. Norbert, I wanted to be a teacher of social studies, and00:54:00so it was suggested that I enter as a broad field social studies major. That way I could teach social studies, history, a variety of that, plus language arts, from anywhere from six to grade twelve. I really liked the idea of studying history, so I took some history classes. In them, I met a Dr. Larry McAndrews at St. Norbert, whose class wasn't just a sit down and listen to him lecture class, and then spit it out on a test thing--he involved the students. He appreciated interaction and opinion and comments. In fact, he had debates as part of his class, and so when you got into a certain particular era, he would put--there 00:55:00was these cool books that really helped me with my--the confusion I alluded to earlier. They're called oppositional thinking, and so you take a topic like the death penalty, and that part, there will be an oppositional thinking which will have six of the world's best authorities on why the death penalty is essential, and six people, world authorities, as to why the death penalty should be abolished. Their articles are put together, and we would read these articles, and then you would be on the side that says abolish the death penalty, and I'd 00:56:00be on the side that said--and it was based on a form, in which I wouldn't say--I would not try to defeat you in the debate. I called it a debate, but it was really a forum. You presented all the issues on your side of the argument, I presented all the ones on my side of the argument, and that way the class sees both.
I really enjoyed doing that. It got me to think that oppositional thinking, youknow, if we're having an argument, whether it be a husband and wife or whether it be two people talking about political things, and you're trying to present your argument, I should be able to explain your side--even though I disagree with it. I should be able to say, "What you're really saying is this." and you say, "Yes, that's right." Too many arguments don't go that way. It becomes "Oh, 00:57:00you stupid idiot," and name-calling, and oppositional thinking. We were doing that in the classroom and it got to be the era of the sixties and so forth, and because I was a nontraditional student, everybody else in class was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and there was only a few of us that were older, all of a sudden they were wanting our opinion on this or that.
I took issue with something that was written in the text, whatever readingmaterial we had, about Vietnam, basically argued on my own, just from my gut, why I thought what they were saying in this issue was just one side of the 00:58:00story--they should present the other side. Whoa, I mean this got attention. And so that's how that went, and Dr. McAndrews then approached me and said, "You know when I have my classes I'd love to have you in to speak." I said, "Well, I'm not a lecturer, but if it was a question and answer thing and you felt a need to have a veteran come into your classes and talk about what it was like being someone who served in Vietnam, good. In fact, I have like three hundred letters that I could bring in, and the class could read the letters and see what people were thinking of it at that time, and my pictures." That's what opened me up and got me talking about it, and when it is a question and answer, you can answer the questions that are sometimes difficult to answer. It was good for me 00:59:00to work through that, and so I opened up about Vietnam.
BROOKS: What were the first few times that you talked to a class, how did that go?
JOHNSON: Nervous. During the question and answer, I was guarded as far as mychosen words. I didn't want to upset anybody by swearing in class or talking the talk, using the language that we used. But then, I became more comfortable with it. The first few times was nervous. Even today, when I do it though, when I'm done, I have to go to sleep. I have to just--I'm exhausted, even though it's a 01:00:00one-hour class. I'm just exhausted, thinking about that, because they'll ask, "Did you kill anybody?" And they wanted to know how. "Did you go into villages and slaughter people?" And these kinds of things. I said, "Any questions are aboveboard and it's okay." And those questions sometimes took a long time to answer. But it was really good, because today, Vietnam is fifty years almost since. There seems to be a certain--people in their late teens, early twenties, 01:01:00have--are they, I don't know if the word is fascinated, but when it gets to be the sixties and the Vietnam era, they're interested. Maybe it's because of war movies or whatever, or the fact that they expect somebody to come out in front of them that's got a body full of tattoos and the long beard, using the F-word all the time, and recovering from drugs and alcohol. I don't know what they expect, but there's a certain fascination with the topic. Obviously, our country changed a great deal from that era.
BROOKS: What do you think one of the best questions you've ever been asked bythe students has been?
JOHNSON: Wow. I always thought the good question was: "How was it when you got01:02:00home?" Every class asked that question and it's such a transition from being a combat soldier, the intensity and the vigilance required in order to survive and come back home. That we're trained to--we're sort of trained to deal with that, but you have to experience that on your own and figure out what the best course of action is, and then survive it. Then you come home and it's like you have to 01:03:00be retrained to be successful in civilian life again, and many veterans struggle with that today--huge struggle with that. "How do I become successful as a civilian now? I don't need that vigilance; I don't need that constant alertness."
I try to describe that when they ask me the question, and I'm not sure that--and I think I do describe it pretty well, but you're never quite sure if they completely understand because they haven't been through it. I try to tell them that war should be a last resort. I never would want my children to have to be, or get, their backs against the wall to where they have to either pull a trigger or not. And you don't have to do that in civilian life. Those are the kind of 01:04:00things that you do and the memories that you never can quite shake, even though you were there for only a year. That would be the question that I always have, I'm waiting for it, and I'm always not quite sure how I'm going to respond to it.
