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Memoir Pulls Back Curtain on Issues of Veteran Suicide and

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American Airman by Jonathon Benjamin

What’s it About?

A wounded veteran who grew up in a toxic home. Benjamin’s story will certainly appeal to those who have sacrificed to serve their country and community, but also to anybody who has faced immense challenges to find a meaning and direction in life.

American Airman is the memoir of a young man raised in a toxic environment and seriously injured during his military service, but who remains determined to make a difference in the world.

Ryan Cureton (who changes his name to Jonathon Benjamin) experiences emotional manipulation, mental distress and a traumatic brain injury that forces him to retire early from the United States Air Force. Benjamin recounts his experiences with suicidal ideation during several years on the edge of the figurative abyss that has claimed the lives of countless veterans.

American Airman is a memoir that is vulnerable, well-written and ultimately inspirational as Benjamin finds a passion and purpose in the creative arts that help him survive. Benjamin’s story will certainly appeal to those who have sacrificed to serve their country and community, but also to anybody who has faced immense challenges to find a meaning and direction in life.  

Growing Up Under Authoritarian Rule

The first section of American Airman describes the home in which Jonathon Benjamin was raised and the fundamental challenges he faced from an early age. On the surface, the two-parent household seems supportive, but Benjamin describes the decades of manipulation and opportunism and a series of emotionally devastating events that led him to distance himself from his biological parents.

After tumultuous middle school and high school years, Benjamin is happy to achieve a necessary independence from his home life with a scholarship to attend community college. When his scholarship ends unexpectedly and he is forced to move back in with his parents, their authoritarian rule and strange behavior put an unbearable psychological strain on the young man.

The close first-person perspective used in the opening chapters effectively draws the reader into the frustration and unfair circumstances that this young man faced.

Long and Painful Road to Recovery

Benjamin joins the Air Force, finding that the challenges of basic training are oddly similar to his upbringing. The brutally early hours, strictly regimented schedule and screaming drill sergeants break many of his peers, but Benjamin excels in the harsh environment.

There I was in the hot Texas evening air, performing nearly one hundred pushups. It wasn’t a difficult task, since I’d grown up doing pushups.

Upon completion of Air Force technical training, Benjamin distinguishes himself during his first station of duty at Dyess Air Force Base. Benjamin’s time in the service is painted as a decidedly positive experience. He works hard to become a leader and makes many close friends, creating some of the first healthy relationships that he has experienced up to that point in his life. What the airman values most is his independence and financial solvency.

But everything changes when Benjamin nearly loses his life in a horrible car accident. He emerges from a coma with loss of memory, unable to walk or perform many basic tasks, and with a traumatic brain injury that will cause him long-term difficulties.

The road to recovery proves to be long, hard and painful — particularly as he is forced to live once again with his parents. They are loving and helpful initially, but the situation becomes extremely toxic when he fails to meet their expectations of a complete and speedy recovery.

Despite receiving allotments of money to help with his care, they feel entitled to his wages and savings, asking him to support their extravagant spending. During a tumultuous family gathering, Benjamin overhears his parents accusing him of milking the system and taking advantage of them because he won’t finance their anniversary trip to Fiji.

Enraged, he decides to take the bold step of moving out on his own despite his disabilities. Among other themes, American Airman illustrates the importance of breaking away from harmful family relations and false friends to find supportive, sustaining connections and love.

Strength to Overcome Any Obstacle

As an injured veteran, Benjamin is eligible for the Warrior Transition Unit in Washington D.C., which provides him a safe environment to recuperate and receive the physical and mental therapy that he requires. As he gathers strength and courage to immerse himself again in education, his military benefits are threatened. Benjamin is faced, yet again, with the challenge of supporting himself in the face of immense odds.

Refusing to be defeated by his limitations, he makes the most of his passions and abilities. He enrolls in the theater program at George Washington University and finds a sustaining purpose in his pursuit to become a playwright. Benjamin sets his sights on making a difference in the world, deciding the best way to do this is by telling his own story.

What I feel most deeply about is the transition I’ve had to experience – a wounded veteran’s journey from an active-duty injury, back into civilian life.

He writes a play for his senior thesis, which shares the title of this memoir, American Airman, pulling the curtain back on the devastating issue of veteran suicide.

American Airman addresses several important issues. This is a story of a man trying to find his way when the odds are heavily stacked against him. The author explains his limitations and the challenges that he faced but doesn’t waste a moment in complaining that life was not fair to him. Instead, he tells of the steps he took to define and achieve success in his life.

While there are some very sad moments in his story, this is a book that has a decidedly optimistic theme. Through dedication, persistence and courage, Jonathon Benjamin proves that a person can find the strength to overcome any obstacle.

About Jonathon Benjamin:

Jonathon Benjamin is a Maryland-based author and playwright. He began playwriting as an undergraduate and his first play was produced by the John F Kennedy Center. That play became a book of prose that was self-published. His plays have been produced by both the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival in Portland, Oregon and the Rainbow Theatre Project in Washington, DC. He graduated from George Washington University, magna cum laude, with a degree in Theatre and  minor in Creative Writing.

American Airman by Jonathon Benjamin

Publish Date: 05/17/2022

Genre: Biography, Memoir, Nonfiction

Author: Jonathon Benjamin

Page Count: 260 pages

ISBN: 9798885256230

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