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By Pat Lisi

 

            Most Vietnam veterans did not hang out with non-Viet vets back in the late sixties and seventies.  This phenomenon wasn’t ‘across-the-board’ by any means but it was, just the same a true, observable fact.  This understandable trend has been thoroughly studied by the country’s top psychologists, written about in journals and books, and is pretty much accepted as an indisputable fact of life.  As time went by and Vietnam veterans became more sociable with those who did not end up in Nam, this subject became less of a big deal.  New wars and foreign battles have created new breeds of veterans who come back home and determine who they elect to chum around with, just like Vietnam veterans did.

            All of my friends, at least the ones I associated with on a regular basis back during that time, were Vietnam veterans, specifically combat vets – ground pounders just like me.  There was one exception and his name was Roger.

            Roger never went into the military.  His exemption from having to serve was based on the fact that he and his girlfriend had a set of twin boys while we were all still in high school back in Madison, Wisconsin.  We didn’t necessarily party together at every given opportunity back then, but I would run into Roger and his lady friend, Gail, at under-aged merrymaking events prior to the age of 18, and at the taverns once we reached the legal drinking age.  The closer alliance was between my girl friend (Regina) and Gail, but Roger and I hit it off once we were introduced to each other by the gals. When I went off to the Marines in 1968 Roger and I said “goodbye”, and we assumed we’d pick up where we left off when I got out of the Corps after my four-year enlistment was up if we still cared to continue the friendship.

            There was no correspondence between Roger and me while I was away.  In May, 1972 I returned to Madison with my new wife (Regina) and our first son (Tom) in tow.  A lot of events had happened during those four years including the twelve months I spent as a ‘grunt’ with the 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam, where I earned a Purple Heart and a couple other personal decorations, a horrific chemical accident in 1971 while I served the Corps stateside in San Diego, California, and my increasing personal battle with my new friend, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

            The reunion with Roger and Gail came, again, mostly by way of the girls getting us all together to play cards.  This turned into a once a week, Friday evening pastime.  Sometimes we’d play at our house, sometimes at their house, and at times we would play at the Horseshoe Bar which was our neighborhood ‘establishment’.  Our game was always Euchre, which is an easy card game to learn in which teams of partners try to take as many “tricks” as they can and be the first ones to score a 10, at which time a new round of play is started. 

            In 1973 I was able to bring a large law suite against a chemical company as a result of the substantial burns to my face two years past.  The basis of the legal action is not germane to this story, so suffice it to say it was pretty much the fact that the directions printed on the can of sodium hydroxide (the chemical that burned me) were improperly written.  The law suite was negotiated out of court in 1974 and a cash settlement was reached.  The resulting dollar award went into my bank account and I immediately bought 80 acres of primo deer hunting land in South Central Wisconsin near a place called Wild Rose.

            The parcel of land was absolutely perfect.  Three-fourths of the acreage was planted with Scotch pine that had grown too tall to sell as Christmas trees anymore, so the seller wanted to get rid of the tree farm at a reasonable price. The other 20 acres was enclosed in beautiful red and white oak where a variety of wild animals lived and bred; white tailed deer were all over the place, and when squirrel season was on it was easy to bag a daily limit of 5.  There was an area where a small mobile home would fit, and this served as my hunting camp after we hauled a used trailer up to the land.

            Roger, of course, had full privilege to use the 80-acre hunting haven whenever he felt like it.  He earned these rights by being available to help when it was time to build hunting blinds for the fall, to clear lanes of fire for our bows and arrows and guns, and when we towed that mobile home up to Wild Rose from Madison, which was about 100 miles, Roger was there to assist me in clearing a spot for it as well as to level the axles and wheels so it would be comfortable for living and sleeping in during the hunts.  All was well with this arrangement and it seemed as though life was just simply good all around. For a few years, my family and Roger’s enjoyed the Wild Rose experience.

