I had to miss class Monday because of an appointment, but I was still able to be productive; when it came to my research assignment. I spent the morning at the Springfield Veterans Center. I was supposed to be in my OEF/OIF group therapy session but I over slept and missed it. The receptionist told me that the Vietnam group was about to start and to join them instead. The group welcomed me in with no concerns of my age, which was a relief to me. The first guy to introduce himself was an infantry veteran who served 2 tours in Vietnam. I didn’t want to intrude on their group, but I had many questions I wanted to ask them about their experiences here at home after they returned from Vietnam. To my surprise they wanted to ask me questions about my tour in Afghanistan. We shared stories about our wartime experiences and a couple laughs about the same bullshit we had to endure; by just being in the military. I asked the group if they would be comfortable answering a few questions that I thought would be helpful for this research assignment. They were more than happy to tell me their personal experience on what it was like coming home from Vietnam.
The first question I asked them was about school and what their experience was while attending college. There were only three veterans who went to college after Vietnam and all had negative experiences. The group had similar incidents while in college. Being spit on, called names, and being shunned socially by their peers. College professors would call them out amongst other students in class and criticized them about their combat experience in Vietnam. A veteran who attended Drury University when he returned from Vietnam had a very troubling experience with a history professor. His professor was aware of his time in Vietnam and did not want to hear about his experience, and the only correct information about the war was what the school was teaching. The students would not sit by him and he was always spit on when he tried to participate in social activities on campus. He then asked me if I experienced anything like what he had gone though during his time at Drury.
I informed him that sadly people still oppose soldiers and their participation in any war. I shared with him a story of when a creative writing teach brought a dummy grenade and placed it on my desk and told me to write about my feelings when it came to the grenade. The professor knew prior that I had been injured by and RPG grenade during my time in Afghanistan; the professor was fired the next day. My next question to the group was about how they handled adjusting back to civilian life after Vietnam. After hearing how college had gone for many of these veterans I could only assume similar struggles found them off campus as well. Many of the veterans found it difficult to rekindle friendships previously held before their tours in Vietnam. The guys in the group felt alone and isolated from everyone and everything. No matter how hard they tried it was nearly impossible to fit in with society after returning home from war.
The last question I had for the group was a simple one. I asked them how long it had taken them to cry when it came to the war? Many of them looked around the room at each other nervously. Then one man, who served in the Special Forces in Vietnam, told me it took him 30 years to finally cry over his wartime experience. The majority of the others answered like the previous veteran. It had taken these men at least two decades or more to release the pain they held inside from their experience in Vietnam. I wanted to know how they managed to carry these burdens all this time. Drugs and Alcohol was the answer from every last one of the veterans in the group.
Then one day they just had a moment. One was when he visited the Vietnam memorial; another was when he watched a movie about the Vietnam War. The time was nearly up, and I thought I would leave them with the last few minutes for themselves, since it was there group after all. It was a great experience and privilege to be in the presence of these men. I am so appreciative of the trust these veterans had with me, allowing them to open up and share their personal experiences. Even though we are from two different generations, we still somehow have a common bond. Be it brotherhood or the shared experience of war. Some how we related and shared our stories between ourselves. Resource- Springfield Veterans Center