Wednesday, October 9, 2013

War At Home

I don't usually talk about my books on this blog, but a new one was released yesterday that I wanted to mention, because it's about a native Norristonian.

My Uncle Joe Chicco wasn't famous. He grew up in the big Gothic-style house at 356 East Main and went through the Great Depression from age 7 through his teens. He joined the Navy in World War II, and when he came home, bought the rowhouse at 29 Hartranft, a block from Montgomery Cemetery.

I had two reasons for wanting to tell his story. First, he kept a journal in 1945 which documented the battle of Okinawa, the city of Nagasaki after the bombing, and the life of a young sailor aboard the USS Mobile. I knew the details in that journal would be valuable to historians, and to writers like me who like to get our facts straight, so it was important to make the journal available to anyone who wanted to study it.

The second, and to my mind, most vital reason is that Uncle Joe came home with severe, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which plagued him for fifty-four years, until he died in 1999. He was never able to contribute to society, never able to raise a family and have a normal life. With so many vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan now, many with combat-related PTSD, I wanted to share my uncle's story, if only to show the need for more PTSD awareness and education.

Back in the 1990s, when they released a good number of full-time patients from the Norristown State Hospital to become homeless on the streets of the borough, many of them were Vietnam veterans with PTSD. I'm guessing that, if you took a survey of our homeless population today, more than a few would have PTSD from one cause or another. If not from being in a war, then from being abused, or even simply from being homeless.

We also have many PTSD vets being cared for by their families. I had a cousin in this category, who came back from Vietnam with the disorder, and lived on Powell Street with his family. The families in these cases are as much heroes as the vets themselves, though frequently both tend to be shunned by society, as is anyone with mental illness.

What no one seems to realize, though, is that a new population of PTSD victims is growing in Norristown. The disorder is caused by too much adrenaline in the system over a long period of time. The extra adrenaline can actually change the brain's chemistry, resulting in mental illness. In neighborhoods that experience frequent gunfire, especially if that gunfire results in casualties and death, you're going to find people with PTSD. Worse, you going to find children with PTSD. They'll have difficulty sleeping, they'll do badly in school, they might turn to drugs or alcohol. Without help, they might end up like my uncle or my cousin.

The gun wars in certain neighborhoods are not only dangerous when they occur, but will have mental health ramifications for our community for years to come. We need to find solutions now.

My book is titled Yesterday, Today and Forever, if you're interested. I included Joe Chicco's journal, the history of the USS Mobile, the story of my uncle's life before and after the Navy, and a chapter on PTSD.  If you'd like to read just the journal, and view some of the photos of life aboard the ship, you can find the entries online at Blogs being what they are, the latest entry is first, so use the index to start from the beginning. Otherwise, if you'd like to order the book, you can find it at . It should be available on Amazon in about a week.


  1. Elena, the picture of Joe in your post where was that taken, do you know ? It looks like a grocery store that was called Cory's in the 300 block of E. Main St

    1. Probably Cory's, Don. I have a series of photos on that spot--Joe in uniform with various members of the family--and since they lived at 356 E. Main, I'm sure they didn't go very far to take the photos.