US NAVY, VIETNAM, 1968-69
Note: (I have been blessed to sit with this veteran twice now, talking for several hours. He was adamant that his story not focus on the negative. He would rather it be about the healing process and hope he has learned along the way after Vietnam. I have tried to balance that.)
Roger Siferd is a Vietnam veteran and still has physical and emotional wounds from his time in the Navy. He has a crusty tough exterior but when you talk to him you find he has a heart full of hope and compassion, especially for others. I was struck by the pain in his eyes but there is so much peace and hope in his words.
Roger is 69 years old. He left Findlay High school early in 1967 and joined the Navy to have control of where he served during the uncertain draft years. It was a period where the generation of that time had been raised to do as they were told and to serve their country if needed. It was this mentality that brought Roger into war and an era of his life that changed him forever.
“I went in to prove myself, to show I could fit in and do the job I signed up for.” He trained in the Great Lakes training station during the brutal winter and that helped toughen him. “During my six years and my time in Vietnam I lost my youth, innocence. Of the sixteen young men I shipped out to Nam with only five of us made it home. And I held the hands of some those sixteen as they died.”
In the Navy Roger had a variety of jobs including electricians’ mate. But in a war zone everyone carried a weapon and jumped into firefights when the enemy attacked. The units he served in were security details and were made up of members of the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines. One of his occasional tasks was to load and unload C-130 cargo planes headed and returning from Nam. They would unload deceased soldiers in body bags, which he can never forget. They were also charged with loading the chemicals used in Agent Orange in Vietnam.
He chooses not to talk more about those months in Vietnam. “Those memories are in a closet I would rather not open”
During his six years he served in Thailand, Vietnam (Danang) and Guam. He was severely injured in Vietnam, when responding to an emergency while on shore patrol, he fell through a hole in the deck of a ship. His shoulder and ankle were badly injured. Roger was airlifted to Kobe, Japan, for treatment and then transferred to Guam for his rehabilitation. After his recovery he was assigned to the sub base in Guam. (When word got back to the five surviving Navy men of his original group that they were being shipped back to Nam, a mother’s letter to a congressman resulted in them being assigned instead to the Miramar Naval base in San Diego.)
Roger left the military but it has never left him. He suffered from flash backs, PTSD, trials with alcoholism and memories he still carries with him. But as we spoke, he is no longer bitter.
He was able to find work at Hancore Tile and spent the next 40 years there, climbing from a loader to a research developer finally retiring in 2013. During his tenure there he was credited with eight federal and international patents.
The love of his life, his strength, his rock, was his wife Judy, to whom he was married to for fifty years. “I met her at a dance in 1969 in San Diego and knew in my heart that night, that I would marry her.” (They have three grown children, John, Amy and Mike. They also have four grandbabies.) His secret to that longevity is that “We believed in each other, respected and trusted each other. Trust is everything when you love someone, even in tough times.”
Roger dealt with his demons of the past by drinking. Six years ago, alcoholism took control of Roger’s life. He blacked out and was seen at the local ER. There he was cared for by a nurse, Mark Fox, who happened to also be a Viet Nam veteran. With Mark’s support and the unending love of Judy, Roger survived and is over five years sober.
Her recent passing from cancer left him devastated and wanting to join her. He was by her side holding her hand when she passed away. He shared, “I was on all alone on the back porch right after she died. I was praying. “God, where are you? As quiet as a gentle breeze the words swept through my soul. “I am here.” Roger then begged, “Then I need help.” Within hours his home was filled with family and friends coming to support him during this dark time.
“I learned to let God have it and my faith returned.”
He believes it is every person’s mission and obligation to take time to be “human” to other people. He states, “I find myself when I help and serve others and expect nothing in return.”
Roger began carving wood and has rooms full of his creations. One of his favorite creations is of a long eagle feather, which he saw in an inspiration from God. He gives them to people he crosses paths with and whom share the same pathways in life.
In closing Roger gave me a list of standards he holds himself to, and advice he gives to others. I include only a couple here.
“Never leave a loved one without saying “I Love You.”
“Every day give thanks for what you have been given.”
“Start each day believing you can make a difference.”
His last words to me were, “I don’t want sympathy. Without “scars”, there can be no story.”
(We knelt in brotherly prayer before I parted, a better man for the time I spent with Roger.)