By Terry Wooten
"Fear, helplessness, guilt and numbness speak for all wars. When you make it home, who can you talk to that will understand. You either scare people or they don't believe what you're saying.
It's not healthy to let war experiences stay bottled up inside you. The pressure continues to build, and unhealthy issues begin to show up.
Find a mentor, somebody that's been through what you've been through. They can help guide you through this, and relieve much of the pressure."
-- Larry Lelito
Larry is a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, and I stood up against the war. He's not just helping me build a garage; we're building a friendship, and telling each other our stories.
His tales are a lot more gruesome than mine.
We've developed a deep respect for one another. Larry believes that if it hadn't been for the peace movement (not the protesters against the veterans) the war might have dragged on a lot longer, with many more dead on both sides. He still mourns his dead companions, and has a deep respect for the Vietnamese people.
A few weeks ago Larry took me to a veterans' group session as his guest. I was nervous about what my reception would be like, but I was made to feel welcome. I don't like writing war stories, but veterans don't like carrying the memories around in their heads either.
We have a whole new wave of veterans coming home, trying to deal with what they experienced. There's help. It's a peer-to-peer support organization of trained combat veterans called Buddy-To-Buddy, and can be reached at (888) 82-Buddy or (888) 822-8339.
Veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan
are going through pure hell.
Their suicide rate is at an all-time high.
is spouse abuse, divorces, abandonment
Guys I work with
joined the guard,
and started having a family.
They were taken away
from their family and job
for a year,
and became combat veterans.
They returned home,
tried to adjust
and reacquaint themselves with their families.
Their employer let them back.
Finally, they got on their feet
and rolling again,
then got orders for a second deployment.
It becomes a real emotional burden.
After a second tour
guys might not have a job.
The wife is fed up,
and the kids don't know their dad
home with a lot of issues.
The family starts patching things up,
and here comes the third deployment.
It's like going out on patrol
and getting hit
with a slow motion Improvised Explosive Device.
After what I'd experienced in Vietnam,
because it was my job,
I wouldn't associate with another Vietnam Veteran
until the 1980s.
Didn't want anything to remind me
of my past.
I was highly exposed to Agent Orange.
There was an Agent Orange conference
My wife, Theresa, said we should go
find out about this.
Probably thirty vets were there.
I felt real uncomfortable,
but toughed it out.
I got to talking with a couple guys
and felt better.
Vietnam Veterans of America
was starting up.
We formed one in Traverse City,
kind of like the VFW,
but our own organization.
I started going to meetings
and paying dues.
We found out we had a lot of problems in common
with anger, hyper-vigilance,
and not trusting being around people.
What was this?
Why were we all so similar?
We hired a clinical psychologist,
a combat wounded veteran.
He'd devoted his life
to studying post-traumatic-stress.
We held meetings
once a month.
He mentored four of us
on all the danger signs.
The Great Recession hit
and my construction business slowed.
I had more time on my hands,
and started going to more veteran meetings
to meet up with guys.
At one meeting
a soldier from Camp Grayling came.
He spoke about needing combat veterans
young guys out
returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Me and another guy volunteered,
and got started with this outfit
run by the National Guard
and the University of Michigan
I took my training in St. Ignace,
and started getting assigned
to military outfits
trying to help.
-- Terry Wooten