FACES OF AGENT ORANGE TOWN HALL MEETING SCHEDULE
Thursday, December 15, 2011
John And Nancy (VN)
(C). James J Alonzo
They were children, and they were in love, and having met four years prior at the local 4H picnic in rural Iowa. John and Nancy dated all through high school, went to the prom, and graduated from high school. So now John and Nancy were planning on marrying, having a family and working their own family farm.
Unfortunately John got his draft notice, and they decided the wedding was to be cancelled till he got back from serving his country. The Army wanted him, John didn't resist, his country at war was calling him, and many other young men. America was counting on them to fight in a funny little country called Viet Nam.
So he went to train, to serve, to fight, and learn to kill. When he should of been home, loving Nancy, having children, working the farm, and settling down. It just didn’t seem right that his country told him to leave his young sweetheart for the war.
It seemed like a brief moment that took him from the silence of a rural lifestyle to the raging battlefield. A jungle, hot, humid, bug and snake infested battlefield. The fighting in these engagements with the Viet Cong were always fierce and unrelenting.
Day by day John and his buddies patrolled the jungles in the "Iron Triangle" and eventually dug in every night. The tragedy and chaos of war shook John and often he saw things he wanted to forget .
There were no body armor back then, and one day John stopped a bullet as he provided cover fire on the ground for his buddies. He laid there unable to walk, when one of the medics named Decatur Johnson came to his aid. John was bleeding heavily and in a lot of pain as the medivac chopper having been radioed to get him out of there. Decatur's ebony face was wet with sweat and dirt as he hurriedly started working on John's wounds.
Decatur, after provided Immediate treatment to John's wound, realized as bullets hailed down them both, that John needed to be move to a safer area. The enemy fire was too heavy for others to help Decatur.
When the rockets or morters exploded, Decatur would cover John's body with his own. The shrapnel from the explosions was too hot and getting too close, so Decatur lifted John like a father would a baby, carrying John through the small arms fire of the enemy. Getting cover fire from his buddies. From the fire fight to the LZ (landing zone) was over 150 meters, that was as close the chopper could get near the fire fight, so when Decatur and John arrived, they dropped on the ground in a exhausted heap.
Once at the LZ, Decatur gave John some more treatment to his wound as grenades, rocket fire and bullets hailed down. After the chopper arrived, it took John and other wounded to 93rd Evac hospital at Long Binh.
Later on that day Decatur while attending to more of the wounded, caught a piece of shrapnel through his head and neck killing him instantly. No one reported the heroic deeds the medic performed, the soldiers he saved that day, and the other soldiers never mentioned it.
Most times in battles, heroic deeds are so common place, it is more like expected. The medic did his job saving lives, the machine gunner provided at great risk, cover fire, etc. That was our job, kill the enemy, stay alive and keep our buddies alive. In battle " God and country", never really came into the equation.
After Long Binh, John was sent to the Phillipines, and once stable, John was sent back home to an Iowa VA hospital to recover. John would find out years later who had saved his life.
Unable to remove the bullet from inside him the doctors left it there as a "souvenir" of the war, or a reminder, a reminder that John did his time in hell, and John's time in the hell had come to an end.
He was sent home with a severe injury, calling for a long recovery, but John felt he was sent home dead. However he was "alive", still alive to his family and his sweetheart Nancy.
The war came to an abrupt end for John, and he was still concerned for all his buddies who were still over there. John felt also guilt, guilt that he made it back home, knowing some who would not.
It was a lovely spring day, the birds singing as they began building nests for their families. The spring flowers now blooming and bending to the warm spring breezes. John and Nancy were married in a white painted church in the country and afterward moved in a little house on a small farm.
It was a small farm with a little white house, where both families had helped in buying the farm, and fixing the barn.
John found it hard to adjust back into life after the war . He asked his wife to be patient with him . At first he received some help from a few buddies who were also having problems adjusting.
John and his friends met once a week at the local VFW, and had a few drinks .
What they couldn’t face they cut with alcohol .
Without warning, one of his Nam buddies took their own life and suddenly John was thrown back into a battlefield of his mind. While he was still devastated from his friend's loss, his loving Nancy brought him the news that she was expecting their first child.
That seemed to help John stay focused, and when his disability retirement pay came through he planned to begin a vegetable garden on the little farm . He worked hard every day and vented his anger on the land toiling away in the soil.
Each month his produce was brought from the farm to the local city farmer's markets, where he made money selling Corn and carrots , cabbage and beetroot.
Even though things seemed to be going along reasonably well, Nancy didn't know John had disguised his inner war so well. He couldn’t forget the past and still tried to cut it out of his mind with alcohol and sometimes drugs.
News of another child on the way brought some renewed happiness but that was short lived as the great drought followed .
The farm soon was dry and dusty with no crop in the ground .
In despair John and Nancy took their two young children and left the land for the city in the hope of finding work .
John and his wife had noticed a big difference in the city. People were angry, their attitude were different and cold, which was a challenge but one they had to adapt to . John found a job in construction, although the work didn’t suit him he was glad of a job as many had nothing.
