Monday, June 22, 2009

"Memories of an Interesting Life" by Col. John H. Roush (RET)

If there’s one thing that I can delight in living the life I’ve lived is that I’ve had the opportunity to meeting some very interesting people, not the least of whom are those I consider friends, such Col. John H. Roush, Jr. (RET). A fellow outdoor writer with a past military life, Roush has lived and traveled in a number of countries and through a number of times that I have found most interesting and so read with great relish his much anticipated memoir: Memories of an Interesting Life.

Born in Oregon in 1923, he moved to San Francisco at the start of the Great Depression. To hear Roush talk about that time it’s as though a different world, more reflecting the San Francisco that had so pleased my father, when he was a communications instructor for the US Marine Corps at Treasure Island during the Korean War, that he would later move his family to the Bay Area after years overseas.

Memoirs of an Interesting Life not only recants those times of San Francisco's grand days, but also a life during WWII in Europe, fishing and hunting around the world, and in eloquent style sharing his love and admiration for his wife and family. And no less interesting the life of a professional soldier willing to talk openly about such subjects as death, ghosts and Divine intervention.

Roush describsd with great detail memories at such a young age, the days after the death of his grandmother, seeing her rocking in her chair in the living room, and a cousin saying that he saw her seated in church. For many this might seem bizarre in this modern world where death is not as impacting as it once was due to video games that lessen the emotional impact of loss due to death, and science that has done such a good job in prolonging the lives of those who only 20 or 30 years ago would have perished at birth.

But, for those of us who were in harms way, as Roush most definitely was during the Battle of the Bulge, noted by a statistic that 90 percent of platoon leaders were killed during WWII, being visited by the dead shortly after their can be a common occurrence. Is it the mind playing games? Or, a last chance for us all to say goodbye? Whichever it is, hard for me as a reader to say, no, it didn’t happen. And it sure makes for interesting reading!

As a combat veteran myself who has a pretty good understanding of the psychological impact of war (My first memories are of the Tet Offensive, I spent 4 years in the Central America War and worked for 10 years as counselor for those dealing with PTSD) I was especially intrigued by comments about post-traumatic stress disorder, something I don’t really consider a disorder, and actually a normal response to very traumatic events, but can be especially aggravated when tainted by stigma and cultural misunderstandings. Many deal with combat-related PTSD every day, and it affects their lives in no way other than to remind those affected of that place and time they were tempered.

In reading the chapter titled, “Crack Up!” (Roush’s thoughts on PTSD), I was reminded of the differences of those who fought in Europe in contrast to those in the Pacific Theater. Roush mentions that he never experienced such effects. He recalls taking the time to “have a talk” with a cousin who returned from fighting in New Guinea. The very journalistic manner in which it is told offers the reader a clear cultural and historical understanding of why his cousin was so profoundly affected by PTSD and Roush wasn’t.

This was the same argument put by Vietnam Veterans that the war in the Asia was so effecting in PTSD because of the lack of bonding and post-combat processing: that the important talking it out with those who were there (replicated later by VA counseling sessions), and also the cultural differences of fighting in Asia which seemed so foreign, as compared to Europe where a victorious Allied soldier more easily felt a liberating hero, moving along a countryside and language barriers not as different than those heard back home, as it was for many US combatants island-hopping through cultural and people so foreign on their way to Japan.

Perhaps as more government and military personnel learn PTSD isn’t a disorder or syndrome and really just a natural post-event response to traumatic events and very healthy when understood and worked with, free of stigma, calling it instead what I do--PTSR (Post-Traumatic Stress Response)--the more extreme symptoms and reactions will lessen and disappear for those returning home.

And what does a warrior think of more than getting back when the war is over: wife, family, good things in life! No wonder the return from WWII for those who survived was one of the wealthiest moments in US. A real swords to plowshares moment!

…But the Army wasn’t done with Lt. Roush—they put him in Austria.

Though his depictions of fighting in WWII are short, already having been described in critically acclaimed World War II Reminiscences, 1996, more recanting of what life was like in Austria right after the war are delivered in more detail in “Memories of an Interesting Life”. Of course there’s more hunting, often just to cut the boredom and meager offerings of army food, but it’s also telling information about a country bringing itself out of its prior furor as Hitler’s birth nation.

Finally, Roush gets to come home and get married and build a family. Two sons carry his name and the same love of hunting and fishing. There’s the fishing for mega-sized Mackinaw trout that used to swim in great numbers in Lake Tahoe. Nimrod adventures in New Zealand, Africa. Angling for a sharks, salmon, and tarpon. In all there’s a feeling of appreciation for having been able to come back and enjoy, though only through reading, what his generation had as the opportunity to have experienced…

The books are priced at $30 for soft cover and $40 for hardcover, autographed, postage and mailing included. Please send checks to Col. John Roush at 600 Deer Valley Road, # 2E, San Rafael, CA 94903, or FAX 415-499-5112

It can also be ordered through, but without a signature, of course:

No comments: