Influenced by patriotic war movies, joining the army and fighting for his country seemed to be a purposeful and honorable endeavor. Bill had been a delinquent kid and a high school dropout and later became a brokenhearted drunk whose girlfriend left him for a responsible insurance salesman. This is his true story and his perceived reality written from his paratrooper/infantryman’s perspective in explicit detail. The reader will be outraged by the immorality, the lies from the top, and the insanity of the Vietnam War. The gripping detail of jungle warfare is riveting, touching, and raw. The author describes his intense search for meaning and his long battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the war. He details his college experiences during the turbulent counterculture movement of the sixties which deeply affected the country and was instrumental in stopping the war. He recounts his efforts through the years to find himself; he explains the darkest period of his life in the war and its paradoxical connection to his epiphany: a spiritual discovery of service, compassion, and love toward others as a means of preventing his own suicide. He describes his long journey toward healing as he seeks self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others and of God for his stupidity and perverse taking of life. He looks at the sociology of class struggle, both in the military and at a college in California, as a professor and counselor and as a director of a large disabled student services program. He finds peace, purpose, and healing through his work with disabled students and later with those living in his RV park who are among the lowest socioeconomic groups in our society.
This book will make the reader cry, laugh, and become angry at the arrogance of authority and how history continues to repeat itself. The author realized years ago that surviving PTSD meant facing the whole truth. If he can help combat veterans cope with their problems and find truth and meaning in their lives as a result of this book, he will be deeply gratified.
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BEYOND MEDALS OF VALOR
Vietnam Combat Veteran's Life Struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and His Adventurous Life Experiences
By BILL ROBERTS
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Bill Roberts
All rights reserved.
REALLY DUMB KIDS
In 1956, when I was sixteen, I dropped out of high school and worked as a box boy at a small market in the town of Canoga Park, where I grew up. The town, located at the west end of the San Fernando Valley, had not much more than two thousand people. The people took pride in their pristine town with their well-groomed lawns, handsome homes, and fenceless yards, which failed to separate one property from another.
It was a friendly town. As far back as I can remember, the big yearly event was the Christmas parade on Sherman Way Boulevard, which ran about eight blocks through the length of the downtown area. Decorations strung across the boulevard gave off a festive glow. Everyone felt the Christmas spirit, exchanging pleasantries and warm gestures. The townspeople were kind, peaceful, and watched out for each other's children. In fact, whenever I'd get into some sort of mischief, my mother would know about it before I even got home.
Everyone seemed to know each other except for "Handsome Harry," a shell-shocked World War I veteran who kept to himself. He lived in a house surrounded by thick bamboo and rode a bicycle as his main form of transportation. For thrills we kids used to teasingly holler, "Handsome Harry!", and he would chase us on his bicycle with fire in his eyes. We could ride faster and always outran him, but we were still pretty scared.
In elementary school I had my share of troubles. One time I got caught smoking in the top of a high pine tree on the school grounds. My kindergarten teacher spanked me in front of the class. She was a gentle person so it really didn't hurt, but it certainly hurt my pride.
I don't remember much about first grade except that I lived in fear of my teacher, Mrs. Crumb. She was actually a sweet woman, but she probably weighed about three hundred pounds. We sat in tiny chairs in very narrow rows. When she'd walk down the aisles she would almost knock over kids on either side with her big butt as she tried to waddle through.
It was my luck that the boy next to me needed a lot of assistance. Mrs. Crumb would often squeeze through the row, turn to him and bend over his tiny desk to assist him. When she did, more than half the light in the classroom would go dark, and I would feel claustrophobic, consumed by her immense rear end hanging over me. I knew nothing about physics, but I was aware that if she ever lost her balance and fell backwards I was going to be in serious trouble. I dreaded her helping this student, but I didn't complain about it because even at that young age I sensed the mention of my fear would be disrespectful. This would be my cross to bear for that year.
