(Reprinted from www.gloucestertimes.com/)
Gloucester Daily Times
11 Jan 2006
By Douglas A. Moser
"The war was always in the background."
Marc Levy, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a Gloucester resident, said during his years traveling through Central America and Southeast Asia, the repercussions of his tour in 1969 and 1970 seemed to be shaping his actions, but it never occurred to him at the time that the war might be haunting him.
After decades, thousands of miles and treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, Levy, 55, a native of Newark, N.J., began writing about his experiences both during and after Vietnam, producing poems, short stories, an unpublished novel and a film.
That movie, "The Real Deal," morphed into a stage production called "Silent Men Speaking, True Experiences of Veterans of the War in Vietnam," which Levy crafted with local veterans David Biancini, Allen Gaskell, Carl Thomsen and Robert Vinson.
Recently, Levy was recognized by a literary magazine, New Millennium Writings, with an honorable mention for a short story titled, "How Stevie Nearly Lost the War." The magazine published the story last year.
"Most literary panels take about 3 percent of what they get, so to be accepted is a great thing, to get an honorable mention is a good thing," he said.
For eight months, beginning in November 1969, Levy said he was an infantry medic in Vietnam and Cambodia.
"My first nightmare actually took place on our last night in the jungle in Cambodia," he said. "I dreamt we were being overrun by the enemy. Half awake, I unholstered my .45 pistol, pointed it at the feet of the man sleeping next to me. I pulled the hammer back. Then the moon came out from behind the clouds and I recognized the American treads on his boots. I didn't fire the gun at him. Instead, I pointed the pistol straight up, pinched the hammer, pulled the trigger, set the hammer in place, put the gun back in my holster, went back to sleep. Never said a word to the fellow, our squad leader and a good friend. Thirty years later I found him. We talked by phone. I told him what happened. He said, 'Doc, I'm glad you didn't shoot. It would have put a dent in my golf game.' He really said that."
He spent the remaining months until November 1970 working at a firebase, a base near the front, then returned to the States in 1971. He was stationed at Fort Devens. He got involved with the anti-war movement and hosted a show, "Radio Free Devens," on WAAF in Worcester.
While at Fort Devens, Levy said he began refusing to follow protocol, not saluting officers, not getting a haircut and refusing certain duties. After two courts-martial, his attorney produced an out-of-court deal that left him with five days of jail time and a general discharge.
"I just wanted out of the Army," he said.
By 1976, Levy earned a bachelor's degree from Seton Hall University in New Jersey and completed the master's program in 1981. The following year, he took a job in New York as a social worker.
He said he never thought twice about the loaded pistol under his pillow and the machete he kept in his bedroom.
In 1986, Oliver Stone released his Vietnam film, "Platoon."
"I (saw) it once a week for three months straight. It never occurred to me that this might be unusual behavior," Levy said.
Three years later, he joined Witness for Peace, a nonpolitical nonviolence group, and traveled to Nicaragua, visiting health clinics and villages. By 1992, he said he was "burned out" in New York. He escaped to Todos Santos, Guatemala, where he intended to study Spanish.
After a month, though, he left the school and backpacked through Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
"I was climbing a lot," he said. "I didn't realize it at the time that I was reliving Vietnam. I was climbing to exhaustion."
For eight months, he backpacked through the jungle and mountains before returning to the United States. He found himself in Northampton, bouncing around and staying with friends. In 1994, he took a job as a social worker in Invercargill, New Zealand.
"I worked, read and socked my money away. When my contract was up, I bought a ticket to Singapore."
Levy backpacked around Southeast Asia, starting in Singapore and hitting Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
"I didn't go there with the intention of going to Vietnam," he said. "It didn't even occur to me. I was blocking Vietnam out."
He arrived in Hanoi and eventually traveled south, asking complete strangers to be guides. As he headed south, he said, the flashbacks began.
A few weeks after bumping through southern Vietnam, he ventured into Cambodia, where he visited some of the killing fields, known spots of atrocities committed by the despot Pol Pot. In Malaysia, during a trip through the jungle, "I hallucinated myself back in combat," he said, his guide not knowing what was happening.
Eventually he arrived in Bali, Indonesia and flew to Australia to see a hypnosis doctor trained in eye movement desensitization and reprogramming and took his two-day course.
"When I was finished, I had a feeling like a lotus growing out of the mud," he said.
Feeling refreshed, he flew to Switzerland to meet a friend he met in Asia, spending time there and in France. The anxiety returned, he said.
"I don't remember how I got home," he said.
During his journeys, he wrote hundreds of letters to folks back home, he said, sharpening his writing skills and learning storytelling techniques. Once back in the United States in November 1995, he saw doctors to treat the post traumatic stress disorder. And in 1998, he began attending the Joiner Center's writers workshop at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus in Dorchester.
Until he moved to Gloucester in 2001, Levy said he lived in 14 locations in New Jersey and New York.
After his first session, he completed "The Real Deal" and found a distributor. Several years later, he met war correspondent and author Gloria Emmerson who, despite the other critical acclaim the film earned, said it should be onstage.
With her advice in mind, Levy set to putting it onstage, working with Biancini, Gaskell, Vinson and Thomsen, a dancer.
The process of working on "Silent Men Speaking" was cathartic, he said, even though he had seen several doctors to help him cope with the war.
"It took a lot for these guys to sit down and talk because some of them haven't been in therapy. It's really hard to sit down and talk. It's a major accomplishment in these guys' lives to sit down and open up. That's the key word, open up."
Vinson told the Times last month that he thought creating "Silent Men Speaking," which will show again Jan. 14, was a healing process.
"There are many ways of healing wounds," he said. "A lot of us have done therapy, some psychotherapy, because we've seen quite a bit of combat. But dance is another way."
For Levy, the rungs of his climb out of the craters of Vietnam were travel, final acceptance, therapy and writing.