The Panhandle Rancher speaks……..Real Gunfighters


I’ll tell you what a gunfight is like – scary, real scary.


I found it helped if I worked up a rage against someone who was set to kill me, and then forced that rage into a tight ball buried deep in the back of my mind. I remember thinking the first time I pulled a weapon with lethal intent was, ‘what am I doing here? This isn’t what I signed up for.’ But in fact it was. Not easily admitted, but that awful potential for excitement was why I signed up. There is nothing quite like living on that adrenaline infused high. Those of you who have seriously gone in harms way, then again and again, know of which I write. It is horrible, awful, and tremendously exhilarating, all at the same time. This feeling was once part of the human experience but now relegated to the few – and the rest live Thoreau’s life of quiet desperation, and hope, well wish, that they were alive – and play violent video games and dream of that life not lived.


Me, I don’t watch crime dramas, real life cop shows, or war movies. My dreams each night are vivid enough without stimulation and that is what the recruiters never tell the young. What it is like to live each day knowing that all innocence is lost and then if you age, living with the horrible dreams that lessen but never go away. My dear wife sleeps in a separate bed and awakens me by wiggling a toe, less I strike out an hurt her as I wake. No, they don’t tell the young that sort of thing, they never do.


I remember returning from Columbia around ’90. Wife picked me up at Dulles. The day before I was living a wild life in the jungle. When we went into Bogotá or Cali one never closed on the vehicle ahead and always left room to clearly see the gas tank. The slowest we drove was as fast as possible and here the wife and I were headed into Washington, DC with vehicles crowded all around us. I wanted out – I seriously wanted out and was literally climbing the sides of our vehicle. Part of me knew this was foolish but that animal part of me was still living on the edge and would do so the rest of my life.


Working travels eventually took me around the world many times, literally pole to pole and that awesome draw of potential excitement never lessoned. What I learned was that it took more and more excitement to generate that rush – and eventually that excitement was ramped by increasingly risk taking behavior. The youngsters thought the Old Dinosaur was crazy and they might have been right in assessment. They would never run those wild risks, they would never laugh with abandon in the face of danger. Of course, they were young and didn’t know what they would become. Another thing I discovered as I aged, was that judgment came increasingly fast and action sudden. The young around me were still vexed with life draining uncertainty.


Back in those days, seeking professional help was unheard of as it would jeopardize high security clearance and accesses. The outfit had its psychiatrist but no one I knew would ever take the risk. You see without the clearance the job was forfeit – and then what would one do to support the family? Later people started talking about PTSD and by the time it became an accepted ailment of the warrior, I had retired, come to grips with it on my own, and was at least on the path to becoming ‘normal.’ Just wake me suddenly and see. No, the recruiters never tell the young about how a life full of ‘excitement’ changes a person. One becomes cautious and as reflexes slow and endurance lags with age, one becomes careful, exceedingly full of care, and perhaps even a tad, well treacherous.


There is no romance in killing another human being, no not any – not even if that action increases the good quotient on this mortal coil. By so doing, you become inalterably changed and I daresay not for the better. I think the same is true of torture. It changes both the tortured and the torturer.


I write this for those of you young in your careers and more so for those of you pondering that career – ‘of excitement.’


If you even think you are becoming an adrenaline junkie, get help – get help right away. Seek friends of like experience and talk, seek professional help.  Do it right away, if not for yourself, then for family and friends.


My father’s WWII generation seldom spoke of their wartime experiences. I had to pry and pry to get dad to talk even a little about what it was like to be in Paris when the Boch marched under the Ark de Triomphe. And I only thought he was keeping secrets because he was so sworn. I do a lot of thinking on the experiences of my father’s generation and those of mine. Why didn’t they experience PTSD – or did they and if so was it the ‘combat fatigue’ of that era? That generation has passed and with it their coping secrets. I suspect one of the big differences between the generations involve speed of travel. My father and his friends returned to the US on the Queen Elizabeth. They probably had all the time they wanted to talk amongst themselves about their common experiences with horror. Today’s troop may be in combat one day and back in our country the next – and without that needed time to talk with peers and decompress.


For those of you who have seen the elephant, your comments would be appreciated.



Panhandle Rancher





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  1. I was never in “service” but my son did 8 years in the US Army with a year in Afghanistan training the Afghani police and doing mountain patrol on several FOB’s.