In the fifth grade my teacher was a strict authoritarian. Mr. Foster was mean; he taught by fear and fear alone. One time he took me to the cloak room to hit me with a paddle. He got me in the bent-over position, and I was watching him carefully with my peripheral vision, waiting and scared to death because his punishment was painful. When he reared back to maximize his swing, I got the idea that I would jump in the air just at the perfect time and turn half of a back flip to lessen the impact.
The paddle connected with my butt, my back, and the back of my head at the same time, landing me unhurt on my back on the floor. I played it up by pretending I was unconscious for a few moments. The poor teacher almost had a heart attack thinking I was seriously injured and wondering if his teaching career was over. All he wanted to know was if I was all right. He was badly shaken up. I found out later that he never paddled anyone again. Who knows, maybe that one incident was the beginning of a nation-wide policy to end corporal punishment in public schools. Perhaps I had started a revolution.
There was so little crime that for years we only had one cop on a bicycle who enforced the law. If there was anything serious happening, which I can't recall, the main police in Van Nuys, ten miles away, would respond. Our cop's name was Sam. I remember him as being in his fifties or sixties. He never bothered anyone and mostly just rode around the town. At night he would make sure the doors of the businesses were locked. I can't remember him doing anything else. He didn't seem to be very friendly as I seldom, if ever, saw him stop and talk to people, but I never saw him write a citation, warn, or correct anyone, and I never heard of him arresting anyone. Despite his standoffishness, the townspeople liked him, and everyone felt secure knowing Sam was the law and was on the job.
Not one black person lived in town, and there were only a couple hundred Hispanic people, who confined themselves to two or three square blocks on the other side of town. Canoga Park was surrounded by agricultural areas, which drew the Mexican population there to do the manual work. The Mexican kids went to the public grammar school but were mostly taught in a couple of small bungalows located away from the main school building.
I never saw it as segregation because I never knew what that meant. That was just the way it was, and everybody believed it was right. We were friends with the Mexican kids and played with them during recess. I would often trade my dried-up peanut butter sandwiches for fresh burritos with eggs and beans wrapped in homemade fresh tortillas. They were delicious, and I wondered why they would trade me for my sandwiches. Looking back on it, they were probably just as bored with the same old thing for lunch every day as I was and were eager to have variety.
There was a boy who lived at the end of town whose father was a police officer working in Van Nuys about ten miles away. His uncle was a merchant marine, who in his travels went to China, which was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. Apparently the Japanese considered him to be neutral, as he was free to take photographs.
My friend showed me pictures of soldiers beheading prisoners. He also showed me pictures of people in stocks; they looked like small towers with a hole in the top that held most of a man's weight by his chin and the back of his head, with just his toes on the ground. It took some real evil to think up that contraption of torture. I also saw a picture of a women tied to a post. A soldier was carving off her breasts while looking in her eyes with great interest as he watched her agony.
I remember having bad dreams and thinking, "How could anyone do something that horrible to another person?" I carried that memory along with the fear of something like that happening to me. I carried the realization that there could possibly be some people in my own town who might be capable of doing something like that—maybe someone like Handsome Harry. I still think about those people who were horribly tortured, and I realize the importance of protecting children from pulling up these kinds of horrors on the internet. Those pictures tainted my childhood with fears that a child should never know, but time went on until I turned sixteen.
I came from a family of six kids, with an older brother and sister and three younger siblings. My father, while a good provider, was too busy at work to spend any time with me. My mother gave most of her attention to the oldest and youngest. Being a middle child, I wasn't supervised enough and could do just about anything I wanted without being noticed. Turnig sixteen years old proved to be a major transition point for me because I could buy my own car, have a better job, and be independent and free.
The car was truly my emancipation. Because of my grocery job I had money in my pocket to make an offer of twenty dollars to an old lady who had in her back yard a 1940 Chevy that barely ran. She accepted my offer, making me the proud owner of my very first automobile. All I had to do was replace the spark plugs, and it ran like a new car.
