Today, I worked from Norman, Oklahoma. I chose to do some reporting on the Vietnam Memorial that is currently set up in Norman (a replica of the one from D.C.). I went in with my professional demeanor, and left a human being.
I interviewed three individuals who were willing to tell me a little bit about themselves. They were willing to open themselves up to a complete stranger, and I am grateful for that. The first individual I talked to was vitising the site because he and his wife knew two people who had died in the war. The second individual was a volunteer for the war, and the third individual is someone that changed my life forever, and I changed his.
This guy had never talked to anyone about his time in Vietnam, but he opened up to me! At first, I tried to get the gentleman on camera. I asked him what were his emotions and what he thought about this special memorial. He stared into the camera, at a loss of words for nearly 30 seconds. He then shook his head and said he couldn’t do it, but “thanks.”
So we chatted “off the record.” He said I could use his information for a piece, but he just did not want to be on camera. He told me the hardest thing for him was to come back to the “world” (the world is what veterans refer to as the U.S.), and having people spit on him and call him a “baby-killer.” He said he never expected to get anything in return for serving his country, but he definately did not expect the reception he and his friends received from fellow Americans.
He cannot celebrate the 4th because the fireworks and the loud cracks remind him of the front lines. He told me he thought he was “the toughest son of a….. in the world,” but he didn’t know that some 40 years later he would be emotionally distraught from the war.
He is now having night terrors and panic attacks for the first time in his life.
He told me he was grateful for people like me, that generally cared (we talked off-camera for almost 30 minutes) about soldiers. He paused for a while, turned away from me, shed a couple of tears, and told me he was going to shake my hand and give me a hug.
I told him, “of course!” Really I was at a loss of words, but it felt good to help someone who was in trouble. He needed someone to talk to, and he felt I was the person. After we hugged, he showed me a little something he wrote down in a notebook/scrap book for the veterans to vent. Again, he hugged me. I told him, “stay strong” and the last thing I saw was him tapping his chest twice with his fist, a universal sign of strength and perseverance, and waving goodbye.
Two men changed forever.