Dozens of students across a wide spectrum of years and majors crammed into a tiny classroom in the basement of the Reckord Armory Thursday night to listen to a veteran speak about combat, mythology and the dramatic intersection of the two.
The lecture, entitled “From Troy to Saigon and Beyond: The Storm Track of Combat Trauma,” was sponsored by the department of classics and led by Grady Smith, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, author and University of Maryland alumni.
As he took the audience through his war experiences, Smith’s pervasive theme throughout the lecture was trauma and its different meanings throughout wars in history and mythology.
In the Battle of Marathon, Herodotus went blind after seeing a friend die in battle.
“This event can serve as a metaphor for the stress that all soldiers endure after serving in the military,” Smith said.
During the Civil War, this stress was known as “soldier’s heart,” which was thought to be a heart disease even though examinations never revealed any physiological abnormalities. It is now more popularly known as posttraumatic stress disorder. This stress more than often leads to suicide, which is statistically shown to be more prevalent than death in actual combat.
Smith highlighted the Theater of War, which is a Pennsylvania-based public health project that presents readings of ancient Greek plays, such as Sophocles’ “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” as catalysts for discussions about the challenges faced by veterans and their families.
“They’re tragedies written by soldiers trying to propel themselves toward balance again,” Smith said. “It’s amazing how vets have reinvented the person they want to be again.”
His lecture was well received by even the non-classics or English major students in the audience.
“I really enjoy learning about our country’s war history, especially Vietnam,” said sophomore business major Chris Mierzwa, “so I found his experiences, however horrifying they were, very interesting.”
A few student attendees even expressed their potential newfound interest in mythology due to Smith’s confident and emotional storytelling.
“It’s weird how ‘Ajax’ and those other works are actually relatable to modern day situations,” said sophomore engineering major Luis Bernardo. “That definitely makes them much more interesting.”