Michael E. Creamer – Sergeant, United States Army

By: Tom Brokaw
18 February 1991

All of us, in one way or another, have been living first with the prospect of war and then with the reality of it since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  For many veterans of Vietnam, this has been an especially anxious time.  Many of their worst memories have been reawakened.  The Persian Gulf has become their second war as it plays out graphically and continuously on television, radio and in the press.

Michael Creamer was one of those veterans.  He grew up in a South Boston working-class family and served as a medic with the Rangers in Vietnam, winning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for his valor during long, dangerous patrols.

When he returned he had trouble leaving his terrible experiences behind.  He dropped out of nursing school when an assignment to emergency-room surgeons provoked a nightmare of broken bodies and horrible wounds from his combat days.  He returned to his mother’s home and the life of despair common to victims of post-traumatic stress disorder – depression, bouts of violence, and thoughts of suicide.

Friends, other veterans, suggested that he confront his past by attending the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, and that trip was the beginning of a halting recovery.  He met his future wife at the ceremony.  She persuaded him to join a veteran’s outreach program.

As his confidence returned, he decided to reenlist in the Army.  An injury during parachute training short-circuited his career plans, so he returned to New England and began to work with other troubled veterans, counseling them on their problems, helping them find work.

By all accounts he was extremely effective.  One veteran, Tom Sullivan, was deeply distressed and out of work until Mr. Creamer eased him back onto a path of hope and confidence.  Mr. Sullivan, now working in public transpiration in Connecticut, says simply, “The man saved my life.”

Yet the day-by-day counseling took its toll.  Dealing constantly with the flashbacks of other veterans, Mr. Creamer could not escape his past.  So he quit and took a job on a dredge, restoring a lake in northwestern Connecticut where he had settled on a wooded hillside.

Life wasn’t perfect.  He and his wife, Martha, were often separated.  They lost their only child to birth defects.  He occasionally sought help in group therapy at a Hartford veteran’s center.  Still, to his friends and neighbors, be seemed on the mend.

Richard Bramley, a soft-spoken country wine merchant, remembers going to the film “Henry V” with Mr. Creamer and coming away deeply impressed with his friend’s knowledge of contemporary and ancient military history.  “Here was a guy,” Mr. Bramley said, “whose life was so altered by the military and yet he was fascinated by it.”

Then Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Desert Shield turned to Desert Storm.  Mr. Creamer and an untold number of other troubled Vietnam veterans again began to suffer flashbacks of the horror of their war.  Counseling centers reports a sharp increase in veterans seeking help.

Television coverage of his war is much more vivid that it was during Vietnam, the first so-called living-room war.  This time, in their living rooms, Vietnam veterans were seeing bombs, missiles and antiaircraft fire as if they were back on the field of battle.  One man at a Texas counseling center, said, weeping, “It brought back memories – and it kept sticking in my mind – of the people I buried in B-52 bomb holes.”

In Connecticut, Mr. Creamer, extremely conservative in his politics, was obsessed by the war.  On the Friday night before the Congressional vote authorizing force, he stayed up until 3 A.M. dialing member of the Connecticut delegation, leaving messages on their answering machines, urging them to vote “no.”  He removed from his fireplace mantel a picture of himself in uniform with George Bush.  He attended a prayer vigil with his friend Tom Sullivan on the common in Litchfield.  Mr. Sullivan said: “He looked so sad, this tough little guy.  I just hugged him.”

Mr. Creamer talked to anyone who would listen about his fears of a ground war, yet he tried to join the Army a third time, thinking his experience as a medic would be needed.  Counselors around the country have encountered similar reactions from other veterans: fear, anxiety and a compulsion to re-enlist.

Martha Creamer, who had been living apart from her husband, decided to visit a week after the bombing of Baghdad began.  She recalled that before dinner Mr. Creamer was listening to the radio and then, in her words: “He just blew…kicking furniture, throwing a beer car. For the first time I was frightened of Michael.  Always before I had been frightened for him.”

She urged him to return to the therapy group and called his counselor before she left on a business trip.  Se saw the counselor the next day; although he seemed confused, he promised to return soon.

Instead, he drove back to his home in the woods just east of the Housatonic River.  He wrote letters to friends, pinned on his Ranger black beret and arranged his drivers license and Ranger identification card at his side.  When this was all in order, he picked up his shotgun and killed himself.

He left a note that said: “I’m sorry.  I know many people will be hurt.  This new war has brought up too many nightmares of the last war.  I don’t think I could again endure the pain of mass casualties produced by a ground war – and this is the only way out.  When the survivors of this war come home, please treat them with admiration and respect we Vietnam veterans never received until it was too late.”

He signed it:

  • Michael R. Creamer
  • Combat Medic
  • N-75th Rangers, Co. B
  • (Med)
  • 5 May 70 – 23 Jan 91

The following week, friends placed a testimonial in the local paper:  “We salute Michael – a complex, compassionate and beautiful soul…a casualty of our wars.”

Four days later. Michael R. Creamer, combat medic, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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