At Hell's Gate
A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace
In this raw and moving memoir, Claude Thomas describes his service in Vietnam, his subsequent emotional collapse, and his remarkable journey toward healing. At Hell's Gate is not only a gripping coming-of-age story but a spiritual travelogue from the horrors of combat to the discovery of inner peace—a journey that inspired Thomas to become a Zen monk and peace activist who travels to war-scarred regions around the world. "Everyone has their Vietnam," Thomas writes. "Everyone has their own experience of violence, calamity, or trauma." With simplicity and power, this book offers timeless teachings on how we can all find healing, and it presents practical guidance on how mindfulness and compassion can transform our lives.
This expanded edition features:
• Discussion questions for reading groups
• A new afterword by the author reflecting on how the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are affecting soldiers—and offering advice on how to help returning soldiers to cope with their combat experiences
In 1965, after a difficult childhood and an unruly adolescence, Thomas, aged 17, joined the army at his father's suggestion. He put in a combat-heavy tour of duty as a door gunner and crew chief with the 116th Assault Helicopter Assault Company in Vietnam, an experience that left deep emotional scars. After coming home, he endured drug-fueled suicidal, antisocial and violent episodes before turning his life around in the early 1980s as a result of studying with the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He now devotes his life to doing the work of "a wandering mendicant monk," and he wrote this short volume, he says, as a form of therapy, "something to help me keep a grip on my sanity." The result is a combination memoir, Zen primer and how-to book of meditative techniques. Thomas evokes his experiences in Vietnam and the emotional trauma he has gone through since the war with clarity and insight; the Zen lessons emphasize mindfulness and meditation. Thomas, unfortunately, repeats an egregious, unsubstantiated allegation about Vietnam veterans: that "more than 100,000" have committed suicide since the war. That is a myth, even though it is true that Vietnam veterans have had disproportionately high readjustment problems since returning from the war.