Other questions that were--I think people have the impression that military lifeis, can be, drudgery, always hardships and things like that, so people will ask 01:05:00questions about what did you do to keep happy or whatever. I thought those are some of the best questions too, because it speaks to our resilience, that not just my situation as a combat veteran in Vietnam, but other people, who had to hide during World War II, from the Nazis, or who fought in World War II, Korea, or anywhere else, those that are in the--were in the Civil Rights Movement here, those situations which were so--those kind of situations cause people to be resilient, or not. We found resilience in humor. Tomorrow we might not make it, 01:06:00but we might as well find a joke today. We found humor in almost everything, and the appreciation for the little things. Little things mean a lot, my mom used to say that all the time--"Little things mean a lot." And that came so true for me in Vietnam, where you appreciate the little things, to where later on, when you're in a more secure environment or safely back at home, you always have the appreciation. You want to make sure the little things are there and available, because those are the things that make us comfortable in life. To me, anyway, I'd much rather have the little comforting things, than something big. That's 01:07:00been my excuse for never being someone who really went after the material things in the world, but I think it's true. I think now, you can have lots of material things that you would like out of life, but also, you have to have the little things.
BROOKS: Are you still talking to school groups--do you still do that?
JOHNSON: Yeah, although Dr. McAndrews has left St. Norbert and moved on, and soI need to find another connection for next year. But yeah, I've been doing that. I did at some of the high schools around town, word got around, and so they 01:08:00invited me in and that worked out--it's similar. In some regards, I appreciated my eighth graders sometimes better than the college kids, because the college kids were always looking for, "What's he got to say that I have to remember, that I could spit out on a test?" Whereas eighth graders are more--just pure curiosity, and not afraid to ask questions, whereas sometimes college kids are afraid to ask the questions.
BROOKS: After you went back to school, you ended up teaching yourself?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I graduated from St. Norbert--or I got my certification--and I01:09:00had to go find a job. I was hoping to get a high school--I wanted to teach high school kids, older high school kids. I had an interview with Ashwaubenon High School, and actually, one of the kids that got his teachers certification with me, from St. Norbert, nineteen year-old punk, got the job, and I didn't, and I often wondered "Was I too old? Is this really true, that when you're past fifty, it's hard to find a job because you're too old? What's the deal?" I realized he's just a brilliant kid, and so that's what they were looking for. In the meantime, I got an interview with a principal at St. Jude School in Green Bay, 01:10:00which was a K-8 school. I visited with her and realized that this was the place I really wanted to be, because she offered me autonomy. She said, "I need someone to teach social studies, language arts, maybe religion now and then, and if you want to teach religion any way you want it--go ahead." Because I wasn't going to teach Catholicism out of a catechism, I was going to--something told me that this could be a good fit, and there was no money almost, but again, I could do it because my wife was doing so well. So, I said "Yeah." and that was the beginning of a beautiful thing, because it just so happens that that school, she 01:11:00did exactly that. I visited with her almost every day after school--because she would stay late, I'd stay late--and we'd talk about our day and things like that.
I did so many things in those ten years, with the kids, besides classroomteaching, that it was wonderful for me. Plus, about 25 percent of my students were Hmong, and the Hmong lost everything in--the Hmong that I taught were almost all from Laos, and became refugees in camps in Thailand after they were 01:12:00driven from their land by the communists. Once we gave up our efforts, we left the Hmong hung out to dry, and they either had to be brought back into the communist society or flee, and many of them fled. And so, I was reunited with Vietnam to a certain extent, through my Hmong students, and that was a good thing.
BROOKS: You'd said before, that you didn't really know what was going on interms of the secret war in Laos, and the Hmong. When did you first hear about what had happened there?
JOHNSON: Eighth grader.
BROOKS: Oh, really?
JOHNSON: An eighth grader came up to me and said my--because they found out Iwas a Vietnam vet. It just came out. He came to me a little while later and said 01:13:00that his grandpa had come across the Mekong River, to Thailand, and he was born in Thailand and came to the U.S. And I asked him where his parents were and his parents didn't make it--they were killed. But grandpa, he loved coming to my room, because I had my classroom--had to look a little like a museum. I mean there was maps and periods of history stuff. I used all the walls, all the way down the hallway, to as far as the other teachers would let me go, until they said, "Wait a minute, I've got to use that wall." But I had stuff on women's history, Native American, whatever, heroes of this and that, and I had maps. His 01:14:00dad wanted to show me--his grandpa wanted to show me where he had been, and because it turns out that he was not far from where I was--he was just on the other side of the border, in Laos, and for a little bit of time I was near there.