    I saw this very same thing when he came back for a 2 week leave and when he returned after the year deployment. The two weeks he was home the first time, I never saw a human drink so much beer in my life. I worried a lot. But, as he said, there is no beer over there. (the French he was stationed with would give him some wine now and then however). When he returned, I picked him up to drive him home, he had spent the last 6 months patrolling in an MRAP, had three different IED’s go off under him. He was spooky. He wouldn’t let me drive more than 45 mph, made me never follow close to anyone, and when we were stopped in traffic, he was climbing the walls. Every pot hole was an IED, ever back fire or loud noise was a trap.

    It took him about 3-4 months to come down from that. He is now out of the Army, with a wife and child and a (hopefully) permanent job.

    We prayed every day for his safe return and for the ones that didn’t.


  2. PR you certainly nailed that addiction that you can never recover from. You have to be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

  3. Thank you for your brutally honest words. Killing kills—those that walk away, as well. It is contrary to God’s laws and his nature. No wonder any honest man hates killing after having done so.

  4. Well articulated PR, spot on.
    You leave a part of your soul out there changed forever.

    I remember once
    In California we a had fruit fly infestation, so they sprayed malathion by having slicks fly low in formation several over residences at 3-4 story level.

    Unknown to me the sounds of the blades triggered flash backs, the house shook. My wife put her hand on my chest to wake me from my nightmare and I threw her across the room. I found my self in my own pitch black bedroom not knowing where I was. I was back in the jungle thinking I was getting an Hot Extract and couldn’t find my kit.

    Took me weeks to get back to normal.
    I slept on a cot in the garage with ear plugs til it was over. I was pretty tweaked, my senses were on over drive, every sound, every movement, eyes constantly scanning.

    It ages you in more ways then you can imagine.
    PR is so right, You are changed forever.

  5. Knowing what I know now after my years in the military, I think the most important aspect of the ‘decompressing’ is preparing. You have to actually ask your buddy how he will react when [fill in the blank]. The more you can anticipate an unavoidable situation, the more you can control your reactions when faced with it. It’ll never be easy but when you can control some of the situation, you’re better off.
    On another note, my father took a 20mm round from a friendly ship trying to shoot down a kamikaze the day they took Okinawa. He lived with shrapnel in his legs his entire life. It’s been 10 years since he died and it really bothers me to not fully get a grip on the craziness of that battle in the Pacific. The WWII guys just didn’t talk about it. I never appreciated the fact of him having a Purple Heart until I went to the desert back in the day. I tell my sons that there are no real winners–even us victors still have losses that we will live with to our dying days.

  6. That it does JS, that it does. Freedom is never free and requires much watering with the blood of patriots.

    Thank you brothers for your comments. None are left undamaged and few tell the innocent youth what they might become.

    Most of the time I’m normal but like Badger359 commented, sometimes a sound or a smell – some say the smell of nuoc mam sets them off, others military radio traffic rebroadcast on television, the list is endless as it that of those so troubled. Badger359, if you wife doesn’t know of others with similar incidents, please let her know at least the situation with my wife who learned the hard way how to safely awake me.

    This I know brothers, we have at least for a brief time or times, really lived life. Many savored those in between times of boredom but a few lived for that so alive feeling adrenaline rush and by so doing became damaged goods.

    ‘I’m old and nervous and cast from the service and what’s a poor man to do ….’


  7. PR- THANKS for sharing so honestly and openly.My Dad was in WWII and he barely spoke of it and when he did it was in a general way. It wasnt until after his death when I was going through his papers that I learned that he was awarded for his bravery in action. He was a good man who never expressed much emotion. I suspect many from his era prayed and maybe shared with a Chaplain.
    He would have a friend over from his ship and they would work on something together-not many words exchanged a bond and mutual respect for a lifetime.My husband is a veteran.
    My husbands Uncle drank to excess most of his life and was abusive to his family- Korean war vet.-until he had cirrocis(sp?) of the liver.Another man who was discharged early spent his whole life trying to overcome fear because he couldnt while in combat.
    Many scars on many levels.Thank you all for keeping us free . Could it be that chemicals of war Agent orange etc) and marijuana exacerbated PTSD from the Vietnam era?
    Then there are many who adjusted well on the outside and yet we never really knew what they were feeling on the inside. The VA
    does offer counseling and sometimes only those who have exp. war can understand and help one another as peers.
    PR You make good points especially about the length of time coming back -that was probably informal therapy.-
    known as comradeship. With deep respect and gratitude to all our veterans … Arlene

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