Excerpt from Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Thank You for Your Service

By David Finkel

Thank You for Your Service
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2013,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: 30 Sep 2014,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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The truth is that he has been thinking about killing himself, more and more. But he hasn't said anything to her, or to anyone, not lately, because what would be the point? How many psychiatrists and therapists has he talked to? How many times has he mentioned it, and where has it gotten him?

"… daily thoughts of SI [suicidal ideation] running through his mind," the psychiatrist who ordered his medical evacuation from the war noted just before he was sent home. "States it is alarming for him to think this way, and while he's had suicidal thoughts in the past, this has been unremitting for him over the last few months."

"Having much less suicidal thinking, but the thoughts come to him quickly," a different psychiatrist noted a few months later, after he had come home.

"His thoughts come and go in phases. He has had thoughts twice this month," another psychiatrist noted a few months after that.

"He acknowledges occasional suicidal ideation, that he would be better off dead, but he has never had a serious plan and never made an attempt. He does have guns but his wife keeps them away from them unless he needs to go hunting" was the next report, a few months later.

"You have suicidal thoughts: you reported daily thoughts of suicide with a plan and a means. However, you repeatedly denied intent to harm yourself due to care for your family" was the next one, which went on to note: "You have the ability to maintain minimum personal hygiene."

Well, at least there's that, Adam thought when he came across that report. Crazy, but clean. He found it when he was down in the furnace room going through papers to see what he might need to bring with him to the VA. His medical file is thick and repetitive and soon bored him, and he turned his attention to several boxes filled with letters that he and Saskia had written to each other while he was overseas, love letters all. They wrote to each other just about every day. That's how they were. He read a few, and when they started making him a little sad over what had been lost between them, he moved on to other boxes, pausing when he came across a single piece of paper with a title on it that said "Places I Have Been."

It was an old piece of paper from his grandfather, the other great soldier in the family, a list he had once made.

Atlantic Ocean.

Naples, Italy—filthy.

Pompeii, Italy—Interesting.

Rome, Italy—Beautiful.

Grosseto—We fought a tough battle there.

Vatican City—Very Beautiful.

Nice, France—girls. wow.

And that was it, one soldier's World War Two. When he came home, he never talked about what he had been through in Grosseto, or Nice, or even crossing the Atlantic, when he would have been filled with the naive optimism of a soldier who hasn't yet reached the war. Instead, he turned into an angry drunk who stayed that way for years. He fought in Korea and stayed that way, and then in Vietnam, and only after twenty-five years of serving his country and being abusive to his family did he get himself under control.

Adam was nine when he got to know his grandfather, and it's hard to say who was more in need at that point. No longer drinking, his grandfather had lapsed into a life lived mostly in silence. Adam, meanwhile, had arrived at the crucial point of a ruinous childhood. When he was very young, he was sexually molested by an older neighborhood boy who was babysitting him. When he was six, he remembers, his father one day started hitting him and kept at it until Adam's mother picked up a chair and charged her husband with it. When he was nine, his mother said one day, "Your father's gone. He's not coming back," and it was true. Adam had been doing well enough until that point—honor-roll grades, no shortage of friends—but his mother had no money, and soon they were evicted from their house, sleeping at a relative's and living out of a car, and then they were moving in with this strange old soldier, who as far as Adam was concerned was just one more man who was going to let him down.

Copyright © 2013 by David Finkel

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