Anyway, it started a nice--I became involved with the Hmong community a littlebit. Our principal and the priest, the parish priest, were very involved with the Hmong community, and there was a real sense of closeness in that they were always welcome to come in the classroom and look at my stuff, and see things, and they enjoyed it. So it was an eighth grade kid, and he brought a book in 01:15:00called Secret Mountain. I'd have to Google it right now. I think it was called Secret Mountain.
BROOKS: The Lonely Mountain, was it that one?
BROOKS: There's a book, I'm pretty sure it's called The Lonely Mountain: TheSecret War in Laos.
JOHNSON: It talks about the secret war in Vietnam. I almost read the whole thingbut I read enough of it to know that, as an account, it would be considered a real good account of what happened to the Hmong. Certainly, it has a bias, because it's written by them and shows--one of the points of it is that the U.S. 01:16:00abandoned them. There are a lot of people who would say no, it's more complicated, see it's confusing and complicated, the whole thing. But, you know, I think we did abandon them. That was my first awareness of who the Hmong were and what they did.
BROOKS: Just to kind of shift gears a little bit. When did you first hear about,when did you first hear the term PTSD, or when were you first introduced to the concept?
JOHNSON: Maybe ten years ago, maybe even less than that. I had heard from afriend, a good friend of mine said that there is a therapist by the name of 01:17:00George Kamps, who works with a lot of veterans, and that it might be good for me to speak with him, because while I wasn't exhibiting any kind of scary behavior or anything like that, I just--my friend knew that I was a Vietnam vet, and that there was a certain amount of confusion and things. He just sort of matched me up and said, "You ought to go see him." "I'm not crazy, I don't need to see a therapist, a shrink." "Well, it could be good to see him." My wife thought so too, and so I went and started seeing George. I found it to be very comforting, to bounce things off of him, and that he was starting to give me some tools to 01:18:00work with in my tool chest, as to how to deal with people in my life.
George mentioned the term to me, when I first started seeing him--"Oh yeah, I'dheard about that, oh yeah, shellshock, yeah I know about that." but not really, I didn't know about it. He did and it fascinated me a little bit, because I thought that--I had been feeling some guilt about not being so scarred like some other veterans had been, by their experience. "Why is it that I have a good life, why is it that I have a good income?" when some of the others people, 01:19:00veterans, did not. And so it was good to, once a month, see George, as sort of a good way of staying away from problems, but bouncing off a third party. And so that was my first experience with therapy, or seeing an unrelated person, and it made a big difference in my life, I think. Because too many times, when we have problems, we want to see somebody we know, and that isn't necessarily the best person that can help us. An unrelated professional is the way to go, I think.
BROOKS: So, aside from those kind of guilt feelings, were there any other01:20:00manifestations, maybe when you started learning about PTSD, and you were like, "Oh that."
JOHNSON: Yeah. Without reading anything, at first George was giving meexplanations as to why I might be so quiet, so introverted, in social situations. Why I always had to feel guarded about the things coming up--that I needed to be prepared, that I needed to have the right things to say, you know this sort of thing, that it was related to experiences as a soldier. Then I started reading--the book that had the biggest impact on me, was, Tears of a 01:21:00Warrior, because it outlines those things, those manifestations of PTSD that are most common, and so you do, you look at those and you say, "Yeah that's me, no that's not me." I had nightmares early on, but I hadn't had them for quite a while, but nightmares, feelings of being abandoned, and nightmares about being abandoned, alone. Whenever, for example, the experience of the director of the student union taking all the credit for that award I got from the Chamber in DeKalb, the anger I felt was scary. I wanted to hit the guy, or worse. I had ten 01:22:00years of good teaching in at St. Jude, when they decided that they should have all young people there, and who would be teaching religion according to the dogma of the church. And so every now and then in my life, everybody has a time where they feel as though they've been abandoned, or betrayed, I think maybe a lot of people experience that, but bouncing it off him and knowing that I was having--I'm very cautious of that happening again. So there's that. 01:23:00
Hyper vigilance--yeah, I always do need to face the door or have an eye on thedoor, the way out. I always like to view everybody in front of me and watching them, and I am the last one to bed, after I do the perimeter of the house, and I mean that's my job. I never thought about that too much, you know, I just thought it's what I do. Those kind of things, when we have arguments, I exhibited the characteristics of "Yes, this is an argument we have to have but 01:24:00I'm not going to have it right now, I'm going to flee. Are you going to fight or are you going to flee? I'll flee for the time being, I'll fight later." This was causing occasional problems with my daughter and my wife and I, because you know, "You have to talk about it now." "No, I don't and I won't." I would become sullen and quiet, and you could not get me to say anything, talking, and why? Why is that? I was accused of making the person I was arguing with feeling bad, by me not saying anything, when really all I wanted to do was not say anything because I was afraid I was going to say the wrong thing. Those are things that if you're not ready to talk. 01:25:00
People who have someone who is challenged by PTSD, those are things they need tobe aware of, that yeah, these are things we need to talk about, and when would be a good time to talk about them, would be the question-- not "You've got to talk about this now." "How do you want to talk about it? How long do you want to talk about it? And we'll get it, we'll get it resolved." For me, if I ever feel as though someone is not getting respect, or if I'm not getting respect, that's one of the things that has bugged me the most, that will bother me more than almost anything. Go and hit me or do something physically to hurt me, but don't show disrespect. I'd much rather it be the other way. Those are just some things 01:26:00that got in the way a lot of times for me.