            Looking back, one of the reasons I tolerated Roger as a non-Vietnam vet friend was the fact that he never asked me about Nam.  In my own world, which was fraught with all the terrible things I had seen and done in Vietnam and all the accumulated ingredients that created the recipe for my PTSD, it was a relief once in awhile to go hunting and sit around the campfire with someone who had no idea of what was going on in my head about those things.  All my Nam buddies were like me, all in the same, ugly boat, drifting like lost souls on a sea of war stories, broken dreams, horrendous nightmares, and distrust for everyone and everything except each other, and more or less biding our time as human beings.  I never got the impression that Roger didn’t care about what I did in Vietnam; it was more like he knew that the Vietnam War experience was not his to tamper with so he simply left it alone.

            When I was around Roger I didn’t have to think about the same things I did when I was with a Vietnam combat buddy, like Red from Oxford, Wisconsin and I didn’t have to assume any special role like being the tough Marine who had shot the shit out of a bunch of NVA and VC.  Roger wasn’t one of ‘us’, so I could really be sort of a normal guy with him.  I didn’t have to intellectualize these thoughts to know them, either.  It just turned out that there were two of me – one who was a Marine Vietnam combat veteran, and the other me who was simply an everyday Joe from Wisconsin with a scarred face and a friend named Roger.

            The eighties came along and I sold the Wild Rose hunting land to some people who made such a terrific offer that I couldn’t turn them down.  I parlayed the profit into a 100-acre hobby farm in Westfield, Wisconsin where my wife and our two boys now, Tom and Tim, packed up and moved to.  The property was spectacular.  It was an old farmstead with several outbuildings set in a pastoral, stunning countryside.  We leased out the agricultural acres to the farmer next door for his corn and hay crops, and then used the rest of the land for hunting.  Roger and his three boys were welcome to come up and hunt just like they had done at the Wild Rose hunting camp.

            For the first couple years we could count on Roger and his gang to come up to the Westfield property to help put up hunting blinds, tree stands, to do some clearing of brush, and to help me and my two boys make firewood for our wood-burning stoves.  Their labor was completely unsolicited. That is to say, at first Roger offered his help.  I graciously accepted, naturally.

            The volunteer labor for hunting privileges started to change, though, around the third year that we lived at the farm.  It became painfully obvious to me that Roger and his kids had changed their minds about doing physical toil for the right to come onto my 100 acres and harvest a few white tailed deer.  I certainly didn’t feel like begging them for help, and it soon dawned on me that they assumed it was still within their power to leisurely head to Westfield and expect to find a place to hunt.

            Things definitely changed and not for the good.  It was time to get something straight between me and Roger.

            I remember sitting down to write a letter.  It was just a few weeks before the opening of the Wisconsin deer hunt with bow and arrow.  I hadn’t seen hide or hair of Roger and his three sons as fall approached.  All of our fire wood was already cut and split, and my sons and I had seen to repairing the tree stands that were falling apart.  The brush was cleared and our firing lanes were ready for the fun to begin.  I assumed that Roger and his kids would show up at the farm the night before opening day of the deer hunt as always, expecting to eat our chow, accept our hospitality, and then head out the next morning for a great deer hunt in a stand that he didn’t help to prepare.

            The subsequent letter was short and sweet:

            “Roger – do not have the balls to assume that you and your boys have a place (here) to hunt deer, anymore.  We haven’t seen any of you since last deer season to help with simple chores like you used to do.  Piss off – forever!

            Signed,

            Your ex-friend”

            Roger never wrote back, he did not show up for the hunt, and we have never spoken since then. 

            Note:  This is another sad but true story depicting the effects of PTSD.  This friendship could have been salvaged, but the veteran in this story went from white to black in an instant, a very common trait in veterans with PTSD.  If you need help like this veteran did, go get it – now.  Call us at Southern Utah Vet’s Aid if you need a referral to someone who can assist you.  Thank you.

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