A ‘warrior against war’: Woman tackles PTSD in families

December 9, 2018 GMT

Westerly — Carol Lombard Clark knows about the war that happens inside a person after a war is over.

Growing up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, in the 1950s and ’60s, she and her siblings sometimes would spend the night huddled in the basement because their father, a World War II veteran named William Augustus Clark III, had come home “looking for the enemy.” He used alcohol to blunt the trauma of war, she said, and the family had to keep their suffering secret.

Clark, who still lives in Maine, realized later that the entire family had suffered from the effects of war. Now in her mid-60s, she’s on a mission to promote understanding that post-traumatic stress disorder extends to entire families and help those who need to heal.

She was at the Weekapaug Inn on Saturday for a preview of “Caroline’s Dream,” a movie she produced and directed on the topic.

Her grandfather died at age 33 after returning home from World War I, Clark said, then her father brought back his issues from War War II. In 1967 she was a high school senior when her boyfriend, 18-year-old John Wayne Roberts, was killed in Vietnam.

My whole lifetime I have felt the effects of war and the losses it can bring in many areas of family and friends’ lives,” she said. “This left us with the effects of PTSD, which was not treated properly in our family, and I know there are many other families that are suffering from these effects, as well.”

“The whole family gets ill if the soldier comes back ill,” she said. What used to be called “battle fatigue” was much more than the name implied, she said, and culture has come a long way — but not far enough — in its understanding of PTSD.

Clark said that she, too, turned to alcohol to escape her feelings but she has been sober for 41 years. After years of therapy and 12-step meetings, the mother of three and grandmother set out to learn more about PTSD and help others who suffer.

One important aspect of healing is to talk about it among others who suffer, she said: veterans to veterans and family members who suffer to other family members.

In 2007, Clark went to the village in Hanoi where Roberts was killed. She and his brother were photographed as they stood in a foxhole clasping hands with a photograph of Roberts in his dress uniform looking over them. She went to a tunnel in the demilitarized zone and later spoke to people who had been born in the tunnel while their parents sought safety from bombs. She stopped their tour vehicle one day and jumped into a formation of North Vietnamese soldiers who were drilling. Like the children she hugged in the villages, they welcomed her with love and even put one of their military hats on her head for a photo.

In addition to the film, which she says will be distributed worldwide in 2019, Clark has designed a fashion line inspired by her world travels to find her family’s war stories. One ancestor was related to European emperor Charlemagne, which stirred her to create a flowing short-sleeved dress in royal blue with gold stars. Others were Italian and stimulated her creation of finely tailored coats and blouses. She envisions using profits from the designs to help people, especially women, she said, the traditional nurturers whose secondary trauma has long been overlooked.

Her biggest dream, though, is to open clinics around the country to help families who suffer from the effects of PTSD. The first is planned for New York City — significant, she says, because of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. She said she would be introducing the 12 precepts of recovering from PTSD, which is a lifelong process.

Rafael Romero and his wife, New York fashion designer Maria Barraza, who have a home in Stonington Borough, are helping Clark promote the film and her efforts. They met her through Tatianna Whytehead, a board member of Romero’s company, Brooklyn Fashion Incubator, and liked what she is doing.

“She’s a warrior against war,” Whytehead said during Saturday’s gathering. The promoters screened a two-minute trailer for the documentary, which features footage from Clark’s trips to Vietnam, Europe and Washington, D.C. Clark said she traveled to 15 countries and 27 states talking to people, and saw that war had hurt all of them. She can’t imagine why religion is so divisive, and said when she went to Jerusalem, she met, prayed and dined with Jews, Christians and Muslims.

“I want to help bring the people of this world together, to allow them to share their experiences and stories, and to give them hope and courage for the future,” she said.

Information about the movie is available at @carolinesdreamm on Twitter and at Caroline’s Dream on Facebook.