"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Little Green Bugs

In the mornings, I usually visit and read some of the blogs that I follow while I'm drinking my coffee.  This morning, I came across this story by a Vietnam veteran, and I want to share it with you.  Of course, all of the credit (and my appreciation) goes to Mr. Jim Schueckler for telling the story:

"Little Green Bugs" 
by Jim Schueckler

My first day as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, probably January 10, 1969:

I was assigned as Peter Pilot to one of the most experienced Aircraft Commanders. Everything was going just like flight school; quick briefing, we marked our maps, wrote down frequencies, preflight the aircraft. Just like flight school.  Crank up the birds, pick up the grunts, take off in formation, head for the Landing Zone, the LZ.

On final approach, the Aircraft Commander took the controls and said, "Stay on the controls with me, but I will do the flying, understand?"

"OK, you've got it." ("Just like flight school." I think to myself.)

Some noise and smoke in the LZ; we dropped off the grunts.  Neat! Just like flight school. Just like I expected.

After the formation was back at cruising altitude I asked the Aircraft Commander about the one thing that I hadn't seen in flight school:  "What were those little green bugs?"

"What little green bugs?" he said, puzzled.

"Sir, when we were on final, and down there in the LZ, there were little green bugs."  I answered.

"Are you kidding me?"

"No, there were a whole lot of little green bugs, and they were going REAL fast."

"You MUST be kidding me."

"No, they were there, real fast and real straight."

"Those were tracers."

"TRACERS? But they were coming TOWARDS us!"

"Yes, they were coming 'towards' us!"

"Do you mean they were SHOOTING at us?"

"Yes, they were 'shooting' at us." (smugly)

"Oh." said I, the humble newbie.

While we were refueling, the crewchief said on the intercom, "Sir, I think we better shut down to see how much damage we have; some of those little green bugs bit us back here. (snicker)"

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

The American Widow Project

There's a very special website I'm proud to be a part of, the American Widow Project. The very name describes the content, however, I wouldn't be doing it justice if I didn't go a little further and tell you more about this wonderful website.

You can't begin to imagine the number of proud and courageous women who go there to share their personal stories about loving a soldier, a husband, and losing him, especially to war. They dig down deep, open their hearts, and reach out through writing to touch the souls of hundreds, maybe thousands, of other widows who also visit the site to read and share.  They all come away knowing they aren't alone.  We are never alone.

Like so many Vietnam and other veterans, these women know what it means to hurt and grieve. Pain is pain. It's a dead weight chained to the heart and dragged along behind you, sometimes for many years. Because of the American Widow's Project, so many women have found the blessing that comes with writing about their grief and pain -- the healing that begins to grow in the heart ...

The American Widow Project
Widow Wednesday
It's our honor to share this story of a Vietnam War Widow. We thank CJ Heck for helping to pave the way for this generation and for the sacrifice she and Douglas made ♥

[excerpt from Bride to Widow] "The worst day of my life was September 13, 1969. Actually, there was so much more than just that one day, but that’s the one day I can talk about, at least for right now ... There have been things that have happened since then, when I've said, "Yeah, this really hurts. It hurts like bloody hell ... but I will survive, because I can tell you something about what real hurt is ..." [CJ Heck]

** My heartfelt thanks goes out to the American Widow Project for everything they do, and have done. The following comments are just a few of the ones put on their Facebook page after the above announcement of my story on their website. These came from some of the women who read it and were kind enough to leave a comment.

Anne Wienkoop
God Bless the wives that have to endure this type of heartache...
Wednesday at 5:04 pm

Jennifer M Schultz
To say you inspire seems like a poor choice of words. But thank you for sharing and paving the way for those of us to follow. Thank you for keeping his memory alive. I hope that I too will be sharing my story as long as anyone will listen. ♥ I'm so sorry for the loss of your husband.
Wednesday at 5:15pm

Marianne Jackson
Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of unforgotten love...
Wednesday at 5:41pm

Karen Turner
I'm not a military widow, but was widowed suddenly 44 months ago. This part gave me goosebumps: "That day in 1969 was the worst day of my life, but it’s carried me through some other really bad times, too. There have been things that have happened since then, when I’ve said, “Yeah, this really hurts. It hurts like bloody hell ... but I will survive, because I can tell you something about what real hurt is ...” See, for the rest of your life, something like this becomes your yardstick for measuring heartache. You know nothing else can, or will ever, hurt you quite that bad again."
Wednesday at 6:05pm

Kristen Johnson
A beautiful story!
Wednesday at 6:32pm

Susan Lenkus Williams
Love the part at the end about stars shining down, really lovely. And yes, nothing else can hurt as bad as the day our loved one died. I am no longer scared of getting sick or dying just because I know he is there waiting. But I want it to be a long time from now when I see him because our children need me and I still have more to do!
Wednesday at 9:34pm · Unlike · 1 person

Jaime Tomon Gorten
That is so well-written and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. God bless all of you.
Thursday at 4:53pm

Val Nostdahl
I was married a few short years later, in 73, and well remember the base being called up to go to Vietnam and my spouse calling me at work, it was a bad day at work, got home and I was blessed, he told me it was called off, then he died later, after 33 years, your story gives me goosebumps, it could have been him, sometimes now I think of that often, just feeling still a bit of a loss, thank you for your story, you are extremely brave and courageous, I always think there should be a purple broken heart for widows of military...gbu.
Yesterday at 12:21am

Rameshnair Nair
Thank you for sharing Val Nostdahl!
Yesterday at 7:33am

CJ Heck
Thank you so sincerely for reading my story and for your outpouring of thoughtfulness, all of you. My heart goes out to those of you who also have loved and lost and I thank you for sharing your own stories. Your words give such comfort and I'm proud to call you sisters of war and sisters of my soul.