Each day John would come home from work but never talked about his work and just sat quietly in his corner, watching TV, especially when the news was covering the Viet Nam War.
Memories still haunted him and he was troubled with regular flashbacks of the awful events that he had experienced during the war. The nights sweats, and nightmares were always his companion every time he tried to sleep.
The children had grown up fast and were now at school, so they were noticing their father's weird behavior.
Some nights John would wake to the sounds of bombs exploding in his head, bullets whizzing by his ears. As Nancy slept John crept out of bed, consciously unchained by the shackles of a nightmare that haunted him night and day.
Bathed in sweat he let the moment pass like a miniature death before returning to bed where he could not move an inch in a relaxed state. And when he drifted off to sleep chained again to the nightmares that he knew so well.
By the time the kids were in high school they had noticed the photographs of their Dad in army uniform. They found an old suitcase with sketches of the war Jack had drawn, however there
were no details of where and when, the children who were now young adults were intrigued.
Each time they asked questions about the war, they were met with silence and a stern warning look. They learned that there would be no information about the men in the photos or the sketches of places and what it was all about. John most times would just walk away and eventually the children stopped asking questions about the war .
The truth of it was John was still in the jungle and still fighting the battles every day of his life. Somehow he wanted to protect his kids from that experience, and by keeping quiet he thought that might help. He stuck to that throughout their growing years.
At times in the past, they didn’t know why their Dad got angry and smashed things around the house . Nancy made excuses for John and yet couldn’t understand herself what he was going through, She tried to get him help but he always said he was ok .
It came to a head one day when John hit her in fit of rage . Nancy was taken to the hospital . Suspicions arose as Nancy, blacken eyed and bruised, she wept in the ambulance. The doctor in emergency room spoke to her and asked some questions about what was going on.
The sad thing was that Nancy had become "the victim of a victim" and that is the worst kind of victim there is, however she still made excuses for John.
As time went on there were more and more angry outbursts and more Nancy visits to the doctor and hospital .
Eventually Nancy did explain to her doctor what was happening at home . At first the police made a visit. This was followed up by local church groups and then the doctor made a home visit and spoke in private to John.
After a brief consultation John agreed to take some medication, the doctor gave John a list of phone numbers and people to contact at any time should he need to speak to somebody. There was also another list handed to Nancy
For a while the medication seemed to help and apart from being drowsy John was more able to cope with things .
When the medication ran out John didn’t bother to renew the prescription and things soon returned to the way they were. He still had refused to go to the PTSD clinics.
Still unable to talk about his experience in the war John tried to cut it with more alcohol and drugs.
He tried, sometimes successfully, to shut the world out, however his wife and kids finally left him. They could take no more and John soon became a recluse, his marriage was finished.
It was too late, his kids and wife had enough of becoming targets for John's abuse and anger.
Alone and afraid John began to question his own existence. One day he stood in front of a mirror and spat at the man looking back at him. Everything he had was gone.
That evening, after careful planning, John stood on a chair under a tree with a rope suspended from its main branch. When He kicked the chair from underneath his feet, the limb broke from his weight! John finally had realized maybe he had been given a second chance.
He had once been a fighter, and knew with each personal victory there often came a cost. John realized he didn't fight hard enough for his family.
The biggest price he ever paid was losing his wife and kids to a war that wounded his body and his mind. He realized that he was a warrior, so he knew he had to make a stand .
His thoughts now focused on his children, wanting to see them and know what would become of them . He realised how much his wife had gone through and slowly but surely John started to get his life together again by going back to VA Hospital and the veterans PTSD program.
He visited the doctor and went back on medication. The doctor gave him some other ideas and contacts for counseling. He started therapy and joined a war veterans group.
With each step to recovery John grew stronger and faced his fears alone, taking on self discipline, showing up to work on time, keeping his cool.
With his new ability to listen to others who had gone through the same experiences as he did, he now realized he was not alone. All this lead to a healing process over time. A year passed and John was feeling more human, more in control and more in harmony with his life.
During this reconstruction period, a few years had passed. He didn't try to contact his wife or children, he wasn't ready, because it was difficult for him. He had questioned himself, 'what if they reject me? do I deserve it?'
One Christmas John received a card from his kids, one from his daughter, who was getting married, and one from his wife. Through his teared up eyes, he read a return address on the envelopes, and John decided he would show up at the door.
Not knowing if his wife and kids would give him another chance, he prayed hoping that it would be the best chance he had. He took a chance, and with a head filled with New Years resolutions and his arms full of presents, he knocked on the door.
“Merry Christmas. “,He said.
Nancy stood there and looked at him for a few moments, trying to read John. During that silence, he felt like a he was being cut in two.
“Are you well John?",She asked.
"I'm much better sweetheart. I love you!"
“The doctor called me a few weeks ago", Nancy smiled, "He was telling me about how well you are doing."
" How are you ?”, he asked.
“I’m doing ok," she smiled, taking John's hand, "There’s talk of a wedding, and we were wondering if you will give your daughter away. So you better come in .“
© Copyright 2011 James J Alonzo All rights reserved.
James J Alonzo has granted Agent Orange Legacy its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.