I'm just trying to think of some of the other aspects. I think for me, it wasmostly silence and quietness. It's funny, in front of a classroom, in which I had an agenda, an itinerary, I could appear totally in charge, totally outgoing, I could create humor, I could do this and that, but in other aspects, I just 01:27:00want to be alone. For me, a good weekend is when I'm home alone--I don't need to go out. I call it the--since we've talked about it a lot more, there's the old Darryl and the new Darryl. The new Darryl isn't significantly different than the old Darryl, but there's a lot of things that the new Darryl does, or doesn't do, that the old Darryl would, and so we joke about that a little bit, my wife and I, about "Is this new Darryl or old Darryl talking right now?"
I think PTSD has caused me--until I went back to school and taught--caused me to01:28:00go from job to job, I didn't have any more than five years at a time at any one particular job, but I thought that that was normal--a lot of people are doing that now. You don't go to work for the neighborhood foundry and stay there for forty years like mom and dad might have done. People do shift, move. Do you hear that?
JOHNSON: I never left a job on bad terms. I never got dismissed, but there justalways was something that caused me to change jobs. I think, had my wife and 01:29:00daughter not realized that there was some things that might have been created because of my experience in Vietnam, that if they had not been as understanding, that I would have been another Vietnam statistic for divorce--divorce, drugs, alcohol, a big part, a big hurdle that men and women today have to get over successfully when they reenter society, and a lot of them aren't doing it successfully. I was lucky that whatever aspects of PTSD I faced, I was able to 01:30:00realize it and actually, PTSD is one thing. Lately, I've been reading about a thing called post traumatic growth, and that basically says that you have all these aspects of PTSD that can tear a person and bring them down, but how is it that recent--since the 1990s--research has shown that out of a hundred people, almost 50 percent experience a negative--because of trauma--their life situation experiences a negative or downturn, that they either can't recover from, or they recover very slowly. How is it that there's almost 43 percent--it's what that 01:31:00book says--experience growth? That they have a traumatic experience, not just combat veterans, but people's accidents, actually get--and sometimes it's in a very short time, sometimes it takes a long time, that their life experience becomes better. I read that and a lot of things from that aspect work out well.
People like myself, have to re-authorize themselves or re-author theirexperience. I've had to realize that if combat experiences--that I can't rely 01:32:00upon somebody prescribing me a medication, giving me an outline and saying this is what you need to do in order to become healthier. No, I have to do that on my own. They can be helpful, they can advise, but I have to adapt that on my own and realize that I am going to make me better. It seems so simple, but it's something that as far as veterans, men and women today, really struggle with, because they're waiting for somebody to show them a way out, and that someone is right within themselves. You know, even if it's just taking--and it's 01:33:00discovering the little things in life that I have to do, and then doing them, and then analyzing the situation a week from now, a month from now, a year from now--"How am I better?" And that's how you grow. Everybody else is helpful and an advisor, but what I need is someone who says, when I say I've got a problem--"My daughter, she is not seeing things clearly and we don't see eye-to-eye on money." Instead of someone saying "Well, this is what you should do." and it's--they ask the question, "How are you going to deal with that? Tell me three things you're going to do to make it a situation where she feels good 01:34:00and you feel good." Those are things that produce growth and it's just the way we--it's the way we--our approach to things.
BROOKS: Tell me about being involved with the Artists for the Humanities. Howdid you get involved?
