December 6, 2016
“We slap our yellow ribbon magnets on our cars and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but society doesn’t actually understand what it means, and as a result doesn’t fully appreciate.” Craig BryanWASHINGTON For Lou Conter, the psychology of war is simple: It’s kill or be killed.
Lou Conter, of Alta Sierra, Calif., a survivor of the USS Arizona, salutes at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Honolulu, Hawaii, during the 72nd anniversary commemoration of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 2013. Courtesy of Lou ConterThe 95-year-old Pearl Harbor veteran remembers escaping the USS Arizona at age 20, after a Japanese bomb burned the ship to pieces. He remembers his patrol bomber being shot down, then hiding in the jungle with no choice but to survive. And he remembers the three weeks it took to get home to San Diego, and reflecting on everything he had seen.
Seventy-five years after Pearl Harbor, Conter, who now lives in Alta Sierra, California, credits those three weeks with preventing post-traumatic stress disorder and the intense military training he endured with helping to keep him alive.
“There was no turning around, no getting off (of duty) in six months or anything else unless you were in a coffin,” Conter said. “There are men today, calling their wives . . . then get(ting) off the phone to go cut someone’s throat. . . . I can’t imagine.”
Today, soldiers can more easily talk to their families while overseas or be back home within hours of stepping off the battleground, Conter said. After six months of deployment, soldiers are eligible for leave, according to the U.S. Army website. But at the end of the day, “war is war,” he said, and all conflicts boil down to the same thing: a fight for survival.
Even beyond the battlefield, service members from all time periods share a common notion of “the warrior identity” and their experiences before and after they served, added Craig Bryan, a clinical psychologist who’s the executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.
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