JENN K. – Shellshocked Marine – Post 2

For the second week of research on “Shell-shocked US Marine, Hue, Vietnam” I began by reviewing the sources that Dr. Renoff left as comments on my first post. Specifically I ordered the first two books mentioned Achilles in Vietnam and Fields of Combat from SWAN. I hope that I receive those books in the near future; they were coming from the SWAN network instead of inter-library loan, so that means they are relatively close to here. I also purchased the book Shooting War by Susan D. Moeller in hopes to gain a better background understanding of what the photojournalists experienced in combat. This is especially important to understanding the legacy of this photo because Don McCullin in multiple interviews explains the trouble he has discussing his time in Vietnam as well as how his experiences photographing war haunt him to this day. So my paper will not only mention the importance of post-traumatic stress disorder in the soldiers, marines and fighters but also explain how this affected the very photographer who took the incredible shot.

The legacy of this photo is not as obvious as some of the other iconic shots chosen by Dr. Renoff, instead it tells a deeper story of the shifting American feelings toward mental illness and recognizing that instead of pushing those individuals away and sweeping it under the proverbial rug these issues need to be faced head on. Some psychiatrists following the Vietnam War coined a new disorder; specifically referred to as “Post-Vietnam Syndrome” this would be the precursor to post-traumatic stress disorder. Before the Vietnam War, it had other names, as I mentioned in my first post. The symptoms of this syndrome did not always immediately surface, instead some individuals went months or even years before developing any. This acceptance in the delay of symptoms did not bode well for those Vietnam veterans; instead, it created a popular identity of a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode one day. This caused the American public to react negatively to the veterans specifically by either ignoring them or being extremely wary when around them. It was not until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association adopted the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder. This meant that for all those veterans attempting to resolve their issues after war, especially those returning from Vietnam that they could not even name what was wrong until five years after the war officially ended. Granted they may have used other terms such as shellshock, combat fatigue or combat stress reaction but none of these offered the depth of explanation that post-traumatic stress does. In addition, the aforementioned terms usually described short-term effects, not long lasting ones.

Information on Post-Vietnam Syndrome:


One thought on “JENN K. – Shellshocked Marine – Post 2

  1. Nicely done Jenn. I agree that the issue of PTSD was something that shaped the views of veterans in the post-Vietnam era, starting in the late 70s. Even in popular culture, musicians like Charlie Daniels wrote a song called “Still in Saigon,” which was a hit in 1982, if memory serves.

    The “ticking time bomb” idea was depicted in First Blood, the first Rambo movie.

    On your point about the evolving psychological definitions of PTSD, you might want to check out a book called _Death’s Men_ by Denis Winter. If you go to Amazon and “Look Inside” the book, search “shellshock” and read pp. 129-130. It’s regarding WWI but it might be instructive about how little doctors knew about shell shock.

    As you note, PTSD was added to the American Psychological Association DSM in 1980. Lots of good material here on pg. 123:

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