JOHNSON: Again, George Kamps, one day said, "Hey, I just came in touch with aperson out of Appleton, that is an artist, and he's got me thinking that this right brain stuff." And I'm going "Right brain, left brain, what's? I know 01:35:00there's a difference, but don't ask me what it is." He said, "What it is, is that the creative side, the right brain, is your creativity side, that is mostly associated with writing, artistry and things like that, and that people who--there's an organization out of Appleton, that are doing art therapy, and that by sitting down and doing a little bit of artwork, you could feel better about yourself, bottom line, is what it amounts to." And I said, "Shoot, I have no experience with art, don't want to do it." He said, "You ought to try it some time," it really feels--he didn't feel like he could do anything worthwhile 01:36:00artistically either, and he still doesn't feel that way, and I don't too much either. But somehow, because it is locally, in town, at the Abbey, which donates a large room area for free, that they meet and you ought to go. So I said, "Okay, I'll do it." And I went once and the experience was very good. I felt better when I left, than when I got there, to where I go every time. I don't miss many--it's a once a month thing for me. What I found was that it was nice to sit down with other veterans, again, though I was afraid that I'd be totally turned off, because we're all sitting in a lounge area--the idea is to create a 01:37:00very comfortable setting. You don't have to say anything if you don't want to, or you could say a lot of stuff if you want. People say "Hi, how are you? I'm Darryl Johnson. I served in Vietnam, '68 to '69, as a forward observer, in the Infantry." And then basically that's it, and then okay, everybody says hi, and then we're going to work on something today. I didn't know what I was going to work on--I didn't know what I could draw. I needed a little direction, so they have two artists there, and they have all the materials, that you could work from just pencil, to colored markers, to acrylics, to oil, watercolors, 01:38:00whatever, it's all there.
"What do you feel like doing?" I'm questioning myself, and I thought "I think Icould do something today that shows my confusion with the whole Vietnam experience." On a piece of paper, I drew--I used words as my medium, and at the top, I put peace, at the bottom I did war. Love at the top, hate at the bottom, action at the top, apathy at the bottom. These were extremes. These were the things that I was caught in the middle of all the time, especially then, and at 01:39:00the bottom, where there was war, hate, and apathy, I didn't paint--I just used markers, and made it very ugly colors, dark, nasty colors. Then, towards the top, where it was peace, love and action, I started drawing in earth tones and sunlight and things like that, and it turned out great. Then, you're challenged to write a little narrative about it, and so I wrote about how I was caught in the middle of these things, and I had to work my way through them in order to be okay in civilian life. That was my first piece, and that was how I got exposed 01:40:00to Artists for the Humanities, and the Road to Recovery Program. Basically it's art therapy, and I've been convinced ever since, that art therapy--a big thing in my life that has helped me, has been physical therapy, because I can go--I mean, yesterday, I was pretty much dawn to dusk, outside, working, gardening, creating, but that's creative also. I discovered the benefits of that, physical therapy, and I always knew that writing, I was good at it, but I had never tried art.
The beauty of art therapy is that it's permanent. I could listen to somebody on01:41:00stage, at a microphone or just sitting across the table, telling me things that are good for me, or talking about a topic in which they're an expert and I could listen, listen, listen, and a week later you could say "How did that meeting go last week?" And you know, you retain only so much and sometimes it's very little. But when you sit for the same length of time and do something and create something on your own, it's still there a week from now--it's permanent. I showed this war and peace thing to my wife and kid and grandkids, and I think 01:42:00they understood me a little bit better. That was a good starting off spot with me, and it's caused me, because I am retired, I have no trouble with my schedule, every month I go. Other men and women have come and gone. It seems like therapy almost of any kind--art, physical, whatever--you almost sometimes have to drag people into it, you have to force them to do it. You will do this. Otherwise, they don't realize how good it is and beneficial it can be for them, until they do it regularly. We've had a lot of people come and go, but there are 01:43:00now several people that come, I mean it's like part of their life every month, I see them every month, and we know what it's doing for us.
BROOKS: That first time that you went, was George there as well?
BROOKS: Did you know anyone else besides George?
JOHNSON: No, he was the only one. Tim Mayer is the director of the Artists forthe Humanities, and a very dedicated person, and I got to know him. So I see him a lot now, because I'm trying to help with the organization.
BROOKS: And what's some of the other pieces of work that you've done?01:44:00
JOHNSON: Almost everything I did the first two years had to do with words. Itried to recall all the--one piece was recalling all the slang and things that we spoke then: "It don't mean nothing." "What are you going to do, send me to Vietnam?" "Better dead than red." If I put my mind to it, I could think of a whole list of slang and stuff that we used almost exclusively in the sixties, and so I wrote that down. And each little phrase I did in a different colored pen, and that looks, a lot of different colors, and people will focus on, look at that--that was a good piece. 01:45:00
I recounted the benefits of being a soldier--the things that it taught me thatwere good in my life, like trusting the person next to you, good communication, things like that. A lot of those things had been violated at times, but for the most part--so I did a piece on that. I never felt like if I did a piece, the only negative--one of the negative things that gave me a problem with, in the Vietnam experience, was when I was embarrassed by the actions of my fellow 01:46:00soldiers, my comrades. One of them was--and I think I told you about that earlier--when we were going through villages and guys were throwing C-Rations at the people. I tried to draw that and I was so bad at the figures, but it got the impression. It's a piece that I will work on again, because it was so meaningful to me--that memory I can't get it out of my mind.
