The Brodacki Boys and PTSD

Not until 1980 did psychiatry establish the term “post traumatic stress disorder,” to describe war-related trauma. Although surely it has existed for as long as war itself, PTSD used to be called battle fatigue or shell shock. As recently as World War I, many psychiatric casualties were seen simply as cowards.

Three of my mother’s four brothers were soldiers in World War II. Stanley fought in the invasion of Italy, was wounded twice, and received the Purple Heart. John was sent to Europe near the close of the war. Joe had already been stationed in the South Pacific.

I was born in 1947, our family’s first child of the post-war baby boom, and by the time I was old enough to think about it, I saw the Second World War as ancient history. My uncles had gotten on with their lives and produced their own baby booms. I cannot remember a single occasion when Uncles Stan, John, or Joe talked about the war. But my mother did, and she diagnosed Uncle Joe’s condition long before the term PTSD came along. “He was not the same man when he came back from the war,” she explained, after I had endured another of his episodes of inexplicable anger.

The Brodacki twins Joe (right) and John headed for war.

Joe and John were twins, yet John, my godfather, never exhibited the same sad rage as his brother. All three boys had kept the memories of their war experiences to themselves, but Joe could not mask his. I wonder if they talked about their trauma when they went to the VFW hall with their buddies. When I had the chance to ask, I was not interested. Now I can only be grateful for their service in a war that was justified if ever a war was.

John Brodacki sent this postcard to his mother during World War II. Written on the back: “Top row. Lester Dinges, James Wood, J.D. Smith, I (John), S/Sgt. Woodrow Skidmore; John Schoonover, Frank Slentz, Sgt. M.R. Smolleck. Love Johnny.”
Sent by Uncle Stan (back, third from left) some time during his basic training in 1941, this photo-postcard contains no notation on the reverse.


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