Robert W. Flournoy

Haunted For a Lifetime

Robert W. Flournoy: Living with the DevilThe three brothers grew up during the depression in a hard steel mill town. The older brother was a brilliant academic, star athlete, and he was a father figure to his younger siblings. He taught them honesty, honor, courage, and respect. He was proud of them, and they were proud of him. In fact, they freely admitted in later years that they had worshipped him. They grew to be solid young men, bright with prospect, even tempered, and religious. When World War 2 broke out, the older brother joined the Army Air Corps, and was trained by the Royal Air Force. He deployed to the IndiaChina theater of operations after flight school, and flew long hard missions for two years over the Himalaya Mountains, known as The Hump. His unit would suffer 90% casualties, and this flying would be readily acknowledged forever after in Air Force lore as the most stressful flying ever known. When the middle brother turned 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and found himself on the beaches of Iwo Jima, the single bloodiest battle in the history of the United States military. He would be subjected to sights, and senses that made most men go to a deep, dark place for the rest of their lives. The youngest brother did not see action, because the war ended. The oldest was recalled to duty in 1950, to fly once again, this time in Korea. He was shot down twice.

As the brothers got on with their lives after the wars, they married, became fathers, and the character that had shaped them early in life was evident in the way they presented themselves to the world each new day. They started careers, and they raised their young children as they, themselves had been raised. The older brother began to drink, and depression, an unknown word, and condition in those days, began to stalk him. As this deadly silent assassin took over his life, the drinking worsened, and the pain of emotions that he did not understand slowly began to destroy him, and his family. No one knew what was wrong, or what to do. The impact on the lives that he was a part of was catastrophic, and, eventually fatal. The middle brother, while still kind, understanding, and always willing to help anyone in need, developed a hair trigger temper. He would stop his car in the middle of the road to help an old person cross it, or he would ferociously attack someone who tail gated him, or even looked the wrong way at him, or his family. He would be plagued by an inner anger, and sense of low self esteem for the rest of his life, although he would admit to neither. His outbursts would embarrass, and scare his wife, and daughters. He did not drink, however, and that, unlike his older brother, is what saved his marriage, and his family. He was always on the brink of control, barely keeping everything together. But he hurt, and he did not know why. The youngest of the three lived a model life of peace, church membership, and even tempered harmony with all around him. He had no demons, but he knew that there was something not right with his brothers.

There are hundreds of thousands of Vietnam Vets who collect money from the Veteran’s Administration for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, because medical science finally realized in the late 1990’s what the horror of war can do to a person’s soul. These men also receive medical and therapeutic help with their psychological problems. The two older brothers never considered such a thing, and would have denied it’s existence if it had been explained to them, so rock hard, and self reliant was that generation of men. They knew there were monsters inside their heads, but they chose to fight them personally. To admit that crushing stress had contributed to the dark places that had become such a part of their lives would have been inconceivable to them, and they would just as soon have cut off their hands than accept something in return for what they had so proudly done when they were soldiers once, and so young. Save a little place in your hearts for them.