THE SOLITARY WORLD OF A VET

It is important for those who have never served to take a moment to understand the solitary world of Veterans.

Millions of Veterans are and have been successful in all endeavors. They are doctors, lawyers, business people, and a thousand other professions. Not all have PTSD; not all are the troubled, brooding, street corner homeless guy, although they exist and need help desperately.

No matter how successful Veterans might be, more often than not, Veterans are often alone, mentally and spiritually each day and for the rest of their lives.

Veterans stories are all different, but some elements of the common experience exist.

They also lived a daily camaraderie that cannot be repeated in the civilian world. In fact, many veterans spend the rest of their lives seeking the same esprit de corps that simply is absent from their civilian lives and jobs.

They long to spend just 15 minutes back with the best friends they ever had, friends that are scattered to every corner of the earth, and some to the afterlife itself.

All Veterans have these thoughts nearly every day. Some may experience them for fractions of a second, or for minutes at a time. They replay over and over again like an endless 24-hour war movie.

Part of the solitary world of the veterans is being able to enjoy complete bliss doing absolutely nothing.

This is a trait grating to civilians who must constantly search for endless stimuli. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest thrill of all is just being alive.

A lot of veterans have an Obi-wan Kenobi calmness. After what they went through, how bad can anything really be?

So many, if not all Veterans are haunted by visions of horror and death, by the guilt of somehow surviving and living the good life, when some they knew are gone. They sometimes, strangely wish that they were back in those dreadful circumstances, not to experience the dirt and horror and terror and noise and violence again, but to be with the only people a Vet really knows, other Veterans. As a result, they walk around each day lost in their own special story.

Most civilians are oblivious to the solitary life of the Veteran. But, it’s there. It’s the same eternal and universal philosophy, whether you fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. The experiences may have been different, but the emotions are the same.

A problem with the solitary world of the vet is that the Veterans have a hard time explaining what he or she did to those who didn’t serve. Some vets want to talk, but they have no outlet. Maybe their only outlet is watching a war movie or reading a book about the conflict they were in.

How often do people say, “Grandpa never talks about Korea.” That’s because Grandpa knows no one can understand except other vets. That’s because Grandpa knows most people don’t care.

Civilians must understand that for Veterans nothing is ever the same again. Their senses can be suddenly illuminated by the slightest sound or smell or sights of death all around, a living version of Dante’s Inferno; sounds so loud that they can only be described as Saving Private Ryan in surround sound on steroids; smells vast and horrific; rotting death, burning fuel and equipment, rubber, animals and…people.

Part of this taciturn mentality is that vets speak another language, a strange and archaic language of their past.

How do you talk to civilians about “fire for effect” or “grid 7310” or “shake and bake” or “frag orders” or “10 days and a wake up” or a thousand and one other terms that are mystifying to the real world?

You can’t.

All of this adds to the solitary world of the vet. Some are better at handling life afterward than others. Some don’t seem affected at all, but they are. They just hide it. Some never return to normal. But, what is normal to a vet anymore?

The Best Ways to Give Back to Those Who Served Our Country

We all benefit from the sacrifice of veterans, service members, and their families. They offer themselves in protection for our country’s freedom and values, and through their sacrifice, we are allowed to pursue our hopes and dreams.

In exchange for all they do and all they have done, there are a few things we can do for them that might seem small, but they can also be meaningful and important.

Assist Your Local Senior

Veterans are usually entitled to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and while most of them are well aware of that fact, there are challenges involved in getting the help they need. As NPR explains, many veterans are unaware of the benefits available through the VA system, and the application to access those benefits can be difficult for them to complete.

Like many things these days, veterans can apply for benefits online, but many seniors are intimidated by the internet. Why not help a veteran you know through the enrollment process? You can head to the Veterans Affairs official website to get started. However, if you have any trouble, Cariloop offers additional information.

Along those same lines, many veterans don’t realize they are entitled to Medicare. The New York Daily News explains that veterans age 65 should enroll in Medicare Parts A and B, which will broaden the medical facilities where they have coverage.

There can still be a number of out-of-pocket expenses, particularly if there is an emergency and they are taken to the closest hospital rather than a VA hospital. To control that expense, a Medigap plan can help. In particular, Plans F and G provide more coverage than other Medigap options. Note that if the Part B deductible is a concern, Plan F will pay it, while Plan G will not.

Exercise Your Skills

You might not know an older veteran, or maybe you’re interested in providing a different kind of help. There are plenty of opportunities to explore in other areas, and there are veterans, military personnel, and their families with needs. Think about your skillset, and as the Huffington Post notes, chances are there is a place you could volunteer.

