Vietnam veteran’s daughter finds peace writing about traumatic childhood

For many Vietnam veterans, the horrors of war did not end when they returned home to Australia.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, alcoholism and various other health issues were common among the returned service personnel, and this often had a significant impact on their families.

For author Ruth Clare, whose father served in Vietnam, childhood memories of her father were full of violence.

“You never knew when the next attack was going to come,” she said.

“One day you would behave in a certain way and Dad’s mood would be fine and he would laugh and it would be joking.

“So often I would be ‘OK, now I’ve figured it out, if I do that again then I’m going to get that warm response from him’.

“And the next time you would do the same thing, he might whack you across the ear or punch you.

“I tried to understand the rules but that didn’t seem to work so what I did was watch him and try to become really highly tuned to whether or not his face had a hard look, or his hand looked like it was gripping something too tightly, or he snorted out air too fast.”

Letting go of anger

When Ms Clare eventually fell pregnant with her own child, she began to think about her father’s life more deeply and wanted to understand him better.

“I was also sick and tired of the way I felt about him, I was so angry, all I had was anger,” she said.

“It was getting really boring for me to just feel angry … I’d done a lot of therapy and it still felt like I was in this place.

Children need to be told ‘It’s not your fault’, they need to understand that, and their parent needs to take responsibility and they need to be helped to deal with their problem.

Ruth Clare, daughter of Vietnam veteran

“I thought maybe if I tried to have some compassion for him, [and could] try and walk in his shoes in some way, I could try and unpick it a little more.”

Ms Clare reached out to other Vietnam veterans and said making contact helped her to understand the trauma the men had been through in the war.

The experiences of those who had been involved in the Battle of Coral, alongside her father, particularly resonated with her.

The battle raged for nearly a month in 1968 and dozens of Australian troops were killed.

“The more exposure you have to those intense combat situations the more likely you are to develop [PTSD],” she said.

“Every man that I’ve spoken to who went to Coral has PTSD, and nine out of 10 are Totally and Permanently Incapacitated [TPI] and can’t do any other thing.

“You could feel their unravelling and their trauma and you could feel also feel how bemused and befuddled they were with how they’d ended up where they were.”

This year Ms Clare published a memoir, called Enemy, to help raise awareness about the effect of the Vietnam War on the families of the veterans.

She said more needed to be done to help.

“Children are still living in homes with parents who are affected by PTSD,” she said.

“My major concern is for children who don’t have a voice, who are having their childhoods robbed from them, because they have to walk on eggshells around their parents and worry all the time about what they’re doing.

“It’s continuing to unfold and I think there needs to be a response for the family as a whole.

“Children need to be told ‘It’s not your fault’, they need to understand that, and their parent needs to take responsibility and they need to be helped to deal with their problem.”

Returning to where it all began

Much of Ms Clare’s memoir is based in the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, which is where she was raised and educated.

She recently returned to the city for a school reunion and said visiting her childhood home had been difficult, but also rewarding.

“I think now that I’m older and during the process of writing this book as well, I now feel like I’m coming back to a home, whereas before it never felt like that to me,” Ms Clare said.

“It’s been really exciting to go and visit some of the places in my book because I’ve spent so long in them in my head.

“It feels like I’m going back to something important.”

She said she had forgiven her father, but understood that not all children of Vietnam veterans were able to do that.

“I certainly feel like I’ve made peace with my past … but I’ve had a few people actually ask me about this concept of forgiveness and their fathers are still alive and they’re still being hurt by that relationship.

“They say ‘I wish I was able to be in that place of forgiveness’ and I say ‘My dad can’t hurt me anymore’.

“If you have someone in your life who’s constantly doing things that hurt you … if it keeps happening it’s hard to draw a line underneath it.”

In 2014 the Department of Veterans Affairs released the results of the Vietnam Veterans Family Study.

More than 27,000 people, including Vietnam veterans and their families, participated in the research.

It found that the majority of children of Vietnam veterans were leading healthy and productive lives; however, they were more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD than the regular population.

They were also more likely to take their own life, have suicidal thoughts, and suffer from a higher rate of migraines, skin conditions and sleep disturbances.


  1. Carol Campbell says

    My story starts September 1970,I was two months shy of my 6th Birthday. I am now 51 and my life is still a rollercoaster of fear, anxiety attacks, agoraphobia, depression. My Father passed in October 2000,50% of my fear disappeared over night. All the other symptoms have never left me. I’m proud of my Father for who he was and what he achieved in his 20 plus years of service. I’m extremely proud of his service in Vietnam. I have never felt he was a “dad” to me but being older and wiser now I understand his turmoil and suffering. I’m so grateful that my children didn’t grow up like I did,though many of their friends are suffering the same because of their deployments and in one sad case, a death of a friend in Afghanistan. We are the “forgotten broken victims “although times are changing and recognition of our suffering is more accepted and understood. I admire our ADF and their families, if we speak up and stck together hopefully one day there will be an easier way to deal with PTSD.God Bless xxx

    • Ted Chitham says

      Thank you for joining the ranks of the many defence families speaking out about their experiences.
      The Parliament is now more aware of the issue and we earnestly hope for their support with the families.

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