Cold sweat: Vietnam veterans still relive trauma from war

Veterans Voices

WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Some Vietnam veterans in the Shenandoah Valley are still fighting demons they brought home with them from Southeast Asia.

“Maybe once a week, you wake up in a cold sweat, cause it’s nightmares,” said former Army Sergeant George Kirby who grew up as a boy in Clarke County.

George Kirby

Kirby who was only 19 when he was sent to Vietnam as a rifleman in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division suffers from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, as do other veterans like Bill Holman, a former Military Policeman who survived the enemy’s Tet Offensive in December 1968 and January 1969.

George Kirby at VFW bar in Winchester, Va.

Kirby and Holman who died a few weeks after I interviewed him and Kirby at American Legion Post 21 in Winchester come to the bar there to seek comfort and understanding from fellow veterans. “You feel more at home around here,” said Kirby.

Before he died at Winchester Medical Center on April 2nd at the age of 79, Holman was coming to the post seven times a week. “I live by myself and I get bored,” said Holman.

Kirby only comes to the post five times a week. “I take two days off. Everybody’s got something to do around the house,” laughed Kirby.

The men and women who frequent the post on Route 7 just east of I-81 spent hours at the bar, sipping cold bottles of beer and chain smoking cigarettes.

George Kirby

When asked if they’re heavy drinkers, bartender Christina Snapp said, “It depends on how heavy the day is or how much is on their mind.”

Kirby was wounded twice in Vietnam by mortar fragments. Holman’s jeep was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, but he was able to escape being captured by Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese regular troops who simultaneously attacked towns and cities across Vietnam during Tet, the lunar New Year.

“I remember running like Hell,” chuckled Holman, “trying to get away.”

Both veterans don’t like going to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but they go to talk to their friends. It took Kirby twenty years to muster up the courage to go to the “Wall” where the name of his high school buddy is inscribed on the black granite panels with the names of more than 57,000 other Americans who died in Southeast Asia. Holman who visited the Wall every year says he went there to talk to more than two dozen friends who died in Vietnam.

COVID-19 prevented Holman’s friends from saying goodbye to their drinking buddy who was buried next to his wife in Pennsylvania.

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