Thousands of miles from home, in a hostile land. Life uncertain never knowing if this breath could be your last. Battles raging, brothers in arms killed or missing, life back home raging as well without you. A child is born, but you may never get to hold her again, you saw her briefly at birth when you were given some time to visit her due to medical hardship (she was near death but would survive) but then had to go back to war. Marriage situation unknown, battles surround you, battles fill your thoughts. Will you ever get home again? Your main connection to your “reality” is two coins that are in your pocket. Common currency back home, not like the military script that you may have been issued here. Dollar coins, each one would have bought about 4 gallons of gas back home, enough to take the ride from Skowhegan to Norridgewock and back a few times, the other could pay for a movie for you and your wife. Instead they sit in your pocket as you fight this damnable war, the horrors of which you will never speak to anyone, though they will visit you in your dreams for time to come.
The exact details remain unspoken but you and your brothers that were not killed, were captured in battle, held as prisoners of war for god knows how long. The tortures, the indignities, the distance from those you loved and life in general moving on without you, only pain and the desire, the determination to survive, to return to your homeland, to your family, sustain you. They can constrain your body but not your mind.
In moments of “peace” when the guards are not with you, when you are not actively in fear of being killed for moving out of line, you grab those two silver coins, rubbing them with your fingers, feeling that tactile stimulation, every knurl, every raised relief never felt so good to you when you were at home, yet now they mean the world to you. They are the world, your world at least. They prove that you are not just a prisoner of war, not just a soldier but also a civilian, a young husband, a father, a son, a friend, something to many. You are more than a man in a cage.
The physical and emotional torture can be survived. Remember what you are fighting for. Remember WHO you are fighting for. Remember what is waiting at home for you. You can do this. The metal and other debris inside your body festers at times, there is no health care in a POW camp. Somehow you will survive this and have it inside you until you are no more. Decades of explaining why you cannot pass through the metal detector without setting it off will follow but you are ok with it so long as you get those decades.
The pain is especially bad today, you clasp those coins for all they are worth, your eyes are closed and you think about home in your small Maine town. You are no longer in the jungle, no longer in the cage, you are driving your older ford sedan down Madison Avenue, best girl and future wife at your side as you wave to your neighbors and friends. You are now at the chapel exchanging vows… You are at the base before you shipped out and your young wife has “snuck” to the base for a special night, one that will produce your only child. The American dream. Your nightmare is no longer forefront, memories of home are front and center. A loud noise from your captors brings you out of this “visit home” but for some minutes you escaped the hell that envelopes you.
Years after your release, after your divorce, after your move you will be asked about your time as a POW and in your deep Maine accent that never left you despite being decades removed from the land where you were born, you will simply respond “well… I wouldn’t recommend it...” Eventually you give these coins to your daughter with the only description that you can muster. You tell her simply that you carried them all through the war, all through your confinement and you want them to be hers now. Sadly, years later the coins that survived a POW camp could not survive the hands of a teen that wanted to buy a pack of Kools (cigarettes). The local independent grocer’s gain is a loss of a family treasure. …
Cecil Haskell was my grandfather. He was the last in his line to carry on the family name and with his death came the death of his linage of Haskell’s. He was not a therapist and knew not of the technique of “Guided Imagery” as part of therapy, but natural instincts and a will to survive helped him to develop it for himself. Through those coins he taught me much with but a few words. Over the years I have given many a coin to a client that could use them. In fact, a small collection of silver dollars are stacked next to one of his purple hearts, they serve as a reminder of some of the sacrifices he made for us. I tell my clients about the use of symbols, tactile stimulation and guided imagery and if I think they can benefit I tell them of his coins before presenting them with a silver dollar of their own. When I do this, for a moment at least, he is no longer ashes scattered in his favorite Arizona fishing spot many years ago and is instead in the room with me, standing tall and determined to get back to those that he loved.
People often question why I am always looking for silver dollars and buying them whenever I can only to give them away, sometimes to folks that I barely know and will likely never see again. Some folks get it and have been known to send me some so that I may give them away. The answer is simple really, when I give them it’s like he is still alive. I feel a closeness to him that was denied me in life. In helping others see a better today and tomorrow they are helping me rewrite the narrative of yesteryear. Of course, that is for another time.
Be safe, do good.
"Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org