In Print : A novel of turmoil, war, and humanity
"A Wound in the Mind" by Francis J. Partel Jr. Fiction Publishing Inc. 129 pages. $19.95
The 1960s, particularly the later part of the decade, was a blur of action, events, tragedy, liberation and the emergence of the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll mentality. Recently, personal books about the 60s have been rolling off the presses from Tom Brokaw's bestseller, "BOOM!" to locally authored, "In My Life," by Tom Dresser. Now comes "A Wound in the Mind", a short novel of combat-related stress disorder penned by Chappaquiddick summer resident Francis J. Partel Jr.
For some authors, 60s books may be a way to understand what really happened. Others, such as Messrs. Dresser and Partel, seem to know. Mr. Partel was a young naval officer who served in the Southeast Asian naval theater in which his book takes place.
Mr. Partel's novel reminds us that Vietnam wasn't just a poorly executed war. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an almost invisible pathology in 1968, was also unleashed. As we've since learned, the effects of PTSD are viral, deadly, and continuing.
"Wound in the Mind" has an autobiographical tone. It tells the story of the real-life court martial of a United States Marine corporal Juan Cachora, accused of breaking the jaw of his commanding officer in a spontaneous melee that began after a string of firecrackers exploded behind him when he was on shore leave during the Vietnam War.
He did it, according to witness statements. However, witnesses, many of whom are shipmates, are equally clear that Cpl. Cachora was not drunk or disorderly, nor did he have a grudge against his well-liked superior.
The military disfavors striking officers and the law is clear. Cachora faces five years in brig time. The defense team becomes aware of early research efforts into PTSD and argues that the Marine, who has received The Navy Cross and The Purple Heart, needs therapy, not jail time.
The psychological damage of war on combatants is well documented, and in the book, the defense team notes that the pathology was known as "shellshock" in World War I and "battle fatigue" in the Second World War.
The facts that are described reveal facts about the causes of PTSD that should give us pause today. PTSD is more pronounced in those who kill in close physical proximity to their foes: bomber pilots suffer less PTSD than do soldiers fighting hand-to-hand in foxholes. And PTSD is not only a victim's disease but extends to aggressors as well - in this case, Cachora's accidental shooting during combat of two civilian children. Guilt is the trigger of his PTSD.