Catastrophic Military Injuries and Romance

Two military heroes describe the impact of injuries on their marriages

Posted Jan 25, 2012

Through the decades films such as "Till the End of Time" (1946), "The Men" (1950), "Coming Home" (1978), "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989), and, most recently, the documentary "Body of War" (2007) have approached the topic of war-related sexual repercussions (some more obliquely than others). Kenny Rogers' hit single "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" (1969) powerfully summed up the sexual plight of one Vietnam War veteran in less than three minutes and, at least for a short period of time, made the subject matter palpable for the general public. (This song though is particularly repulsive to many injured vets due to its self-pitying tone.)

The following two true examples clearly depict the trials that await many returning military personnel.

Eight months into his tour of duty in Vietnam, Dave Roever was burned beyond recognition when a phosphorous grenade he was poised to throw exploded in his hand. In a presentation at the 2008 "Wounded Troops and Partners Conference" he described the life-changing incident. He began by recounting leaving his wife for that tour: "I remember when I kissed her goodbye at the airport - she looked at me and said, "Davey, are you coming back?" And I looked at her and I said, "I will be back." I looked at her and I kissed her lips...I kissed my little teenage wife goodbye and that was the last time she ever saw me normal for the rest of our marriage."

Dave reminded the audience that before the accident "I was in the peak of health. You do not serve in the U.S. Navy Special Forces and not be in the peak of health." Yet once the grenade exploded, "there were holes all in my body and it stunk and it was charred and it was black and it was ruined...when I came back from Vietnam, I was charred black, my head was swollen twice the size on the left side...I had gone from a handsome young man to a freak and a monster." When he finally saw his wife Brenda for the first time after the accident, he recalls telling her, "I am so sorry baby. I can never look good for you again."

Dave and Brenda, by the way, have now been married for more than 40 years.

More recently, in August of 2003, 22-year-old Robert B.J. Jackson was driving a Humvee with two other soldiers through Baghdad. The vehicle struck a land mine and was then hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. B.J. lost both legs and suffered severe burns on his arms, legs and back. During his presentation at the same conference he told the audience that one of his biggest concerns was whether his wife would still love him. He also fearlessly described the sexual challenges he experienced: "How do you expect me to be intimate when I have no legs and my arm is in a cast...I had other complications from different medications that did not help out intimacy as far as my sexuality and personality were concerned."

The experiences of Dave Roever and Robert Jackson reveal that once a serviceman's injuries have been stabilized and are no longer life threatening, another series of challenges begin, including sexual functioning and intimacy. Indeed, sexual rehabilitation is often a necessity. There are indeed troops such as Dave and Robert who have sustained catastrophic injuries, but there are also causalities with more insidious problems (e.g., traumatic brain injury and PTSD). Regardless of the injury, sexual functioning and intimacy may be - and often is - impacted.