... and did I mention, they are proud ...

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bad Day at the VA

by David Westfall

After almost 2 years of avoiding the VA medical care system, I had to go back in. When dealing with comp and pen, it's the way they want it. I really hate going there. I don't know why, I just do. My anxiety shoots up to almost debilitating levels. Maybe it's seeing all of the veterans. So many of them have visible injuries or disabilities. Many of them wear hats indicating the branch they served in and conflicts or wars they fought in. It's almost like reading a history book.

When I see the WWII vets, I wonder how many of them were in the Pacific, how many were in Europe, how many were in Africa. Were some of these men involved in beach landings in places like Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima? Were they in the trenches in Europe, looking into the eyes of their enemies at times? Did they watch their buddies get shot, blown up, drowned or killed?

I don't see a lot of Korean War vets. There are a few, but not many. They truly are the forgotten ones. There aren't the numbers of them there were from WWII and it wasn't until the Vietnam War that the media brought the war into our homes. Just so you know, I haven't forgotten you.

A majority of the men and women I see are Vietnam Era vets. They wear their hats, jackets and tattoos with pride now. I've seen movies about Vietnam, but know I can not even begin to fathom the horrors they must have seen and lived through. And after all of that, they got to come home to a country divided. A country with some citizens that decided it was necessary to spit upon them and call them "Baby Killers". Many of them came home changed inside, and not only were the people of their country not ready to help them, but their government health care system wasn't either. 
If you came back with "battle fatigue", you were pretty much on your own. You were expected to get over it, move on. That's the way the vets from WWI and WWII did it, why couldn't these vets?

I spent a lot of time in the mental health care system of the VA as an outpatient. I attended classes for PTSD and other issues with Vets from WWII to the current conflict in the Middle East. Some of them were group settings where we could discuss what was going on in our lives, what we were feeling. A place to let it out. In one group we could almost finish each others sentences. It didn't matter what era you served in, we were all brothers. We had each other's respect and concern, genuine concern. If any one of us had a problem, the rest were there for them.

Anyway, I don't like where my mind takes me when I go to the VA hospital. Aside from the anxiety, it simply makes my heart ache.  I can't even describe what I feel when I see the young men from the current conflict. They look like babies to me. I don't think half of them even have to shave yet. Seeing "that look" in their eyes at such a young age tears me apart inside. Seeing their physical injuries makes me want to cry.

Today, I was sitting in the waiting room so I could get some blood work done. There was one vet, who judging by his age, was of the Vietnam era. He had shaggy hair and a bushy beard. His clothes were worn. I'm guessing he had some hearing loss, because he was talking loudly with another man. He walked stiffly with a severe limp. He got called into the lab right before me. He was sitting in the chair beside me as my blood filled the vials. The technician was just putting in my second vial when the technician beside me raised her voice. "Sir. Sir. Sir!" I looked over and his head was down. He was unresponsive. "Call a code blue" she yelled. My technician hit a button on the wall behind my head and the automatic system went into effect. "Code Blue in blood draw" was announced over the announcement system. Lights and sirens went off every where. After my third vial of blood was drawn, she handed me my pee cup. By this time, doctors, nurses and security personnel were rushing into the small room. I decided not to use the bathroom in the lab area and went down the hallway to another one. When I went back to drop off my sample, they were taking the man out on a gurney, covered in a sheet. Wow. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I don't know what branch you were in, what your job was or where you served, but rest in peace brother. May you have fair winds and following seas on your journey.

As I was walking down the hallway to exit the building, I ran into one of the guys from the PTSD group I was in for almost 4 years. We know a lot about each other. He was a Vietnam Vet. The last time I saw him, he was heavy. He looked gaunt and tired today. We spoke for a few minutes, trying to catch up. He has cancer. There were two tumors on his liver, which he had removed, and he also has throat cancer. Today is his first day of chemo. I can't help but wonder if his cancer is the result of agent orange or something else he came in contact with while serving his country. I wish you good luck and will be praying for you, Woody. Semper Fi Marine!

I know I take on other people's pain more than I should. I know I spend too much time in my own mind. I know I need to get back to the VA for help. But what do you do when the cure is also a trigger for your problems? I guess I'll find out when next month when I reenter the system for anger management classes. I'm glad the VA and society has finally figured out that "battle fatigue", or PTSD as it is now known, is a real illness and needs to be treated. I'm happy that most people now understand that it doesn't mean the person suffering from it is weak.

Thank you to every veteran, veteran's spouse and family member out there. We did it for you.
David J. Westfall AW2 (AW) (Civ)

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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