"... you have done a remarkable job putting together the story of Bruce Beard and his military experience in the campaign Just Cause at Panama in 1989."
- Dr. Doug Welpton, Renowned Psychoanalyst
Frank, you have done a remarkable job putting together the story of Bruce Beard and his military experience in the campaign Just Cause at Panama in 1989. There is a strong possibility he suffers from PTSD based on his military experiences. As a highly trained and valued marine engineer having his toolbox trashed publicly by S. Sgt. B had to be traumatic! Watching a grenade fired into a fleeing vehicle explode killing everyone inside had to be shocking. Engaging in a firefight using the weapon of a young private to protect him in a firefight could also have been traumatic.
The diagnosis of PTSD is a conjecture in that we cannot interview Mr. Beard to substantiate his having nightmares, flashbacks, avoiding memories, startle reactions, numbness, detachment, and negative emotions like anger, shame, and guilt. His exposure to the violence and atrocities of Noriega must have been overwhelming. Private Beard’s shortcoming was his abuse of cocaine. He may well have used it to counter his pain-filled emotions. Unfortunately his brave contributions in the army were overlooked by the punishments he was given for his abuse of the drug.
His record deserves review given the excessive and illegal punishments he received. His future was without doubt greatly compromised. I hope your book documenting Bruce Beard’s history gives him an opportunity for review and redemption. It is never too late for a life to be saved.
I do not recall much about the capture of Noriega and related Army actions during Operation Just Cause. You explain it well. I much better understand the events leading to the Noriega era.
It is a sad story about Bruce Beard. Commanders, from company to field grade, had an opportunity to salvage and treat the drug abuse and show some interest in him and in an Army career. Instead, they threw him into the non-judicial and judicial systems with the apparent attitude “not my problem anymore.” Years later, with that military record, life will be [and was] even more difficult.
I remember when I was a company commander, when the first sergeant wanted to kick a young girl out of the National Guard for not attending drill. I asked: “Have you talked with her?” The answer was “no.” I asked him to find her and bring her in to talk with me. She came in; would hardly look at me. Her story: she was a single mother and couldn’t afford a sitter for the entire drill weekend. I asked if she would attend if I could find a job for her; her answer was “yes.” The following week, I found a job someplace in the National Guard. She faithfully attended, was an excellent employee, married a guardsman (who retired as colonel), and raised a family.
Several years earlier, my battalion commander invited me into his office for a mentoring session. But for that conversation, I would never have been commissioned and never would have been promoted to BG [brigadier general]. Tried to locate him later (before Internet), without any luck.
If one of the commanders would have mentored Beard, there may not have been any story to write. Keep on writing!
A book examines a 20th-century American military campaign and one man who endured it.
In this volume, Hook (Never Subdued II, 2015, etc.) unfolds dual narratives operating on very different scales. The larger, broader one explores modern military history: specifically the course of Operation Just Cause, President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 invasion of Panama to depose Gen. Manuel Noriega. The author grounds this expansive tale in a vast amount of painstaking research into primary documents and contemporaneous reporting, all of it shaped and marshaled with a great deal of dramatic efficiency and storytelling brio. Although the book’s primary focus is clearly on the personal level, its look at Operation Just Cause is absolutely first-rate military history, filled with memorable portraits like that of commanding Gen. Maxwell Thurman, “a bachelor who was said to be married to his profession.” His “reputation often preceded him to new duty stations, similarly to what happened to Gen. George Patton during World War II,” Hook writes in a typical passage. “Much like Patton’s reputation, Thurman’s similar reputation undoubtedly helped him to produce results.” Alongside this vast tapestry is the work’s heart, the story of one soldier: Specialist E-4 Bruce Beard, who received his marine certificate as an engineman on Sept. 23, 1987, and enlisted in the Army just five weeks before the U.S. Senate passed its resolution calling on Noriega to step down. Beard arrived in Panama on Sept. 11, 1989, in what Hook diplomatically describes as “a chaotic situation.” In that widespread disorder, Beard fell into drug use, drew a bad conduct discharge, and found himself cast adrift in civilian life with PTSD and no governmental services to help him. In this entirely gripping account, Hook goes into Beard’s case in great detail, tracing the bureaucratic ignorance among Operation Just Cause officers as to how serious drug use could be (Hook points out that only Vietnam veterans knew the problem firsthand). The blending of the two threads produces an arresting picture of a military episode most Americans have forgotten.
A sweeping and heartbreaking story of modern war and its personal costs.