US ARMY, VIETNAM, 1968-69
Over 80% of the amazing veterans I have spoken with are suffering debilitating ailments directly linked to exposure to the defoliate Agent Orange. This story is about one of those courageous soldiers written in his own words.
I grew up in Findlay and graduated from Findlay High School in 1966. I attended a small college in North Carolina, and it did not work out. I was not a student and partied in excess. I returned to Findlay, lived at home, worked in my grandfather’s furniture store, and continued to party until I was drafted in October 1967.
Three days into the US Army, two of us were given the option of becoming military police out of 150 recruits. We were both tall and skinny and the interviewing officer claimed we could fit into honor guard uniforms around the world. The other recruit decided he wanted to have a dog, but that seemed a bit much to me. We were told we would be assigned to state side duty upon completion of MP school, but first we had to get through basic training.
It all worked out well for me. I attended MP leadership training after basic and was assigned to be a squad leader, responsible for 10-11 men. We all became MPs. Ninety-five percent of the new MPs went to Vietnam, however I went to Los Angeles and sat on top of a mountain for six months guarding missiles and nuclear warheads. I continued in a leadership position, posting guards and dog handlers and frankly experiencing boredom for the first time. However, there were days off allowing me to explore the southern California beaches and music scene for the next six months.
After receiving orders for Vietnam, I arrived at my unit located in a base at Bien Hoa called the “Plantation”. Slept on a board in a perimeter bunker for two weeks and filled sandbags with old Vietnamese women during the day. My jobs for a year included being a gate guard, patrolling off base in a jeep with Vietnamese policemen and setting up check points, accident investigation, Serious Incident Investigation, and traffic control. Most days I had eye contact with over one hundred Vietnamese citizens.
(Tom stated that the area he was assigned to was constantly drenched with Agent Orange to keep the perimeter clear.)
After eight months I was assigned to the MP desk as a radio operator and typist. I was then promoted to desk sergeant (E-5) for my final three months in Vietnam.
I returned to Findlay in October of 1969 and worked at cleaning carpet and then at Dow Chemical until I moved to Bowling Green and enrolled in January 1970. I became a year-round student and finished up my 183 hours in May 1972 in American Studies with a literature concentration. My first job after college was building concrete silos all over the Midwest. In 1974 I moved to where I now live in western North Carolina. In 1975 I married my college girlfriend Brenda. We have been together for 44 years now.
I planted trees for the state of North Carolina and used what was left of my GI Bill to attend a local tech school to learn how to lay brick. I worked with a stone mason and built our house. I also worked with an enlightened plant grower doing landscaping, where we dug and planted thousands of trees and plants over the next few years.
Finally settled on my life work as a bricklayer/mason. My company, <vestamasonry.com>, was incorporated in 1983 and since then I have built over five hundred fireplaces and masonry stoves along with being the community mason building houses and chimneys and retaining walls.
I have two wonderful children: my son Gus is an artisan bread baker and my daughter Zoe is married and works for Habitat for Humanity. Happily, I see them both often.
I retired when aggressive, prostate cancer, stage four, was discovered during my annual VA checkup in 2013. The VA assumed responsibility as it was linked to Agent Orange exposure and classified me as fully disabled. After surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, I continue to plant trees on my forest properties and enjoy relaxing in my hammock.