My February series of interviews conducted with some very special ladies continues during the 25th Anniversary of the Gulf War. Kim told her story at the Capital Building (as in, D.C.) for the Women’s rally, 2/14/16. If you didn’t read this on Facebook, please read it here. Quite a story and a woman, who gives us all a bit more strength to cope.
Women of the Gulf War: KIM The struggle to find strength to survive and succeed.
If we’re lucky in a lifetime, our paths will be woven with incredible individuals. The gift of Kim was dropped in my lap recently. Our mutual friend, Tony Drees, promised Kim that she could trust me with her story. And to hear a woman’s service story is humbling, admirable, and inspirational. We chatted about her life: before, during and after Gulf War service. Kim recalls landing on Christmas Day in the suffocating, Mideastern heat of Saudi Arabia. Out of the aircraft, she was handed a liter of water and told, “Start Drinking.” The moment was surreal. Over the next several months, her traveling company’s job was to move supplies closer to the front line. One day, she recalls her commander screaming, “DON YOUR MASK! GET INTO POSITION!” only to get shot on by our own people! To experience the injury and loss of life of a buddy getting blown into bits, and witnessing another being severely burned; makes it easy to understand why so many veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Kim stated that she and her troops used talking, crying, praying and dreaming of returning home, to cope. One of the greatest lessons learned while serving in the military, was to hold onto the family created around you. She met Tony Drees at her first duty station in Germany –he was like a brother and they shared many memories. After he transferred back to the states, her company was called to the war, and his new company was called as well. They ended up being in the same area at the same time in Saudi Arabia. Shortly after their quick reunion, Tony’s hanger was hit by one of the scud missiles and he was hurt very badly. Tony was sent back stateside for treatment and Kim didn’t know if her friend survived, but had to continue on with her company through the war. When the war finally ended she was transferred back stateside, and got out of the military after about a year. She moved to Denver Colorado and felt nothing but emptiness and depression. There wasn’t a support system, such as you have during combat, little help for PTSD and re-integration was difficult at best. Kim struggled to move on, by herself. She didn’t feel it was fair to dump her issues on others. She masked her pain and sadness with strength. What is it about strong women who don’t want to bother anyone with their issues? A glimmer of hope came when she learned that her dear old friend Tony had landed in Denver after his long battle of recovery. They met for lunch and have continued to be “family” after all of these years.
Another equally incredible story of Kim’s is that she had PTSD, from childhood, before she got a second helping of it in the Army. Her parents divorced, when she was two years old. As brilliant as her mother was, she didn’t choose future men well. Boyfriend John coaxed Mom to move to his home, in Baton Rouge, LA. The abuse began of both Mom and Kim. She remembers begging to accompany Mom on an Army Reserve trip; John dissuaded Mom and that’s when he raped Kim. Kim reported the incident to her mother.
One night, Kim waited up for Mom to come home from the Kool and the Gang concert. (8/18/1982). To pass time, Kim busied herself; she washed and dried the dishes, shampooed her hair and waited. Once home, she listened to her mom and John fight over Kim’s abuse. Then Kim heard “POP! POP!” Mom staggered towards Kim; she’d taken two bullets in the chest, and spoke one last word: “KIM!” She then dropped dead. Another “POP!” followed; John shot himself in the head. The investigation was very confusing and the 12 year old told authorities her mom had shot John. However, that wasn’t the case; Kim didn’t even know that by saying that, her mother would be assumed to have committed suicide at that point, but thought it made her mom seem cooler, stronger this way.
Try living with the burden of coming clean about being raped and then your mom’s life is sacrificed! Horrific. She and her brother were sent to live with their father. To go from living with a man that abused her and then be sent to live with another man, which she didn’t know was devastating, (Now-a-days her Dad is her heart). Kim’s grades and desire to excel fell off. She lived with guilt and lost energy to care. The military restored the need for belonging with people, working for a common cause and the need for discipline.
In spite of PTSD, from several sources, Kim’s worked hard to rebuild her life, although, she noticed history was repeating itself: military service like Mom’s, similar career, a failed marriage. Even her first house was pink, just like Mom’s! (She promptly repainted it.) She even had a serious car wreck at 30; the same age at which her mom died. A sixth sense –or perhaps it was God speaking- told her clearly, “IT’S NOT YOUR TIME!” so she decided it was indeed time to step from her mom, Bernice’s, shadow, and build a new person –that, Kim has done. She has an excellent job with the US Postal Service in Denver. This year alone, she gotten her Master’s degree, received a promotion and will be purchasing a new home next week, with her husband and two children. She calls it her, “PhD.” Promotion. Home. Degree. That’s what I call a trifecta –not only that, she is giving back by speaking to children’s classes on the meaning of Veterans’ Day and helping to spread the word of the Lord.
It seems that Kim’s service will never end, which will be the healing force within her, I hope. Her real desire however is to clear her mom’s name of suicide, which will unburden her of the guilt of a child’s lie and restore some closure. Even though, I’ve known Kim for just a short time, I’m doing what I can to help her with this reversal. It won’t bring her mother back, and it won’t erase the trauma, but it will set the record straight and that is the legacy Kim wants to leave.