“The Honor Was Mine: A Look Inside the Struggles of Military Veterans” by Elizabeth Heaney, is a thought-provoking, occasionally humorous and incredibly moving memoir. A civilian therapist for many years, Ms. Heaney decides a change is needed in her life. She leaves her well-established practice, her home, her friends and signs up as a contract civilian counselor with the Department of Defense. The author begins work in a program begun after the onset of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to provide strictly confidential counseling on military bases. She starts with little knowledge of the military; and her baptism by fire provides for some interesting scenarios. Gradually, she is able to adapt and reaches out to soldiers and spouses in need—often in creative and ingenious ways.
The many moving stories describing her encounters with specific soldiers and spouses are heart-wrenching. What solace do you give soldiers leaving their families for a year-long deployment? What comfort can you provide the spouses and families of those left behind? What psychological/emotional challenges do soldiers face after being in a war zone for a year—perhaps losing comrades, fighting an unconventional or unseen enemy and living with adrenaline rush 24/7? What fears lurk in the minds of those family members who cannot share the nightmares and horrors of war? How can a family survive and prosper when they seriously question whether they and their returning hero can ever return to some sense of normalcy? Can the wounds, both physical and mental, heal? Sometimes there are answers…sometimes not. Each case, each story is unique. And, what toll does secondary PTSD have on those providing the counseling?
Ms. Heaney tries her best to answer these and many other questions with honesty and professionalism. She struggles to educate herself on the military world and to help the soldiers feel at ease with her enough to share their burden. Along the way, she has her eyes opened to the courage, honor and dedication exhibited by our warriors.
This book is well written. As the spouse of a 20-year veteran and a caseworker for the American Red Cross, many of these stories hit home for me. I was brought to tears at several points in the book—a soldier trying to come to grips with his buddy’s death; a young private holding his child for the first time; the care a fallen soldier’s possessions receive; the excitement of a small child seeing her father after a year; the heartbreak of a marriage that didn’t survive the overwhelming stress of repeated deployments. I could feel each soldier and/or spouse’s pain and anxiety through her words.
Before reading the book, I was unaware that such a program existed. I am grateful to know about it now. This book should be mandatory reading for military and civilian alike, and will definitely appeal to those in and outside of the service.
Review by Sandi Cowper, MWSA Reviewer
The Honor Was Mine by Elizabeth Heaney The Honor Was Mine carries readers into the lives and hearts of combat veterans who face the daunting task of finding their way back home. Elizabeth Heaney, a psychotherapist with thirty years of experience, arrives at her first military base with no previous exposure to the military, and no grasp of military culture. Gone are her comfortable counseling offices with polished wood floors and soft lighting; she now works in cement block rooms and motor pools, in hallways and parking lots. Her ignorance of the military leads her to address an officer by the wrong rank, mistakenly stand in a restricted area, and has her head spinning during acronym-filled chats with soldiers. Counseling sessions are also different than anything she is used to. Unlike her private-practice clients who arrived to sessions eager to share, Heaney discovers that the warriors’ reticence and pride make vulnerable conversations tenuous and difficult. She must learn to listen differently and inquire more carefully as she feels her way into their world. Paul tells her he’s been home for five days and isn’t sure how to talk to his wife: a year-long deployment doing solitary work left him more comfortable with silence. A staff sergeant meticulously prepares a dress uniform for his buddy’s funeral and speaks in hushed tones about the fine soldier he was. Deborah, a commander’s wife, sits on a park bench and talks about going to eighty-seven memorial services. These conversations introduce Heaney to the astounding burdens soldiers carry as they return from combat. One turning point comes as she speaks with SGT Devereaux. They stand in his cluttered, closet-like office, and he begins by joking about his struggles with PTSD. As Heaney gently invites him to say more, Devereaux becomes skittish and begins to stammer. Then he tells the story of his goofy, gregarious nineteen-year-old friend who went out on a mission and never came back. Devereaux’s voice fails him as his eyes fill with tears; in the silence, Heaney begins to fully realize how much pain is hidden in the hearts of our warriors. Over the years, Heaney speaks with privates and commanders, infantrymen and engineers, soldiers fresh out of boot camp, weary warriors who’d been deployed numerous times, and service members from every branch of the military. She helps them bridge the gap between war and home, working with those who have battles scenes burned into their memory, who fight debilitating battles within themselves, and who fear their hearts and psyches may be broken forever. Increasingly, Heaney becomes overwhelmed and scared as she realizes the steadiness she must maintain in order to listen to what the warriors need to say. As she returns to her temporary housing each night, the image of having spent her day “catching hearts falling through the air” haunts her. Eventually, she must come to terms – or not - with how the depth of the soldiers’ needs will never be met within the parameters of her job, which instruct her to help veterans with “short-term daily living skills.” Moving back and forth between the soldiers’ stories—told in their own words—and her own story of change, Heaney plays the roles of observer and helper, outsider and intimate. The Honor Was Mine gives readers an opportunity to sit next to her and hear the intimate accounts, not of what happens in war but of the heart wounds that fester but too often remain unspoken and unheard. Until now. The Honor Was Mine shows readers why the phrase “Thank you for your service” is not enough to bridge the divide between war and home. A deeper listening and larger compassion is necessary if our service members are ever going to truly come home.
Author: Elizabeth Heaney
Book Format(s): Soft cover, Audiobook, Kindle
Genre(s): Creative Nonfiction, Memoir
Number of Pages: 286