I was ever in Vietnam. I was never in the military. I also never choose to be a veteran’s counselor. It chose me. When time came for me to sign up for the draft they told me to go back to college because they were not taking anyone any more. Later when I was going to sign up for Air Force Psych-ops I was told by a Lt Colonel friend of mine that unless I had everything the recruiter was saying—in writing—that I needed to run and not walk the other direction. My ability in psychology would be such a threat to those of higher rank and lesser ability. My father was a Master Stg in World War II with the Army Air Corp and served on Iwo Jima and Guam. My brother was Special Forces Air Force in Vietnam and was a para rescue. I have many cousins on the Wall. My career chose me as a counselor.
I really get offended by those who say: you weren’t there you cannot know. I had one of my Green Berets tell me: Doc, I don’t care what you say you have been to Nam a hundred times through the eyes of your men. For some reason I seemed to specialize in veterans from Vietnam. I had all branches and all sort of trauma. As a counselor you don’t just share in the experiences of one person but of many. You walk in the shoes temporarily of the grunt wondering which was going to get him first, the jungle or the enemy. You experience the terror of the REMF (Rear Echelon Mother F*****) who was supposed to be issued a typewriter and is now being given an antiquated rifle because the Tet Offensive has begun and he is about to fill his drawers.
Then you get the joy of standing the gap between that veteran and the government as the Department of Veteran Affairs says that since that was not the veteran MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) that what he says happened really did not happen and he therefore is not entitled to benefits. Or you have a veteran who had a very colorful duty list while in the service and all his records are blacked out and, therefore, records do not exist and benefits are either denied or take years.
I have found that those who want to hold the opinion: you weren’t there you cannot know; are invested in their identity as the ‘messed up Nam vet’ and is not open to options. To those who say that a person who never was in combat cannot have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I would introduce them to my Technicolor dreams, the ones prior to the present medications. I would love to share my sleep patterns, the ones with the help of chemicals. It is possible to care and not have been there. Vietnam had so many different wars going on within that one war. It all depended upon when the person served and where and what branch. Those who were in during the 60’s had a totally different war than those who were in during the 70’s. An Airman on the flight line had a totally different experience than someone in the jungle. Neither would trade the other places. But they all had different experiences.
Unfortunately, for me I carried my client’s stories. They were not clients, they were friends. They were fellow Americans. Every death they experiences was added to the deaths that the previous person had that I saw. By the end of the day I tried to place all the death and horror into little boxes and fastened down the lid. Unfortunately the lids began to leak and all the ooze of each story and account cam over the top of the box. For those who say I cannot experience Vietnam because I never went to boot camp I say to trade me places.
I believe it is possible to be a veteran without have a particular branch of service and or not having gone through boot camp. A veteran is someone who is willing to carry the scars of those in the service and who has signed a check to their country with the amount left open. I also feel unworthy to have served such an honorable group of people.
I cannot get things out of my mind. The images are there permanently. But I carry them with pride knowing those who served. Many of them died in their service. There are some careers that call us. We do not select them. We are chosen by some force greater than ourselves because for some reason we are found worthy; Worthy because we are willing to stand the gap and fight for what is right; Worthy because we care enough to bleed internally or externally; Worthy because we are willing to take the verbal abuse from those who do not understand.
A veteran or a Patriot is not a status, it is a heart. The mother or father who walked their son or daughter to the bus that was going to take them to their point of induction or off to boot, not knowing if they would ever see them again, are Patriots. They signed the bottom of that check with the amount left open.