Another piece I did was--and it looks really bad--but it's a dream I had, of,there's combat going on between, it seemed like about a platoon size, is the way I drew it, about twenty, and an equal number of North Vietnamese, and I am 01:47:00invisible, I am without a weapon, I'm naked, and I'm running around between all of them, and I'm trying to tell everybody what to do but they can't hear me, and it's just complete--like nobody's listening. And this is a problem I have with PTSD also, is that at times, I really feel as though nobody's listening to me. That piece is good, but it needs work because the figures and everything, again, drawing the human figure is difficult for me, but it speaks to a very big issue with me. People aren't really not listening to me, it's just that I haven't said 01:48:00the right thing, or I'm going on too long, and so they're--I've gone on too long. Keep it short. Work your language in such a way that people will listen. Anyway, there was that.
BROOKS: How do you know when a piece is finished?
JOHNSON: I think when you say, the message is said, I'm happy with the work thatI've done on it, if I mess around with it any more I'll screw it up, I'm done. For me, the message usually is contained--it's focused on one thing. I just did 01:49:00one on Agent Orange. I have no idea whether I was infested by Agent Orange or not. I was in areas where Agent Orange was used extensively, for long periods of time, but I seem to be healthy, so I don't know. But anyway, I wanted to do something about Agent Orange, because I've always felt as though, that the world hates us for using it. The same thing with napalm, that I always felt guilty that we used it, that the people we used it on hate us for using it. I don't know if that's true or not, but to me that's it. I did a thing on Agent Orange and I knew it was done, and I had some pictures of myself in areas that had been 01:50:00treated by Agent Orange, so they're on there, and the symbols for Agent Orange, and the words that are part of the symbol, would get people thinking.
Then I wrote kind of a neat narrative saying that when I was in Vietnam, Ithought Agent Orange was pretty cool stuff, because man, you could see into the--prior to its use, there were times the jungle was so thick, I couldn't see more than ten feet, I could just see movement. But now, with Agent Orange, you know, you could see from hilltop to hilltop. I didn't realize it was toxic and that it had dioxins, and so you didn't realize that until you got back home, and then it started to become apparent--again, largely through student movements, 01:51:00protesting Monsanto and Dow Chemical, for their making of these things--that you suddenly realized there needs to be checks and balance with the use of weaponry. There has to be somebody there that says, "This is okay and this is not okay" in war. I knew that piece was done, because I did a little bit of a narrative on that. It was long enough, it got the message across--it's done.
BROOKS: And do you typically share? Because I know you get the chance to talkabout your pieces in the meetings. Do you usually talk?
JOHNSON: Yeah. When you're finished--we worked from like one-thirty to three,01:52:00three-fifteen, and then we gather around the lounge area again, with what we've been working on, and everybody's given the chance to speak about what they did. Some people complete something in the hour and a half, some people are not finished, and usually everybody talks about the work they've done, why they did it. There have been times where people say, I can't talk about it, and you have to respect that. You have to respect that. But most people are willing and comfortable with each other, because we're veterans, that there's enough trust level there to say, this was an experience that was good or bad. Very often, the 01:53:00things that I, the topics I choose are on the growth aspects--versus the nightmare aspects--of trauma. I have no trouble, usually, just talking about it, and that's how it finishes, and that I think is the therapeutic aspect of it, is you go home with your work and you can continue working on it at home, or you can leave it there and work on it next time, or you just give it to Tim, with your authorization that it can become part of the Artists for the Humanities art 01:54:00therapy--he's got hundreds, hundreds and hundreds, of stuff, pieces that people have done.
BROOKS: Do you tend to keep yours or do you usually leave them with Tim?
JOHNSON: I've left most of them. The ones that I keep are the ones that--becauseagain, I'm retired, so I will find some time between sessions to work on them, because now, I feel as though there's not just--it's not a thing where "Oh, today is art therapy session day, what am I going to work on?" No, I'm thinking that there are two or three things that I want to do. Ahead, I'm kind of thinking ahead. I will take them home, but then they wind up in his hands 01:55:00eventually. This Agent Orange thing, for example, that I just did, I'm not going to want to slap that on my living room wall--it's really a kind of a disturbing piece. No, not going to go in the living room.
JOHNSON: But it's something that will get people thinking.
BROOKS: So, we talk a lot at the museum, about how the veteran experience isuniversal, regardless of what conflict you were in. Almost everyone who experienced it went through the same type of things, but there's some differences, and I'm wondering if you notice differences between the veterans from different conflicts in the meetings.
