Veteran’s heart of steel melted
Prisoner-of-war interrogator shares how he dealt with the post-traumatic pain of the Vietnam war
Norm Rasmussen now feels liberated
Coming back from the hellish Vietnam War feeling emotionally wrecked, Norm Rasmussen was an empty shell before something set him free from the nightmare of his past.
"Trying to forget my pain and get on with my life, I came back from Vietnam a hard-core alcoholic and chronic smoker with a heart as cold as steel," Norm says.
After enlisting in the army straight out of high school, Norm remembers landing on the shores of South Vietnam a few days before Christmas, 1967, full of fear and apprehension.
His role was to act as a prisoner-of-war interrogator at the field level, aiming to help save the lives of his fellow soldiers by providing accurate and timely information about the enemies' activities.
"In seeking information from 'hard-core' prisoners, 'creative interrogation techniques' were sometimes used. This helped deaden my conscience to any value to life," he explains sadly.
Earlier in his childhood, Norm had heard about Jesus Christ after a traveling evangelist came to speak in his small town but his perception of who God was changed dramatically while at war.
"Seeing all the pain the Vietnam conflict was bringing to the lives of so many people, including mine, I wasn't sure I wanted to put my trust in any supposed God any longer who allowed such things to happen," he admits.
Instead, Norm turned to alcohol and isolation to try deal with his depression, repressed anger, sleeplessness and physical pain when he returned.
"In weak moments I began to think that an intimate relationship with another woman might bring a little happiness to drown out the depression and numbing pain inside me, but the guilt led to more alcohol and cigarettes," Norm confesses.
Meanwhile, he continued to wonder about God but dismissed the idea due to his assumptions about the integrity of the church and the validity of the Bible.
Nearing age 35, Norm was then told unexpectedly that his heart was like a walking time bomb, ready to explode due to extremely high blood pressure.
Told that he had to cease his daily lifestyle of little sleep, three packets of smokes and heavy drinking, he recalls, "part of me didn't care if I died".
"All I wanted was a purpose for living and a little happiness that lasted longer than another alcohol high."
His longing for these things attracted him to the lives of his sister, brother-in-law and younger brother, who all claimed to have a personal relationship with the Universe's Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.
"They had peace, joy and purpose in their lives that I didn't have," he explains. "Yet, their lives were not spared from conflict. Even so, their lives had become centred on helping others come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and grow in their relationship with Him, instead of being self-consumed with pain, bitterness, resentment, anger and confusion like mine was."
Norm remembers arguing with his brother, Dale; "All Dale would tell me was to forget about my hang-ups about Christianity and organised religion, and just fall in love with Jesus Christ. He said the rest of it would all fall into place in due time," he recalls.
"But I didn't know who Jesus Christ was, or should I say is, because I refused to believe what the Bible says about Him to be true."
Despair des-cended quickly upon Norm, as the fear of dying suddenly plagued his thoughts.
He remembers asking himself: "What if there really was a heaven and a hell? All I had ever done was live for me. What would God find in me that would make Him want to let me be in heaven with Him? I had no valid reasons I could come up with."
“To deal with the pain [of Vietnam service]... I became a hard-core alcoholic and smoker”, says Norm Rasmussen
Despair eventually turned to desperation and Norm cried out in prayer to Jesus one Friday night to reveal Himself, continuing persistently into the early morning. He was about to stop when he sensed the room suddenly brighten and be filled by an invisible presence and indescribable love.
"At that moment I knew it was Jesus Christ speaking very powerfully to me, deep in my spirit. He told me what I had to do to make my relationship work with Him. Then instantly all the anguish and pain and misery and confusion and doubt of a lifetime were sucked out of me. And all that was left was a sweet beautiful peace and knowing that God is real."
It was then that Norm sat on the side of his bed thanking Jesus for all He had done, praying for forgiveness and committed to serving God for the rest of his days.
"I owe God everything for what He did to help me realise who He truly was and is, and what was accomplished by His dying on the cross for humanity - for dying for my sins and taking my punishment for them," he says.
To other sceptics searching for the truth Norm implores them to find a place alone and "get desperate" as he did and "never stop seeking God", for as the Bible says; "Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you."
"Tell God you have nowhere else to turn to but Him, and refuse to let silence from Him be the outcome. I know now that He has an answer for every problem we could possibly have."