About half a dozen of the kids I grew up with also worked and acquired cars. We all became free spirits, wild and adventurous. We discovered places where we could take our girlfriends; we could party without being bothered by anybody and without bothering anybody else.
We started consuming huge amounts of alcohol bought for us by a couple of people who were over twenty-one. We drank a lot of Thunderbird wine and Country Club malt liquor, and many nights I found myself on somebody's lawn with the dry heaves, thinking I would surely die and even hoping I would. I'd pray and make deals with God that if I could just survive I would never touch alcohol again. That promise was short-lived as the next night I would once again be drinking with my friends. We would vomit out the windows of each other's cars. In fact my car had streaks along the side where stomach acid had eaten away the paint.
We would drive for speed, skidding sideways around corners and racing each other. We knew Sam the cop wouldn't be out that late on his bicycle and would not be able to identify us anyway. A friend and I stole a couple of cars for joyrides just to see if we could get away with it. We also got drunk and went into restaurants wanting to start fights.
One time three of us started a fight that turned into a brawl. I started it by sticking out my foot and tripping a man who was walking by. During the fight we climbed onto the serving counter, where people were eating, using it to jump on people. I was doing very well until I turned around to see a huge fist coming at me about two inches from my face. I proudly wore a black eye for three weeks, considering it a badge of honor.
After one of our adventures we would drink beer and relive the whole thing, laughing and complimenting each other. We did the wildest and craziest things we could think of because it was a kick in the ass, with alcohol always at the center of what we were doing wrong.
One of our gang was desperately poor. His dad supported seven kids on a janitor's salary, working at the local school. He had one older sister, and the rest were years younger. The little ones, I remember, always had green snotty upper lips. The mother, who was a huge, nonverbal Native American, never wiped their noses. The father was a very nice, hardworking, gentle man who loved his family and who played the harmonica in the evenings.
There was no room for Todd in the tiny house, so he made a room in the old broken-down barn next to the house. On one end of the barn was a small enclosed room with a slab floor, which was once used to keep chickens. Todd used it as his bedroom. It had been cleaned up and furnished with a bed and an old dresser. We used it as a clubhouse where we would meet late at night or when his dad was working. Besides using horrifically foul language and saying terrible things about each other, we smoked cigarettes and involved ourselves in rough play, punching each other in the arms and giving each other charley horses.
Sometimes we would all masturbate with pages of women's underwear torn out of the Sears catalogue. This had nothing to do with homosexuality, as we were all crazy about girls. Instead it was a kind of male bonding experience. Forty years later when I talked to one of the old neighborhood girls on the phone I learned that the girls would sneak over there and watch us through the cracks in the wood. I think the girls told everybody about it. I am still embarrassed. No wonder we weren't very popular or welcome in other people's houses.
My friend Ed used to have us drive him around so he could hang out the window and demolish mailboxes with a baseball bat as we drove by. One time at a party where parents weren't home, the police showed up after one of the neighbors complained. The police accused two of the girls of being prostitutes. I defended their honor and ended up being beaten up by them and spending the night in the drunk tank in Van Nuys—which I deserved. In fact, I was so bad they should have shot me. I was the first one of our group to get arrested, which earned me social status with the other guys.
Shortly afterwards, Ed was drunk and driving recklessly at night when he saw from a distance that a police car was after him. He turned off his lights and started driving through alleys. They caught him and poured out his beer, which is what they usually did. Ed wanted to go to jail. Not only did he resist, he kicked the police car door and begged them to arrest him. They did not arrest him but instead asked him to go home. If you wanted something, the police would never cooperate.
Thank God there were no drugs around at that time in our lives, or I'm sure we would have been heavily involved. We had heard of drugs, but they were far from being accessible to us. We weren't exposed to marijuana until age twenty-one, and by then we were established "juicers."
I dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade so I could work more hours and make more money to support all the fun I was having. My expenses were minimal since I was living at home. After a late night I would sneak in through my bedroom window without making any noise. My parents were too busy trying to take care of the other kids, and they really couldn't control me anyway. Both of my parents were college educated, but for some reason they never stressed to me the importance of education or of individual responsibility. I think they were just too busy trying to make ends meet.