JOHNSON: Yes. I think one of the biggest differences for me, would be the01:56:00communication. When I was there, it took nine to fourteen days to get--from what I wrote, and only my writing. I couldn't call. I was in the boonies--I wasn't in a base camp. Some people in base camp could call the States at the time, maybe once a week. I never got a call out, so writing was all I could do. The turnaround time was okay, it got to whoever I wrote it to in about nine days, they wrote something, so it was at least two weeks before someone's responding to what I wrote about two weeks ago. To me, that was pretty fascinating, the way 01:57:00we could adapt to that type of thing, but also, it led to a lot of anxiety--especially if you were writing to someone who you thought you loved, and they were thinking "Maybe I don't love you anymore." and it's the back and forth and the not knowing. Obviously, today, you've got cell phones, texting, which I don't know that that gives complete messages of how we feel, but it's more instantaneous, and that's a big difference. Hearing a person's voice is huge and even Skypeing today. I think that's one difference. 01:58:00
I think there's a huge difference between jungle warfare and urban warfare.There were casualties of war in Vietnam and World War II, that were civilian casualties, but most of the battles were, most of the conflict was not--I can't really agree with myself there. I was going to say in World War II, a lot of that was in the cities, but I mean, the urban warfare today seems to be something that would be a lot harder to deal with--knowing who your enemy was. We thought we had a problem in Vietnam, with knowing who the Viet Cong 01:59:00were--they didn't wear uniforms. That exists today, but I think it's even become more intense. The IEDs that are used today are a lot more terrorizing than any Punji sticks or things that we might have come across.
I think there are things, and I think the biggest difference in trying tounderstand current veterans versus my era, are the role that women play in combat and in the military, and the problems that they experienced with abuse. I 02:00:00think those are the things that--but yet, when we gather--young and old--we can appreciate the things that we do share, in terms of the combat and trauma that we've seen. A lot of it is similar, but those are the things that I think are unique today.
BROOKS: Any differences in how people do react in those meetings, in terms ofjust differences you see between the eras and how they're reacting to the art therapy? It's okay if the answer is no too.
BROOKS: It's okay if the answer is no. I don't want to lead you into answering that.
JOHNSON: No, when someone gets emotional, you always wonder, "How am I goingto--" you know, how do you react. They're getting emotional about something that they experienced, and I don't quite understand it or I didn't quite get all the details, my hearing aides aren't all that great. "Why are they getting so emotional?" Sometimes, you're always wondering whether the person is being totally honest about their experience. "Are they exaggerating?" All I can say is that you take from it what could be instructed to yourself, and if it turns out 02:02:00that as far as whatever, anybody's had to corroborate something, that they're being as honest as they can. That's the beauty of the sessions, is that people feel comfortable.
There have been times when the local news--and this has not helped theorganization try to get out in the community as something that's doing--an organization that's trying to do some good, when you tell the newspaper, "No, you can't come in and view us, because we don't want to be recorded, because it could lead to some people feeling a little too uncomfortable with sharing whatever they're talking about." It's not totally private--there was one time when we had some UWGB students come in to observe, and everybody was fine with it, it worked out just fine, but I don't think we hit upon any really, really 02:03:00deep things that day. I think that's all I can say about that.
BROOKS: Okay. Do you have any advice for people who are maybe in the same, or asimilar situation, who are just kind of realizing that they might be suffering from PTSD, aside from maybe coming to do art? Any other advice?
JOHNSON: I think anybody who feels as though their life is a little too full ofstress, needs to realize that "I need to take a little time for myself, and how 02:04:00am I going to use that time?" And I think they just have to promise themselves they'll take that time, even if it's just a little bit.
[Session 2, File 2]
JOHNSON: It probably would be the best that it would be just a teeny part oftheir day, that they're going to take time for themselves and ask themselves some pretty serious questions about "What am I doing? How is it benefiting me, and where am I going to? Where do I see myself being somewhere down the road, and how to measure." And there's books that can help a person organize that kind of thought process. But it starts with just taking time for yourself. I think the creative--we get too distracted just saying, "I'll take some time, I'll go 02:05:00on a park bench and sit and be quiet." Even there, there's too many distractions. I think the writing or the creative stuff is--if we want to really grow, I think that writing and using the creative side of our brain is important. I like to write along with what I draw. I think they're almost inseparable now, but at first I would have thought just writing.
