OT: Veteran’s Day

This message is definitely off topic but the friend who sent it to me thought it worth an airing in consideration of tomorrow’s holiday. Its author wishes to remain anonymous to prevent any perceived conflicts at his job. For context, the author is a Hispanic 30 year veteran of the El Paso Police Department and a former homicide detective.
In the late sixties, thousands of young 18 year old kids received our “greetings” letter from Uncle Sam. It was the famous induction letter. Our rag tag group of friends known as the Purple Gang (we were given the name after showing up for a “poor boys” football league with our helmets painted Purple. One of our friends “borrowed” the paint from a neighbor and as it was purple and it was all we had, we showed up with purple helmets) received our letters as well.

Some of us not wanting to be drafted, signed up with different branches of the service. Two of our friends joined the Marines, two went into the Air Force, four of us joined the Navy, and the rest were drafted into the Army. And so it was that in the summer of 1966 the Purple Gang was shipped out of El Paso to various locations around the world. For reasons I still don’t understand, I was assigned to the Naval station in Charleston S. C. I was assigned to the U.S.S. Betelgeuse a cargo ship supplying nuclear weapons to the submarines in and around the Middle East and Europe. Some of the Purple Gang were shipped off to Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines. The Purple Gang joined thousands upon thousands of 18 year old kids serving our country during the summer of ’66.

For the next two years, I traveled the Atlantic ocean shipping nuclear weapons, food, and ammunition to our troops in the European quarter. When not at sea, we were in our home port the Charleston Naval Ship Yard. And so it was that a young kid/sailor and several of his young black and Hispanic friends were made to sit behind the dividing white line on the bus. We rode with our black brothers and sisters, and were happy to do so. While serving my country, I was not allowed to drink from the only working water fountain in the downtown area. We were not welcomed or served in many of the restaurants in Charleston and if I needed to wash my uniform I had to wash it in the Laundromat used by my black brothers and sisters. Many of us were exposed to Asbestos on a regular basis, we would mix it up in buckets with our bare hands. We were subjected to noise levels that far exceed today’s safety standards on a daily basis. Some of us were sprayed with Agent Orange and other pesticides. Many of us were subjected to horrendous combat situations. We fought, cried, played, and somehow we survived. But unlike the Veterans of today’s wars, our coming home was not a welcomed one.

We were shunned and ridiculed when we wore our uniforms, we were called “baby killers” for participating in a war that most Americans detested. Many of our troops came back with PTSD but unfortunately for my generation PTSD was not recognized. We were told to suck it up, to be a man, it was part of war, “grow up, man up.” Many of my fellow veterans have developed mesothelioma, cancer, brain tumors and other illnesses from working with asbestos and from being sprayed with Agent Orange. Many of us suffer hearing loss from the constant whine of the engine turbines that we worked on every day. We came back a mess and unfortunately, we were ignored. As a result many of my fellow veterans have taken to the streets. They talk to themselves, hear noises, and just can’t seem to adjust to a normal every day life. They wander the streets of America on a daily basis.

So, I ask all of you who CARE, to be kind and generous to our Veterans. Singing in the choir is good, giving money in Church is good, but actually helping one of God’s children will buy you many more “heaven” points than anything you could possible do. There is a blind Vietnam veteran and his sidekick that sit next to the on ramp of I-10 and Cotton Street here in El Paso. We have developed a loose friendship. I call them Click and Clack. Somehow they get a big kick out of this. When they are not there, I wonder if one has died, if one or the other is sick, or if they have moved onto another city. But as is their usual, Click and Clack were at their corner today asking for help.

So, today, we delivered some tacos, a six pack of beer and twenty dollars to my two buddies. When I said we had food, some money, and a six pack of beer, they were to put it mildly, ecstatic. Many may disagree with giving them beer. Well, you may be right but at least I know that tonight Click and Clack will eat good, drink some beer, and maybe just maybe, the voices in their heads will subside. Maybe tonight will be a good night. I am sure that you have seen one of my fellow veterans holding a cardboard sign that states “Vietnam Veteran, anything will help,” Perhaps, you can find it in your heart to make his night a little more comfortable. Remember this as we enjoy our families and the long weekend. Remember that without their sacrifices America as we know it today, might not exist.

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  1. alethiea taylor says:

    Amen, brother. Well said. This is one tall, sewing, fashion-loving sister who appreciates everything you and many others did and continue to do so that we can be safe in the biggest, baddest country in the world! Much love to you and all our veterans, alethiea taylor

  2. Reader says:

    Fascinating story. Although racism exists everywhere in the U.S., it’s interesting when Southerners try to deny the particular virulence of Southern racism. You don’t have to have a very long memory to know about this stuff first-hand.

  3. dosfashionistas says:

    Today my granddaughter took her Grandfather Hines to school for Veteran’s Day. She wanted to take her Aunt Beth (Navy), but she left a few days ago to go back to her duty station. I am proud that another generation is becoming aware of the need to acknowledge and appreciate those who serve. We told her all the members of the family who have served in the past, and she was proud, as we are, of them.

  4. My godfather’s brother was a Vietnam vet. He committed suicide.

    While in general being suspicious of patriotism and militarism, I wear a poppy in November. I vote, so any soldier who died in war, died because I asked them to. The least I can do is remember.

    By the same token, any civilian who died in war, died because I sent someone to kill them. There’s a white poppy movement to remember civilians. If I had found someone selling white poppies I’d be wearing one of those too.

    Many of my co-workers are here because they were escaping war in their home countries. I asked some of them how they felt about seeing me flaunting a military-related symbol, and to my relief they said they weren’t bothered at all — that when you emigrate to another country they will have their own customs and you don’t worry about it. But they don’t wear poppies themselves.

  5. Jay Arbetman says:

    I am sure many of us look back at articles that appeared in F-I a week or two or a year or two ago. There is lots of interesting reading here and sometimes the “off subject” stuff is particularly compelling. That is why many of the personal bios in the member’s forum make F-I the special website that it is.

    I was always proud of my Grandfather for his heroic service during WWI. I was always proud of my Father for his service during WW2. I had close friends who served in Viet Nam who I admire.

    (A quick bit of prospective here. I went through my teen years knowing that I would never qualify for anyone’s army based on a bunch of orthopedic stuff)

    I am about the same age as the author of this story (61). Viet Nam was the war of my youth and the war that played on the TV at dinner time in our house. My late Republican Father, a WW2 vet watched the goings on with a sober interest. He knew about war. My late Democratic Mother watched with a certain amount of disdain. As they each got to the end of their abbreviated lives, they made it clear that they thought war was morally wrong. I kind of expected this from my Mom, but my Father surprised my brothers and I by expressing the same sentiment in his final weeks of life. My Father said that old men sent young men to die.

    We should bestow unquestioned and vast amounts of honor on our brothers and sisters in uniform. We should remedy the shameful lack of support and employment that our veterans receive. We should also remember that during the last ten years of the current war, our commanders in chief and many other significant government officials who lead troops into battle (from the safe distance of Washington D.C.) never shouldered a gun or faced live fire in defense of our country. I also remember that my Father was a pretty smart guy.

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