For example, there are groups that build homes for families on military campuses, organizations that train veterans for jobs, and people who arrange events and entertainment for those on active duty. There is even an organization called Pets for Vets that pairs veterans with shelter pets — it’s a great way to combine interests if you’re also passionate about helping animals.

Hire a Vet

If you’re an employer or know someone in a position to hire, you can help veterans in a unique manner. Veterans have much to offer employers. They are often educated, detail-oriented, highly-skilled, used to following through, and are hard workers. On top of all that, there are tax incentives available to employers who hire veterans. If you aren’t sure how to get started, consider contacting an organization that connects employers with veterans looking for work.

Similarly, military spouses can struggle to find employment. Because of frequent moves, many employers are reluctant to hire them. On top of that, those who need state certifications, such as beauticians, veterinary technicians, and social workers, often need to revisit the certification process following a move, delaying their employment — if they can find employment at all. Add a military spouse to your staff and you can reap the rewards of helping a family in need.

If you know a military spouse seeking employment and aren’t in a position to help directly, consider pointing your friend toward an employer known for hiring military spouses.

There are plenty of opportunities to help those who serve or have served our country. Consider helping a veteran, someone in the military, or their family members. Whether you connect through an organization or one-on-one, your efforts are sure to be appreciated.

 

Army Life After Vietnam

Over the years, I have had a number of people say to me that being in the Army must be just like having any other job. Of course, these are people who never served—and likely never would have if called upon to do so. There is no feeling like the despair in having absolutely no choice but to do your duty, no matter how distasteful. And when there is no choice, despair can be tough to avoid.

One day, years later, when I worked for the State of California, one of my fellow employees said something like the above-mentioned comment. I explained to her it would be like taking everyone on the same floor of our office, and for the next year eating with them, showering with them, partying with them—in other words being with them 24/7. And you could not disobey your supervisor without going to jail. She admitted she would not like that at all, and I said, “Well, that’s the service.”

Perhaps this is a good place to discuss the gap between GIs and civilians, and the almost contempt in which we were held. Maybe contempt is too strong a word, but all I know is that it was a lot different then than it is today. I laugh out loud today when I see people talk about the troops and heap accolades upon them when given half a chance. Back then, I had a friend who, upon returning from Vietnam, could not even get a cab home from the airport. Finally, somebody who was there to drop off his mother gave him a ride home. So when I see people today talk about the troops or see advertisements on TV, I don’t know whether to gag, or cry, or cuss and shout.

So, it was almost us versus them back then. And everyone was apparently comfortable with the fact that we lived in crowded conditions, with none of the amenities of the surrounding area. That was OK because we were GIs. I have always found it odd that, during those days when people seemed so upset about the war in Vietnam and the men who were dying there, they treated the GIs in their own hometowns so poorly, as if the war were our fault. Back then, it was a true dichotomy if I ever saw one. So when I talk about the gap between civilians and GIs, it was more of a gulf, almost a culture clash. I mean, it is nice to see GIs today receive what is due them, but it still hurts sometimes.

And we wanted to join the other side and be called “PFCs,” which stands for “proud fucking civilians”—but our service had forever changed us, and there would always be a chasm between us and those who had not served. We wanted to join the other side and they would not let us because of our past.

And of course, the Army did not help men who came back from Vietnam. To expect men to come from one Army in Vietnam to another Army Stateside was asking a lot. I’m really surprised that so many men accomplished the transition fairly smoothly. But no thought was ever given to what had happened to us during our tours overseas. We were just expected to switch over, and that was that. But some men had a hard time just getting used to civilian life, much less the Stateside Army, with all of its spit and polish. They ended up paying a pretty heavy price for it; ultimately we all did.

McCormick, William B.. Time to Serve: Or…Was There Life After Vietnam?. Hellgate Press, available on Amazon

Your book is one of the best I have read

Hi Jack, first to refresh your memory of who I am since it has been a while since I wrote to you. I am the World Airway flight attendant, that flew into an out of Vietnam 1967 to 1969.

I finally finished your book. I have read lots of books regarding Vietnam, but this one was really hard for me to sit and read for very long periods of time. I would read a story and get mad, and sad and frustrated all at the same time. I was always so happy that I was on a plane bringing home 168 men who had survived the war, and thankful to each of them for having served. When we landed at Travis AFB, the guys were smiling, laughing and so excited to touch U.S. soil again you forgot you had just come from a war zone. We got lots of hugs and kisses as they departed. We never saw these men again, we got in our airline limo’s and headed back to operations in Oakland. We never saw the treatment they received after the flight. I, of course, have been aware of it for all these years because of working with Vietnam Veterans as many years as I have. But it wasn’t something they talked about much. I never understood the American people’s rudeness and disrespect to these soldiers. I would always tell people these men are only doing what their government tells them to do. Most people had no idea what was going on in Vietnam, they just believed all the news media. (which is still happening).

