I began this piece with the quote, “…many scars of our nation’s wounded warriors are not visible.(Like)the recurring memories of an intense moment of combat…Far too often, my peers are haunted in silence without the same support of a grateful nation encouraging them through their struggle…As a society…we must do more to support these men and women who return home with the injuries we cannot see.” ~ Rep. Brian Mast . Keep this in mind as you read this part today.
Even tho I barely knew this man, he shared with me a very personal snapshot of his story, something he hasn’t told anyone ever in 50yrs. To this date, he hasn’t been able to tell me much more than what you are about to read. The following is a true story from one Vietnam War veteran who is a Native American Elder. I edited the spelling, some grammar and little else. This just a snippet of his story.
“I was a navy corpsman for 5th marine recon. Every night we were in Cambodia they took our dog tags. I found out later that it was just in case we were found and captured they wouldn’t think we were spies.
“The night we got ambushed in Cambodia, I lost the Lieutenant but saved the Gunny and I was hit by a grenade. They found out I was only 17 yrs old and that’s when my trouble really began. They gave me hand full of medals and told me all the good they would do for me.
“I was sent back to the Great Lakes to work in a VA hospital until they figured out what to do with me. While I was there, a Lieutenant nurse told me to write a bunch of prescriptions for this guy. I knew all the meds would have killed him so I refused to do it. That was another Captain’s Mast*. I was given an Honorable discharge but the Navy never honored me being there.
(*Captain’s Mast is the Navy term for Non-judicial Punishment. This is used when a Sailor is in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is only used when other options to correct deficiencies have been unsuccessful or when the violation is fairly egregious (some examples are integrity violations, under-age drinking, drinking and driving, adultery, unauthorized absence, cheating/lying and assault).
“I’m a child of the 60’s and, yes, I smoked some of the best pot throughout Southeast Asia. I spent 8yrs fighting VA and drank my way through first marriage. We divorced and I don’t blame her. She is the mother of my children. When we parted ways I gave up fighting for them.
“After the divorce, I went to the reservation in the Hills of Cherokee, NC to be with my moms people. This part of the reservation, then and even now, mostly doesn’t have electricity. They are so traditional that whenever they vote on anything they always vote no. Also, here it is the custom of many elders that they walk into the woods to cross over.
“I spent time with my aunt who went to the Hills during the removal. She was a great medicine Lady. While I was there, I found my way back to my Circle. Her people were all Medicine men and women who saved my life in many ways.
“The first thing she did was hold a sweat lodge to remove my inner demons. Then she taught me the ways of crystals, herbs, and dream walking. I spent 6 months there, learning from her and daughters. She became ill about 12 years ago and crossed over. Her daughters are of age now and every once in awhile I still call if their lines aren’t down. If it hadn’t been for her I would be dead by now, if you call these nightmares living. My aunt is the one who named my Mom who you have now to carry on with your stories.
“Years later, I found out my doctor was in the Cornel Air Force. He was there(Vietnam) in the late 1950’s. He said he helped them develop chemicals that they tested along the Cambodian border where i was. Now my bones have started to deteriorate. Today, after 2 metal backs, 2 neck surgeries and a new knee, I found out that I was a victim of these chemicals. This doctor and my neurologist have written several letters telling the VA and to this day no luck. I love my country but politicians I hate.”
(Before he’d told me this much of his story, Bob told me about the very vivid, horrific nightmares he’s had each and every night since he came home from Vietnam. That’s roughly 50 years! When he’d told me about the nightmares, I gave him some suggestions. Sadly, he’d already literally tried everything and nothing has worked. He did however have a service dog named Sugar who had helped him a lot as he dealt with his anxiety, depression and nightmares. As I write this, Bob still only gets about 2 hours of sleep per night. He also has days that are worse than others.) After we discussed my suggestions, he said to me,
“I take meds for anxiety, but the dreams are there and will always will be. This is just part of the story Steph. I will someday try and finish telling you. Like I said we all have our demons Hun.”
Sadly tho, as I write this, he so far hasn’t been able to finish telling me the rest of his story. The pain of his nightmares that have haunted him every night for the last 50 or so years has become to powerful for him. Out of respect for him, I’ve left it there.
***Please be sure to read more of my posts
Come back tomorrow to read more about Bob and his experience with hurricane Irma.