This image of a battle weary marine soldier was painted by Tom Lea as part of his WWII collection. It is a powerful image that captures the combat trauma experienced by the myriad of soldiers both past & present. Titled The Two Thousand Yard Stare it shows the blank, unfocused gaze of a man who can’t take anymore & has no choice but to take more anyway. The stare/expression, previously unnamed, became popularized and is thought to be a symptom of or at least a precursor to PTSD.
Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” and Tom Lea’s The Two Thousand Yard Stare both share a theme of detachment and dissociation. Lea’s painting shows a soldier dissociated from the violent, lethal, and harsh environment that he constantly lived in. His mind is blank and he gets to pretend if only for a short while. Yet, you can be assured he’d be quick as a cat should enemy fire or the tell tale whistle of bomb be heard. The characters in “The Things They Carried” had several different coping mechanisms they used to stay detached from the harshness of their reality. The protagonist used his daydreams & letters from Martha, Sanders used dark humor, Lavender used drugs, one person even kept their girlfriends panty hose as a security blanket. This image coupled with this story gives you a bleak look into lives and minds of brave men who lay down their life on a daily basis for us.