Today was Veteran’s Day. Amid the solemnity of the day I am still in California where I came this week to try to help my mom with my dad’s affairs and to also see my dad who is definitely in the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This has been the hardest trip home in my life. I knew I had to come, although the Abbess was against it fearing for my emotional health and perhaps she was right. Tonight I sit in a hotel room self medicating and trying to regain some sense of sanity.
Dad and Me back in May…He Still knew Me then
The past few days have been hell. My dad does not know me anymore; he has almost no response to anything and stares straight ahead. The hardest part is when I realized that he didn’t know me. So I asked if he had seen my mother who I had taken to visit him the day before and my brother. He said that he had seen them, and even seen my mom the morning I asked him the question. However she had not been there that day. So I asked if “Steve had visited yesterday.” He got agitated and said “I don’t know any Steve yesterday.” Today was much the same, I asked if he knew who Steve was, and he said “yes” and I asked if he had seen him and he said “no he hasn’t been here.” This whole trip he has probably spoken under 50 words in 4 visits. There is nothing left. For all practical purposes he is dead in a body that won’t die. If that was not bad enough my mother has not skipped any opportunity to attack and pick at me until I broke. I begged her to lay off, told her that I was not up to fighting with her and tried to keep my cool but she wouldn’t let up. I cannot deal with constant conflict and a mother who calls me “a weak, politically correct pansy.” I’m a combat veteran and went to war unarmed into hostile territory with little groups of Americans far away from the big battalions with all the heavy weapons and the women called me a “weak, politically correct pansy. She has put me down, belittled my education, vocation and career and insulted my wife for the last time. When I told her that “everything in her life that was wrong was somebody else’s fault and not hers” she agreed. I knew it was over at that point. This may sound un-Christian but I will not go see her again. Tomorrow I will see my dad for what it is worth, see my brother and his family and then early Friday I will get the hell out of Dodge. She had offered to pay for my trip out but I can’t prostitute myself for that kind of abuse. The next time I come back it will be for my father’s funeral. I love my brother and his family. He and his wife are saints. I couldn’t live that near my mother without ending up in a psychotic state, something that I came perilously close to this week. God bless Jeff, Mel and their kids.
With my Brother back in May
I went golfing with my brother and nephews today. For much of the day I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of the damned boat. My mind was so gooned up and upset by the events of the week I couldn’t concentrate worth a shit. Even my well hit shots were mainly slicing to the right and I embarked on a tree killing expedition. I hit 7 trees solidly, took down a couple of decent sized branches, grazed three other trees and nailed an outhouse. However it was really good to be out with Jeff, Darren and Nate. Nate can really hit the ball for an 8 year old; he has the potential to be a really good golfer. Darren doesn’t really care and is out to have fun. He enjoyed my sarcasm as I commented on my shots and helped keep track of the number of trees that I hit and I told him that I would see how many I could try to kill before the day was out. By the end of the round I was hitting the ball a lot better and it was going more often than not where I wanted it to go, but the first 7 holes were hell. It makes me think of Robin Williams’ golf routine.
As I mentioned today was Veteran’s day. After I got my hotel I went to a local Applebee’s where I had a sirloin steak and potatoes and a couple beers on their Veterans’ day salute. I sat at the bar with a couple about 10 years older than me; he had served on a Navy Minesweeper in Vietnam. They were nice; I think that is why I like sitting at the bar when I go out to eat, there is a sense of community that you don’t find a lot of other places.
As it is Veteran’s day I think I will take some time to remember some of the Veterans in my life who have helped my through my life and career. This is taken from a post that I did around Memorial Day.
I’ve been in the military for almost 28 years now. I enlisted in the National Guard while in college and entered Army ROTC back in 1981. Since then it has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.” My dad served twenty years in the Navy. He retired in 1974 as a Chief Petty Officer and did time surrounded in the South Vietnamese city of An Loc when it was surrounded by the North Vietnamese for 80 days in 1972. He didn’t talk about it much when he came back; in fact he came back different from the war. He probably suffered from PTSD. All the markers were there but we had no idea about it back then, after all he was in the Navy not the Army.
LCDR Breedlove and Chief Ness
My second view of war came from the Veterans of Vietnam that I served with in the National Guard and the Army. Some of these men served as teachers and mentors. LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness at the Edison High School Naval Junior ROTC program were the first who helped me along. They have both passed away in the past year and a half. I will never forget them. A post dedicated to them is on this blog. Colonel Edgar Morrison was my first battalion commander. He was the most highly decorated member of the California National Guard at that time and had served multiple tours in Vietnam. He encouraged me as a young specialist and officer cadet and showed a tremendous amount of care for his soldiers. Staff Sergeant’s Buff Rambo and Mickey Yarro taught me the ropes as a forward observer and shared many of their Vietnam experiences. Buff had been a Marine dog handler on the DMZ and Mickey a Forward Observer. Sergeant First Class Harry Zilkan was my training NCO at the UCLA Army ROTC program. He was a Special Forces Medic with 7th Group in Vietnam. He still had part of a VC bayonet embedded in his foot. He received my first salute as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant as well as a Silver Dollar. I understand that after the Army he became a fire fighter. He had a massive heart attack on the scene of a fire and died a few years later from it. Sergeant Major John Butler was our senior enlisted at UCLA. He served with the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam. Sergeant First Class Harry Ball was my drill sergeant at the ROTC pre-commissioning camp at Fort Lewis Washington in 1982. He was also Special Forces and a Ranger and served multiple tours in Vietnam. He was quite influential in my life, tearing me apart and then building me back up. He was my version of Drill Sergeant Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. Like Zack Mayo played by Richard Gere in the movie I can only say: Drill Sergeant “I will never forget you.”
