Former Army chaplain’s combat experiences lead to PTSD

September 30, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Former Army chaplain Jim Johnson became one of the walking wounded after his combat experiences in Vietnam, but it took him years to realize that he really needed help. Johnson, who is the author of “The Aftermath of Combat Trauma,” a memoir about his journey through Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), spoke at Campbell University’s Friends of the Library’s annual dinner meeting on Friday, Sept. 26.

Johnson was only 26 when he served with an Infantry Battalion of 350 soldiers in Vietnam. Out of the 8 ½ months he spent with them, over 900 were wounded and 96 were killed. Johnson was in 22 firefights and several major battles. He later became a master at suppressing his feelings.

“For many years I had feelings and I didn’t know what they were about,” he said. “I was a chaplain, I was a helper. But as time went by, I suffered from extreme fatigue; I became withdrawn and didn’t want to answer the phone at night, and I began to have terrible dreams and flashbacks.”

In one of those dreams, Johnson kept reliving an attack on a village in which a young child was brutally killed.

“Finally, I had to do what I had told countless other people to do,” he said. “I had to face my own demons.”

After Johnson sought help, he decided to write about his experiences. In his second book, he interviewed 15 friends who had served combat tours in Vietnam and recorded their PTSD trauma 40 years later.

“Everyday we feared the sounds of another ambush, the click of an automatic weapon or having to lug the remains of our colleagues through the mud without having any time to grieve over their deaths,” Johnson wrote. “PTSD is a combat wound you don’t see. It can result in emotional numbness, isolation, rage and guilt. Thousands of combat vets are hurting like we were.”

A native of Albemarle, N.C., Johnson received a Master of Science in Counseling from Long Island University and a doctorate in Marriage and Family from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa. He was an Army chaplain from 1966-1986 and currently serves as Minister of Counseling at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church. Johnson is also the author of the book, “Combat Chaplain: A Thirty Year Vietnam Battle.”

During the business meeting segment of the evening, Dr. Ronnie Faulkner was honored for his years of dedication and service as former director of Carrie Rich Memorial Library. Current director Borree Kwok also announced the establishment of a new library fund, the Eric Brodine Fund, which will be used for the purchase of new materials.

Photo Cop: Dr. Jim Johnson speaks at the annual meeting of Campbell University’s Friends of the Library. (Photo by Bennett Scarborough)