Walter Clarence Addison, Victim of PTSD
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A baby born in Virginia in 1925 would have an uncertain future. There was the looming Great
Depression, the Second World War, and soon after, the Korean War.
It was during these uncertain
times that Walter Clarence Addison was born. His mother, Lucinda Davis Addison, had already borne five other children into their world
of poverty, having lost two of them to tuberculosis. Clarence, as he became known, was a slender baby, and would never be heavy set
throughout his life. His father, Frank, was a farmer and part-time coal miner eking out a living by working long hours with low pay.
The corn, oats, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and other truck crops afforded some nourishment, along with a few hogs that was raised
for meat. They also kept a few head of cows for milk and butter.
This was a family given
to drink. The boys were introduced to alcohol, in the form of corn liquor, at an early age. When Clarence entered the Army in World
War Two, he was a slim, handsome lad of eighteen with a penchant to get away from the drudgery of the farm, as well as, to see the
world. Unfortunately, alcohol was already a part of his daily acumen.
During basic training,
it was decided that Clarence would be suited for the medical corps. After some training at a medical facility, he was sent to the
South Pacific as a medical corpsman. What he saw there must have caused terrible nightmares for one so young. This was when men would
return without arms and legs, vital organs destroyed, and some who were blind, hearing gone, with not a hope of survival outside the
medics who attended them. Field hospitals, set up for this purpose, consisted of tents to keep out the incessant rain, with flimsy
mosquito netting to keep flies and other insects away from the wounds that attracted such vermin.
One incident that Clarence related, after he was discharged from the service, had to do with several medical corpsmen who found themselves
with time on their hands. They decided to make their own version of drinking alcohol. Clarence was wise in the ways of using cornmeal
mash, allowing it to ferment, and then running it through a processing unit called a ‘still’ better known as a distillery. For this
they chose an old copper tub, somehow sealing the top, and of all things, using lead pipe for the distilling process, running it into
glass jugs. Not one man realized that lead pipe would poison their systems. The outcome of this fiasco was that the more greedy guys
died from lead poisoning, the less greedy lay in their bunks with stomach cramps, vomiting green for several days. Afterwards, these
men either drank legitimate whiskey or sometimes grain alcohol that could be filched from the infirmary. This was their way of forgetting
the stench and carnage around them, or so they said.
At the end of the war, Clarence was
sent to Japan as part of the occupation forces. He met and almost married, a beautiful Japanese maiden, and would have done so had
not Uncle Sam forbidden such marriages at the time. This was understandable, as after all, these were a conquered enemy. Clarence
left the Army with somewhat of a grudge against the United States as this young man felt that Uncle Sam had dealt him a hard blow
in not allowing him to bring his war bride to the U.S. with him. He probably did not understand, or care, that this maiden would undergo
much hardship by the men and women of his community. He did not know that one doctor who brought back a Japanese war bride back had
his car riddled with bullets and his bride killed in a small town not far from where Clarence was raised. He continued to drink after
he was discharged from the Army. The condition of these men has come to be known as PTSD. Most men, discharged at this time, were
not given any counseling, treatment, or solace due to the large contingent of military men converging on the United States at once.
Clarence was among the ones who was let go, returned to the farm, and allowed to fend for themselves. Clarence
came home in winter wearing his long wool overcoat and rough-out combat boots. For some reason I can still remember crawling up to
him and pulling snow off the side of his boots and eating it. I also remember him wrapping me in his huge overcoat and carrying me
straight up the mountain to Grandpa’s house. After that, I became his boy. Many times afterward I helped him up that steep mountain.
He read the Bible and quoted many scriptures to me.
Clarence married Louise Matheny in
1948. They seemed to be the most affable couple ever to marry. She, being young and innocent, seemingly overlooked Clarence’s continuous
bouts with alcohol. They built a little shotgun house up on the ridge above his Father’s place. At first, things went well as he would
work all week in the coal mines and limited his drinking to weekends. They became known as Cho and Feeny, and as they could not bear
children, they adopted two small dogs called Rover and Dobber which were treated like children. It was assumed that Clarence was sterile.
They both loved children and this too became a reason for Cho to drink. He must have blamed himself for their inability to bear a
child. He did not know it at the time but he could have gone to a Veteran’s hospital for tests to find out why he was sterile. Many
men came home with similar problems due to the stress they had undergone in wartime conditions. Hindsight is…..!
Later, Feeny could bear no more the lonely nights spent alone while Cho went to a local town and drank whatever his wages would buy.
She never knew if he would even return home alive knowing the reputation of the little coal mining village. She left him after many
warnings that she would do so. This soon led to a legal separation. After this, Cho drank even more, and more often. God only knows
how many times he was dumped out at the top of the ridge above Grandpa’s house and left to fend for himself. The cab drivers he used
would not drive down the rutted dirt road which led to the old home place. Some of the drivers helped themselves to Cho’s depleted
finances. In some instances he remembered fastening his hands into the mane of Old Prince, the farm horse, and being half led, half
dragged to the front gate of home. It is a miracle he did not freeze to death during these escapades! One incident, which should have
scared Cho sober, was when someone left him off at the top of the mountain, during a freezing cold winter night. The way the road
ran down the hill was that it was rutted on both sides with a high spot in the middle. Cho passed out in the middle of the road and
began to be covered with snow. A little later, one of the Baldwin boys came home from a night out, driving down the dirt road to his
home. Not seeing Cho because of the snow, he ran over him, burning him all the way down his body with the low-slung muffler. Cho spent
many days in the hospital, having skin grafts, and gentle care by the nurses before he was allowed to go home. He rested for a while
but was soon on the trail of demon rum again. His divorce from Feeny was final.
Somehow Cho got
wind that Feeny was to marry a man she had been dating. After this news, he drank heavily and constantly. His fevered brain could
not face the fact that Feeny could love another man. On October 14, 1961, he went to the smoke house, where Grandpa kept salted meat
for the winter, placed a twenty-two caliber rifle barrel loaded with a hollow-point cartridge into his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
This was the very day that Feeny was to be married again.
I was notified two weeks later of this
tragedy. I was stationed at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California. My relatives knew that Cho was my favorite uncle, even
with his weaknesses, but did not let me know in time for the funeral.
I suppose it was just as
well. I would rather remember him because of the good times we had before I went into the Air Force. I know that he had unconditional
love for me. This should count for something with God!