Graydon “Cubby” Lewis is a Vietnam veteran, author, and founder of The Walls Within Foundation. Today he still helps out in the military by teaching Marines how to properly defend themselves, primarily through Krav Maga techniques. In an interview last week, Lewis answered some questions about his motivation for writing his book, The Walls Within: Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the trying process he went through to complete it.
Graydon “Cubby” Lewis was just 17 when he joined the U.S. Army. He became part of the 82nd airborne division testing parachutes and soon left to fight in Vietnam.
In our interview, Lewis recalled the attitude civilians had towards Vietnam veterans when they came home. Thousands of protesters would throw things—rocks, fruit, anything they could get their hands on—at the veterans as they passed. In some colleges, the Vietnam veterans weren’t allowed into the dormitories to sleep with the other students. These veterans had seen horrifying things in war and had sacrificed their safety and years of their lives to fight for their country. The protesters poured salt in the wound and made life at home even more difficult for these veterans (many of whom suffered from PTSD) than it already was. Many veterans had nothing to go home to.
Lewis’s service in Vietnam left him scarred for life with severe PTSD. Unfortunately, at that time PTSD was not well known or well studied. In fact, it was then simply called “adjustment disorder.” Not knowing what exactly was wrong with him, Lewis struggled to keep his life together. He turned to alcohol and prescription drugs to stay afloat.
He participated in 17 different rehab programs for alcoholism and moved from house to house 24 times over the span of just 4 years. He was admitted to a PTSD hospital ward eventually, but due to a lack of understanding about the disorder, the doctors could do little for him. Instead he found comfort and understanding in his fellow brothers in arms who’d also been admitted to the ward. Together, they found some small amount of healing since they all had been through similar traumatic experiences during the war.
After being released from the ward, Lewis and one of his good friends whom he met while in the hospital went out drinking together, and later that night, his friend committed suicide. It was this, along with dozens of other tragic incidents, that prompted Lewis to put an end to veterans’ suffering and to put an end to veterans committing suicide.
Starting the Book
One day, a relative poked through Lewis’s old military boxes, and inspired by what she saw, asked, “why don’t you write a book?” Lewis resisted the idea for 2 years, but when tragedy stuck again, he reconsidered.
His daughter was raped. This traumatic experience caused her to develop PTSD just as her father had. Although the man responsible was charged, this would never erase the trauma. Her suffering finally convinced Lewis to write The Walls Within to try to prevent veterans and even civilians from committing suicide due to PTSD.
Realizing the task before him would take enormous fortitude and dedication, Lewis left home and took up residence in a one-room apartment. There he worked for 11 months in solitude, enduring his personal emotional roller coaster.
For those 11 months, Lewis spoke into a recorder, which was a much easier form of relating his story than typing it all up. The hardest part about getting it all down, however, was remembering. Remembering every horrifying detail that led up to his life at this point was “like cutting open an old wound again.”
From Lewis’s recording, David Grant wrote the book that has become a godsend for those suffering from PTSD.
Helping Others Regain Their Lives
Lewis wanted to help veterans regain their lives from their suffering—to move past the pain and struggles of PTSD side-effects. He also wanted to help them obtain their VA benefits by educating them about what they’re entitled to. In fact, he’s been helping veterans with their VA claims since the 1990s. Many veterans are still forced to wait years to receive the proper medical and financial care. And many others don’t even know that they are entitled to this care.
Through his book, Lewis has helped many veterans. Seventy percent of the funds earned from book sales go towards The Walls Within Foundation that was founded by Lewis himself (the rest of the proceeds are used for the book’s administrative costs). This foundation engages in many charitable projects, one of which is providing a fun and free campout for veterans in the Maine and New Hampshire area at the Sebasco Harbor Resort.
The resort provides a great location and environment for veterans to heal. Vets can participate in kayaking, swimming, baseball, and downhill bike races. The resort also features live music from Jimmy Buffett’s band members. Through this foundation and his book The Walls Within: Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Lewis hopes that veterans will learn to heal and live a better life than they currently are.
So far, Lewis has gotten a lot of positive feedback from his book and has found that it helps both veterans and civilians with PTSD in the journey of overcoming their trauma. Many readers have related to him their own stories and said that if he can overcome everything that he went through, then so can they.
Lewis has come a long way in overcoming his personal monsters and is proud of the journeys that other veterans are taking. In response to a question of whether he thought the emotional roller coaster of writing the book was worth it, Lewis said “If I could help just one veteran not commit suicide, then it’s worth it.”