A veteran I knew once asked me if I thought God would ever forgive him for the things he did when he served in Vietnam. I was somewhat startled by the question as that was over 40 years earlier. My word! How terrible it must be to carry guilt with you for that long, every day feeling the burden of things you’d done years ago.
As he was of the Christian faith, my response was to remind him that Jesus even forgave Judas and the men who crucified him. That seemed to bring him some comfort, but over the next few months, we began to explore the source of his guilty feelings and work through some of that angsts.
Back when he first enlisted, he was only a boy. He’d had to get permission from his parents to join while he was only 17 years old. He went to Vietnam and fought, and he told me that he had done things to survive that caused him great shame. We talked about that; the key was that he was trying to survive, he was young and didn’t have any choice in what he did. He actually did the best he could and he was successful in surviving.
I believe he came to terms with some of those feelings and finally found some peace. I hope I helped with that process, but it reminds me how much we all need to be gentle with ourselves and forgive ourselves at times. Wartime behavior is not normal behavior. It is a time of insanity and trying to survive. Be willing to forgive yourself and know that you did the very best you could at the time. I, for one, am very glad you made it home.