On August 2, 1970, I boarded a Pan American passenger jet with over 100 other combat troops. We were waiting for takeoff from Danang airbase, Vietnam.

I remember the silence inside the plane as we taxied into position for takeoff — nobody was talking. The jet roared down the runway and when the wheels lifted off the tarmac, everyone erupted in cheers and hats were thrown.

“Goodbye Vietnam, we are heading back home.”

I had a window seat and with joyful tears I looked down into the dark of night. Far below I could see lines of tracer bullets zipping through the black sky. Infantry was giving us cover for a safe departure.

I was 21 years old and sat in my seat dumbfounded. I didn’t think this moment would ever come. It was surreal. Was I dreaming?

I spent exactly one year in Vietnam as a combat infantryman and it was pure hell—the heat, the monsoons, death, mud, mosquitoes, scorpions, poisonous snakes, death, stench, darkness, leeches, artillery, machine-guns, exhaustion, visions and sounds of death. Many of my friends were wounded and killed. I was wounded a few times but not bad enough to be sent home.

On the flip side, Vietnam is a beautiful country with very nice people. I have thought about returning to experience the country at peace, to walk without fear and not hear the constant sounds of gun fire, artillery, gunships and roaring jets. I’m sure I could put myself in the right frame of mind to get there but fear I would want to leave shortly after arrival.

I was excited to return home to my family and friends. I couldn’t wait to swim in the ocean, eat its salty bounty and fresh vegetables from my father’s garden. Little did I realize that I was returning home a different person; nothing would be the same again. I thought that the life I craved for would be the same, that I would just jump right back in and erase the traumatic experiences from my mind.

I dreamed about the war every night for two years, waking in the mornings, often drenched in sweat, my heart racing. I rarely dream about the war anymore or if I do, I wake up not remembering. I am apt to dream about the war around Veteran’s and Memorial Day. I dream about a day when a friend and I were wounded. My friend died in my arms on a medivac helicopter. I dream about getting on that plane to come home, only to be called off and told I have to do another year. My worst dream is finding a letter in my mailbox from the U.S. government, telling me at the age 71 to report back to duty for another tour of Vietnam.

Post traumatic stress disorder haunted me heavily for about 10 years after leaving Vietnam. It is something I have learned to live with. I chose to go to Vietnam and I would not let the war ruin my life. What I have worked hardest at is trying to be patient, to listen, and try hard to compromise over an argument. When I’m faced with a difficult and stressful task, I think about what I’ve been through in Nam and it helps me to move forward.

PTSD affects so many people in different ways. People who were perhaps abused as a child, someone who has been raped, someone who has witnessed a death... doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen, difficult professions with experiences that can haunt.

I liked looking up at the night sky in Vietnam. I would look at the stars and think about my family and loved ones back home. My biggest thoughts were to return home and raise a family. I love children and I wished for some of my own.

I have no regrets about serving my country. I did what was asked of me and I am proud — proud of how I fought, proud that I saved lives and proud that I returned home alive. I fought in an unpopular war and was cursed for it but that is okay. I’m happy and love life.

I have a lovely wife, four children, two grandchildren and a new grandchild about to be born.

I said goodbye to Vietnam 50 years ago on August 2, yet I still battle. But it is a battle I am winning. I am blessed with family and many friends who have always stood by my side with love and support. I am forever grateful and I count my blessings.

Albert O. Fischer lives in West Tisbury.