When I retired, my wife still works, I'm retired. In our relationship that meansthat I almost have to justify my retirement all the time. "Am I really doing stuff that makes my life worthwhile, compared to what she does in work, in 02:06:00creating an income." I justify it by asking myself if my day is a full day, and am I involved in the right things, but I journal. Journaling can be real easy, just taking notes. Every day, I'm writing down, in notation form, some of the things I do, and that way I can look back and see that well, last week, I got quite a bit done. Those are just little things but I'm writing, and at times, I will take some time to write in-depth about certain things. A lot of people who say, "I've got to make a living and I don't have time at work, my boss won't let me take time to write." "Fine, then write at home." "I've got kids." "Fine. Find 02:07:00time to write at home, somewhere, somehow, even if it's just a few sentences, just something to keep you on track." Get the book, What Doesn't Kill Us. "What doesn't kill us" was a phrase that Nietzsche used: "What doesn't kill us makes us strong," and he's talking about PTSD, and how to grow from trauma--not Nietzsche, but the author of this book, What Doesn't Kill Us. He's got all kinds of--you know, there's all kinds of things that we could do daily, that could keep us on the growth aspect, rather than the downward swirl part. 02:08:00
I think the more we can self-direct ourselves, the more we can share that withothers and ask others to talk with us about certain things--that's what I would recommend. There's a saying I used with my eighth-graders that I think is real important for adults too, is that, "We are who we hang with." There used to be a phrase in the sixties, seventies, "You are what you eat." That's pretty true. And then I don't know if I coined it, but with my kids I said, "You are what you view." If you watch ten-thousand murders on the TV by the time you're a teenager, I got a feel that it's going to cheapen your view of life. 02:09:00
JOHNSON: But you are who you hang with, and if we're surrounded by people whoare "Woe is me." people, it's hard to get out of that. But if we find a way to get involved in this and that, just at a small level, of people that are in a positive direction. So it's who we hang with, and taking things upon yourself, and measuring them. Yeah, so those would be the two things that I think would be very important for people with PTSD today, to get on a growth journey.
BROOKS: I don't have anything else written down or anything. Is there anything02:10:00else we didn't touch on that you want to mention?
JOHNSON: No. [pause] No, I think just the last couple things I mentioned were sosignificant, to me. I guess I would like to say one thing. It seems like the 02:11:00people that we visit in Tomah, the hospital in Tomah--many of the veterans in Milwaukee that we're seeing now, not so much in Green Bay--but have had such huge problems with drugs and alcohol. They probably would think that my view, especially what I was just talking about, would be a bit naïve, or that they tried it and it didn't work. I guess I would say, "You've got to try it again." But I'm really concerned about--there's those veterans that have turned to drugs 02:12:00and alcohol as escapes or whatever, and once they're addicted, to be able to see your way, to rationalize a better way, as opposed to rationalize a reason for falling down again--that's just huge. Those that do escape those addictions and become growth oriented are really significant and awesome people. But there are not enough of them. There's too many that are still struggling with those and 02:13:00that worries me.
Also, there's just so many men and women veterans, and men and women who'veexperienced trauma, who were like myself for twenty, thirty years, who just don't talk about it. That's a coping mechanism really, to just not talk about it. You can cope pretty well that way for a while, but usually, as a coping mechanism it's not very successful long-term. So those that choose not to write, not to draw, use art as therapy, not to use, to avoid therapy at all, to even just talking to a therapist, I would encourage them to find a third person 02:14:00that's neutral, that's not related, to talk to. That's about all I could think of.
BROOKS: So the Road to Recovery Program, you would take it elsewhere then, isthat what you were saying?
JOHNSON: Yes. I participate locally, in the one at St. Norbert College, I meanat Saint Norbert Abbey, but Tim, twice a month goes to Tomah, under the view of therapists there, who will have their patients come in, and have art therapy sessions. Now, those are prescribed. When it's prescribed, you have to do, so 02:15:00it's not really voluntary. It takes a special work on his part, to get them to see how it can benefit them, and those that have seem to have produced some terrific pieces that will be in the exhibit. That's going on in Tomah, and you might have heard that Tomah has been under the scrutiny lately, of--but that's neither here nor there. The art therapy is a wonderful program there. Many of those people are under, are medicated and that's been an area of controversy lately, that they're using opiates and too much medication. But the art therapy 02:16:00has made a difference for a lot of men and women there.
Milwaukee, there's a vet center that men and women go to, and we started goingthere just recently. Mostly it's just Tim that goes there, and again, under their guidance--he does it always with a therapist in the room. He's an artist, but he's not a qualified therapist, so. And there, veterans are having an outlet in Milwaukee. He was doing something in Stevens Point--I'm sorry, Lacrosse, at a vet center there. So, he's got those programs going on during the course of the 02:17:00month right now. The new clinic in Green Bay, we'd like to start seeing veterans that doctors there might want to lead our way that could see the benefits of it. So it's growing.
Most of the therapists and doctors that see what the program is doing are realencouraging and wanting us to do it, for free, and so that's part of the problem, is that he's living on a shoestring, Tim is. He's paying for his hotel rooms, paying for his gas and food, and just contributions that come to the organization, but we don't have a big contributor. So he's doing just fine, but 02:18:00on a shoestring, and that's how the program is spreading, and I expect that there will be a bigger and bigger need for it as more and more men and women come back from Afghanistan and Iraq, and as people see the need for using expressive art in some manner.
BROOKS: Okay, great. Well, I think you do great work and it sounds like it'sbeen a big benefit to you, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to talk to you about it.
JOHNSON: Yes, me too.
BROOKS: Great. All right, well I'm going to go ahead and turn this off.