As I progressed through my Army career I encountered others of this generation who also impacted my life. First among them was First Sergeant Jim Koenig who had been a Ranger in the Mekong Delta. I was the First Sergeant that I would measure all others by. Once during a ARTEP we were aggressed and all of a sudden he was back in the Delta. This man cared so much for his young soldiers in the 557th Medical Company. He did so much for them and I’m sure that those who served with him can attest to this as well as me. Jim had a brick on his desk so that when he got pissed he could chew on it. He was great. He played guitar for the troops and had a song called Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda You Communist Slut. It was a classic. He retired after he was selected to be a Command Sergeant Major because he valued his wife and family more than the promotion. It hurt him to do this, but he put them first. Colonel Donald Johnson was the commander of the 68th Medical Group when I got to Germany in January 1984. Colonel “J” as well all called him was one of the best leaders I have seen in 28 years in the military. He knew everything about everything and his knowledge forced us all to learn and be better officers and NCOs. On an inspection visit you could always find him dressed in coveralls and underneath a truck verifying the maintenance done on it. He served a number of Vietnam tours. He died a few years back of Multiple Myeloma and is buried at Arlington. Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley who had served as a company commander in Vietnam on more than one occasion saved my young ass at the Army Chaplain School. He remains a friend and is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon he was one of the most “Christian” men that I have ever met. I know some Christians who might have a hard time with that, but Rich demonstrated every trait of a Christian who loved God and his neighbor.
Me with Major General Frank Smoker USAF (Ret) and Colonel Tom Allmon 2005
When I was the Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap PA I was blessed to have some great veterans in my Chapel Parish. Major General Frank Smoker flew 25 missions as a B-17 pilot over Germany during the height of the air war in Europe. He brought his wonderful wife Kate back from England with him. Henry Boyd who I buried was one of the 101st Airborne soldiers epitomized in Band of Brothers. He had a piece of shrapnel lodged next to his heart from the Battle of the Bulge until the day he died. Scotty Jenkes was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam flying close air support. Colonel Ray Hawthorne served several tours both in artillery units and as an adviser in 1972. CWO4 Charlie Kosko flew helicopters in Vietnam. All these men made a deep impact on me and several contributed to my career in very tangible ways.
Ray and his Crew from The Vietnam Veterans of America at Harbor Park
My life more recently has been impacted by others. My friends of the veterans of the Battle of Hue City including General Peter Pace, Barney Barnes, Tony “Limey Cartilage ” Sergeant Major Thomas and so many others have become close over the years, especially after I did my time in Iraq. They and all the Vietnam vets, including the guys from the Vietnam Veterans of America like Ray and John who man the beer stand behind the plate at Harbor Park all mean a lot to me. My friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis mean more than almost any people in the world. We traveled the globe together visiting our Marines. Both of these men are heroes to me as well as friends.
USS HUE CITY Boarding Team 2002
Finally there are my friends and brothers that I have served with at sea on USS HUE CITY during Operation Enduring Freedom and the advisers on the ground in Al Anbar mean more than anything to me. Perhaps the most important is my RP, RP2 Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and accompanied me all over the battlefield. Nelson who has done Iraq 3 times, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Balkans is a hero. The men and women of Navy EOD who I served with from 2006-2008 have paid dearly in combating IEDs and other explosive devices used against us in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroes too. There is no routine mission for EOD technicians.
With 1st Brigade 1st Iraqi Division Advisers in East Ramadi January 2008
I give thanks for all them men that I mention in this post, especially my dad. God bless all of you guys. Please honor the Veterans that you know not only on Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day but every day. Honor also those who gave their lives in the defense of liberty in all of the wars of our nation. They have earned it.
Today as I write many of my friends serve in harm’s way. I hope that my recovery, spiritually, emotionally and physically goes well enough that I can go back with them. For now I need to recover. My boss is right about that, if this week is any indication I’m in no shape to go back to a combat zone, bit Lord willing I will be so I can be with those I care for and serve alongside.
Post Script: I do pray that no one takes offense at my words regarding my dealings with my mother. If someone thinks that I am wrong, or out of line they can contact me privately. However, I have to protect me now. I can’t help her or save her so I’m done.