My friends and I were trying hard to achieve what we thought was real manhood. We got the idea from movies that being a man meant that one had to be able to consume huge amounts of alcohol without puking, sometimes act crazy, be physically tough, fearless, and screw anything that moved—except for our girlfriends. A real man had to protect his girlfriend's honor. For the most part my friends and I did not have sex with our girlfriends, because "we loved them too much," as we claimed to them, each other, and ourselves. We respected them and were protective. We were also possessive to the point of a fist fight if someone else showed interest in them.
Tijuana was a little more than a hundred miles away. We would often go there because we could get into all the bars and take full advantage of inexpensive prostitutes. We didn't realize at the time that if you were old enough to climb onto a barstool, you would be served alcohol. We thought we looked old enough, and we used low voices so the bartender would be fooled into thinking we were real men.
We lived in our fantasies and created our own world of entertainment, our own values, morals, and norms, which were a mixture of hedonism, me-first selfishness, irresponsibility, and wild fun at any cost. Paradoxically, we practiced purity and decency when it came to our girlfriends and family.
Ironically, we all came from good homes so there is really no explanation for why we behaved like we did, except for the absence of supervision as well as raging hormones that made us try hard to be manly and cool. I used to wear my hair in a pompadour with so much pomade that on hot days it would run down my face. I wore T-shirts with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes rolled up in a sleeve. My shirt was tucked into my Levis, which were pulled down low, and I had horseshoe taps on the heels of my shoes that made a noticeably loud noise when I walked. I remember walking across an intersection once where cars were waiting for the light, believing that everyone was admiring me and thinking that I was so cool. I realize now that they probably were thinking I was a punk who needed the shit slapped out of him.
Excerpted from BEYOND MEDALS OF VALOR by BILL ROBERTS. Copyright © 2013 Bill Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Really Dumb Kids.................... 1
2. Canoga Park and Sputnik.................... 16
3. Seeing God.................... 19
4. American Culture and the Vietnam War.................... 24
5. Vietnam.................... 26
6. Bitch Vines and Beauty in the Jungle.................... 33
7. Deadly Booby Trap.................... 38
8. Tet Offensive.................... 41
9. Crazy Paratroopers.................... 53
10. Unusual Encounters.................... 58
11. Atrocities.................... 69
12. Standards.................... 72
13. Bizarre Body Count.................... 80
14. Drugs in the Field.................... 83
15. Big Mistake.................... 85
16. Village Idiot.................... 87
17. The Squad.................... 90
18. The Ambush.................... 92
19. Back to Work.................... 113
20. Going Home.................... 121
21. The Boys' Home.................... 125
22. Cultural Revolution.................... 132
23. Extended Family.................... 141
24. Graduate School.................... 146
25. Student Stories.................... 152
26. Hobo John.................... 171
27. The RV Park.................... 177
28. Building the RV Park.................... 180
29. Grand Opening.................... 184
30. Socialization.................... 191
31. The Big Wedding.................... 195
32. Obesity in the RV Park.................... 201
33. The Showerhead Mystery.................... 205
34. The Horse Story.................... 207
35. Whiskey Jack and the Dogs.................... 213
36. The Three-Man Slingshot.................... 217
37. Electrical Problems and Other Dangers.................... 221
38. Guns in the Park.................... 223
39. Being Shot at from the Highway.................... 227
40. Cockroach Gary.................... 234
41. Bill's Perceived Arrest.................... 238
42. The Mushroom People.................... 240
43. Clans.................... 244
44. The Big Fight.................... 246
45. Marie's Death.................... 249
46. Insects and Other Living Things.................... 251
47. The Fly Epidemic.................... 252
48. Gay Rick.................... 254
49. Pearl and Bert.................... 257
50. Selling the Park.................... 260
51. President Johnson, Secretary of Defense McNamara, General
Westmoreland, and Me.................... 262