The thousand-yard stare (also referred to as two-thousand-yard stare, combat shock, or shell shock) is a phrase often used to describe the blank, unfocused gaze of combatants who have become emotionally detached from the traumatizing things around them. It is sometimes used more generally to describe the look of dissociation among victims of other types of trauma.
The thousand-yard stare is likely the same phenomenon as what medical researchers refer to as the combat stress reaction.
The phrase was popularized after Life magazine published the painting Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare by World War II artist and correspondent Tom Lea,although the painting was not referred to with that title in the 1945 magazine article. The painting, a 1944 portrait of a nameless Marine at the Battle of Peleliu, is now held by the United States Army Center of Military History in Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. About the real-life Marine who was his subject, Lea said:
He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?
When recounting his arrival in Vietnam in 1965, then-Corporal Joe Houle (director of the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas in 2002) said he saw no emotion in the eyes of his new squad: "The look in their eyes was like the life was sucked out of them". He later learned that the term for their condition was "the 1,000-yard stare". "After I lost my first friend, I felt it was best to be detached," he explained.
Combat stress reaction (CSR) is acute behavioral disorganization as a direct result of the trauma of war. Also known as "combat fatigue", "battle fatigue", or "battle neurosis", it has some overlap with the diagnosis of acute stress reaction used in civilian psychiatry. It is historically linked to shell shock and can sometimes precurse post-traumatic stress disorder.
John Henry "Jack" "Doc" Bradley was a United States Navy Hospital corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism while serving with the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. During the battle, he was a member of the patrol that captured the top of Mount Suribachi and raised the first U.S. flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945.
Louis Hugh Wilson Jr. was United States Marine Corps four-star general and a World War II recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Guam. He served as the 26th commandant of the Marine Corps from 1975 until his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1979, after 38 years of service.
Alfredo Cantu "Freddy" Gonzalez was a United States Marine Corps sergeant who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for service in the Battle of Huế during the Vietnam War.
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (VMM-163) is a United States Marine Corps helicopter squadron consisting of MV-22 Osprey transport tiltrotors. The squadron, known as "Evil Eyes", is based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Paul Hellstrom Foster was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam in October 1967.
William George Harrell was a United States Marine who was awarded his nation's highest military honor – the Medal of Honor – for his heroic actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Sergeant Robert Allen Owens was a United States Marine who was killed in action in the Pacific campaign of World War II. He was posthumously awarded his nation's highest military award — the Medal of Honor — for his heroic actions on his first day in combat at Bougainville. The commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division described Owens' heroism — "Among many brave acts on the beachhead of Bougainville, no other single act saved the lives of more of his comrades or served to contribute so much to the success of the landings."
Jimmie Earl Howard was a Marine Corps staff sergeant when he led an eighteen-man reconnaissance patrol in a fierce battle against a battalion of Viet Cong in June 1966. As a result of his heroic actions, Howard became the sixth U.S. Marine to be awarded the nation's highest honor for heroism in combat in Vietnam. The Medal of Honor was presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson in White House ceremonies on August 21, 1967.
Captain John James McGinty III was a United States Marine Corps officer who received the United States militaries' highest decoration — the Medal of Honor — for heroism during July 1966 in the Vietnam War.
James Irsley Poynter was a United States Marine Corps sergeant who served in World War II and the Korean War where he was killed in action. He was posthumously awarded the United States' highest military decoration for valor — the Medal of Honor — for his actions as a platoon squad leader on November 4, 1950, in which he singlehandedly charged and destroyed three enemy machine gun positions in North Korea at the cost of his life while a member of the 1st Marine Division.
Walter Keith Singleton was a United States Marine Corps sergeant who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Lyndon B. Johnson, for his actions above and beyond the call of duty in Vietnam on March 24, 1967, during the Vietnam War.
Master Sergeant Richard Allan Pittman was a United States Marine who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on July 24, 1966, during the Vietnam War.
Jimmy Wayne Phipps was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on May 27, 1969, in the Vietnam War.
Lawrence David Peters was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on September 4, 1967, during the Vietnam War.
Angel Mendez was a United States Marine who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Mendez saved the life of his platoon commander, Lieutenant Ronald D. Castille, who would become the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. The St. George Post Office in Staten Island was renamed the Sergeant Angel Mendez Post Office.
Thomas Calloway Lea III was an American muralist, illustrator, artist, war correspondent, novelist, and historian. The bulk of his art and literary works were about Texas, north-central Mexico, and his World War II experience in the South Pacific and Asia. Two of his most popular novels, The Brave Bulls and The Wonderful Country, are widely considered to be classics of southwestern American literature.
Hispanics in the United States Marine Corps, such as Private France Silva who during the Boxer Rebellion became the first Marine of the thirteen Marines of Latin American descent to be awarded the Medal of Honor, and Private First Class Guy Gabaldon who is credited with capturing over 1,000 enemy soldiers and civilians during World War II, have distinguished themselves in combat. Hispanics have participated as members of the United States Marine Corps in the Boxer Rebellion, World War I, the American intervention in Latin America also known as the Banana Wars, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and most recently in the military campaigns of Afghanistan and Iraq.
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Michael D. Fay is a former United States Marine Corps combat artist. Before his retirement from the Corps, he was a war artist serving in Iraq. He was deployed as an artist-correspondent embedded with US troops in Afghanistan. He resides in Fredericksburg, Virginia.