BIDDEFORD – Veteran Terry Belanger, 71, of Biddeford, released his second book about life before and after the war and being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 38 years after leaving Vietnam.

Each book is less than 100 pages and is written in the form of a stream of consciousness. “My Innocent Mind Before Vietnam” was self-published in 2013 and “No Cure” in January.

Belanger’s goal isn’t to sell books – although they may be purchased on Amazon – rather, he prefers to give them away in hopes they will serve to educate the public about PTSD.

“I thought I had left Vietnam behind. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. My body came home, but my mind and heart stayed in Vietnam,” he wrote in his first book.

Belanger transported supplies while in Vietnam and is still haunted by the memory of running over a young Vietnamese girl.

“You couldn’t stop. If you stopped, the Vietnamese could queue in real quick on your location and shoot a mortar at you,” he said during a recent interview at his Biddeford home.

He keeps with him a vision of the bangs on her forehead bouncing up she was struck.

“I don’t know if she lived, if she was maimed or what,” he said.

Coming home after a year in service and being called a “baby killer” rang too true for Belanger. Upon arriving in Biddeford, he stopped at St. Joseph Church on Elm Street and said prayers for his comrades and for the guilt he felt for things he’d done and seen during war.

Belanger, nicknamed “Cherry Boy” by fellow soldiers, grew up Catholic in rural Lincoln in a home that had no electricity or running water. His father ran a farm, which fed Belanger, his brother, sisters and his parents.

“Life was simple, and yet, the most wonderful life for growing up as a kid. The closeness, the warmth, the complete dependability on one another. The love and respect for my parents was unspoken, but was present every day of (our) lives.”

The family had a cow, for milk and butter and stored food in a local riverbed instead of a refrigerator.

“I wish, with all my heart, that I could return to this wonderful life. Money and material things have never made me feel the way I did in that little house with mom and dad, in God’s country.”

At age 11, Belanger and his family moved to Biddeford, the “big city.” He graduated from Biddeford High School and became a meat cutter for Shop ’n Save, now Hannaford Bros.

“I thought life was great and all my hopes and dreams were falling into place. I felt so lucky,” he wrote in “My Innocent Mind.”

At 20, Belanger was drafted.

He went to boot camp, realizing all along he may not come home from Vietnam alive.

“I never realized how badly people could treat other human beings,” he said of training.

Soon after, he was on a plane to Vietnam.

“The flight was long, but not long enough.”

Belanger vomited the first time he saw black body bags being tossed in the back of a transport vehicle.

“I felt that this was going to be my ride home – in a body bag.”

Belanger got drunk off whiskey one of his first nights in this new part of the world, his first time consuming alcohol.

He said the drinking was constant. So was smoking cigarettes, which was also new to him.

He heard of one soldier who had stabbed a supposed friend to death during a game of cards. U.S. soldiers were killed by friendly fire. He saw Viet Cong taken by helicopter and dropped to their deaths. American soldiers smoked marijuana at a table covered in pills; Belanger was frightened for his life.

“I couldn’t believe things like this were possible among our own people,” he said. “Shame on war.”

A wet mist from Agent Orange covered his clothes many mornings, but the government warned that it only killed foliage – it didn’t kill human beings.

Much to his surprise, Belanger made it home alive.

“God must have needed me somewhere,” he said.

In the 1980s, he said PTSD was referred to as being “shell shocked.”

When he married his wife, Murielle, and they had a daughter, Belanger cried uncontrollably and couldn’t take his daughter in his arms. All he could see was the Vietnamese girl he ran over.

“I couldn’t feel joy and happiness,” he said, referring to a battle inside his mind he says he still fights today.

Belanger was hospitalized after a nervous breakdown in his 20s. His wife took over the family’s finances and he eventually found a position in the U.S. Postal Service.

“My mind was persistent and would not let go of Vietnam,” he wrote. “The older I got, the harder the pretending became.”

A supervisor at work once questioned why he took days off when it rained. The rain, Belanger said, brought him back to the monsoons in Vietnam.

Triggers were everywhere, Belanger said.

Sirens, planes overhead, fireworks, the phone ringing, veteran license plates and people of other races.

“I don’t have a problem with (Asian) people, my mind does.”

In 2003, after seeking counseling, he was prescribed medication for PTSD, 23 years after leaving Vietnam. For many years, however, the government wouldn’t compensate him for wages lost due to PTSD because he needed to provide proof that he was engaged in war. Years later and a letter to a U.S. Congressman, proper files were located and the government agreed to pay for his care and other expenses.

In Belanger’s second book, “No Cure,” he includes his own description of what each word in “PTSD” means.

“To this day, my mind is still trying to make sense of why (Vietnam) is still so vivid after all these years,” he writes.

He still experiences flashbacks, sweats and nightmares. He sleeps in the living room, afraid that his flailing arms and legs will strike his wife. His dogs, miniature poodles, wake up him from bad dreams.

“God bless my dogs.”

Belanger still thinks he deserves the shame and guilt he feels and that the older he gets, the more moments of peace he is blessed with. He also credits his wife with her patience.

“The damage was imbedded in my mind and remains there to this day,” he said. “I think, if you could harness the power of the mind, you could rule the world.”

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