Your book is one of the best I have read, the stories were excellent and well written. I especially liked what you wrote at the end, you basically tied it all together. I wish more of the civilian population would read it and be able to understand what these men and women went through in hell for a year and are still living with 40 to 50 years later.

Thank you for writing this excellent book. I will tell my Veteran friends about it and hopefully, they will buy a copy.

Nancy Shamel

Demond Wilson, Vietnam Vet

Sanford and Son Star, wounded in Vietnam

Demond Wilson grew up in Harlem, New York. At the age of 12, Wilson’s appendix ruptured, almost killing him. At that time the young Wilson vowed to somehow serve God as an adult in some ministry capacity.

Wilson served in the US Army from 1966–1968 and was in the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam where he was wounded. Upon returning from Vietnam as a decorated veteran in the late 1960s, Wilson was featured in several Broadway and Off-Broadway stage productions before moving to Hollywood where he performed guest roles on several television series such as Mission: Impossible and All in the Family and acted in films such as The Dealing in 1970 and The Organization in 1971.

Millions around the world know Demond Wilson for his starring roles in programs such as, “Sanford & Son” (NBC), “Baby I’m Back” (CBS), “The New Odd Couple” (ABC), and “Demond Wilson and Company” (BET Network). Demond also starred in the long-running TV series “Girlfriends”

His films include “The Dealing” (Warner Bros.), “The Organization” (Sam Goldwyn Studios), “Full Moon High” (Indie), “Me & the Kid” (Indie) and “Hammerlock” (Indie).

Wilson lived in Conroe, Texas for many years until 1983, when he became an ordained minister, fulfilling his childhood vow. Later, in 1995, he founded Restoration House, a center that helps rehabilitate former prison inmates by providing mentoring, spiritual guidance, and vocational training.

Demond accepted the call on his life in 1983 when he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world, and across America. He formed Restoration House of America in 1995, for the rehabilitation of former prison inmates across the racial divide.

Demond has written eleven children stories and his book, “The New Age Millennium: An Expose of Symbols, Slogans, and Hidden Agendas”, is in its second printing. He has written two screenplays titled “Nat Tyler Freedom Fighter”, and “Bay City Blues”, and has written a sitcom titled “Hawkins for the Defense”. His latest book is titled “Second Banana: The Bitter Sweet Memoirs of the Sanford and Son Years”.

I was fortunate in my homecoming

Ken Irons
U.S. Navy

I received this in December. Sorry for the delay in posting.
Hey Jack, I received my copy of “When We Came Home” and I am about to the half-way point. I guess that I was fortunate in my homecoming.

Got discharge from Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Portsmouth Va., via Nav Sta Norfolk. I have family in Norfolk so was able to just take a city bus home. My state of mind was such, though, that I contacted a friend in California and he invited me to come out and spend some time with him and his family. This was the summer of 1966. By fall of the following year I had enrolled in a junior college and after a year there was able to transfer over to Cal Poly Pomona. I graduated in 1974 with a BS degree.

During my college time, I hitch-hiked around the country from coast to coast, the Sierras and Grand Canyon and lived in a teepee for a couple of years. That gave me time enough to settle myself down and more or less worked my emotions back into some sort of shape. What has really helped by joining these various vet’s groups and hearing their stories is how we have all been sharing similar feelings re the war and coming back to the world.

I thank the good Lord for walking with me in my travels both here and one there. I had contemplated suicide a couple of times while in Nam and, thankfully, was able to avoid it. I am 82 now going for 83 and have a good life I look back and think about. I can only pray that the peace I have found can be found by my fellow veterans, and especially those returning home from the battles of today. Take care and God bless all.

SADDLE UP The Story of the Red Scarf

SADDLE UP The Story of the Red Scarf by John Hedley
This is the story of the combat tour of John Hedley in the Central Highlands of the former Republic of South Vietnam in 1969 and 70. The primary focus is the time he spent as a Reconnaissance Platoon Leader of “Fox Force” in the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, and how that experience developed incredible bonds and friendships, as well as hard lessons in combat leadership, that have lasted for a lifetime.

It may seem strange to some that he waited almost 48 years to recount this time in his life, but the actual effort began almost 10 years ago in an effort to face his own personal demons and dragons. While sometimes a difficult experience, he was driven to document the legacy of an incredible group of young men who were thrown together in the crucible of small unit infantry combat in a small and specialized unit.

I read this book with great interest and found it to be a fascinating, personal account of what it was like to be in the infantry in Vietnam. There have been many books written about the Vietnam War but I find the personal accounts the most interesting. I recommend this book and think it should be on your shelf of Vietnam books.

You can email John to order the book at JohnHedley@saddleup-redscarf.com

Visit his web page: Saddle Up