By Melissa Montero, Senior Recruiter with Goodwin Recruiting
My father was born the middle of five children in rural Iowa in 1950. His father left my grandmother when my father was still a baby (scandalous for the 1950s!), and my Dad grew up relatively poor in a small town, the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks.” He loved hunting and fishing and played high school football. He was drafted into Army service in 1970 and was shipped over to Vietnam shortly after basic training. He served as an infantry squad leader for his full tour, narrowly escaping death more times than he was ever really willing to admit. A majority of the men he served with in Vietnam did not make it back to the US. My father made it back, but he did not make it out unscathed.
For his entire adult life, he suffered from PTSD and survivor guilt from his time in Vietnam. He hunkered down and did the best he could to make a life for himself and to raise my three siblings and me with all the privileges he could provide. He often drank alcohol in order to prevent the terrible nightmares that plagued him for decades after he left Vietnam. I have distinct memories of the shouting in the middle of the night that would wake us all up as he struggled through the flashback dreams that are so common with PTSD. In his mind, he was still trying to escape the jungle and get back home safely.
As an adult, I took a job just a couple of years out of college, working in clinical trials research at the VA Medical Center in Seattle. It was there that my eyes started to open more to the enormity of the sacrifice that our Veterans gave and continue to give for our everyday freedoms. The men who served in WWII and even Korea wore their Veteran hats with pride, displaying their unit and the conflict they served in. There was a palpable camaraderie amongst them, and while they may not have served in the same place at the same time, there existed a mutual respect between them that I know my Dad didn’t experience from the general public when he returned from Vietnam. During my time working at the VA, I learned quite a bit about the process for gaining service-connected disability status, and I began to encourage my father to apply for his benefits. He most certainly sacrificed his peace of mind for ours, so I hoped he would reach out to get the help he so deserved. Toward the end of his life, he did finally apply for service-connected disability, and he was awarded 100% service-connection benefits through the VA for his PTSD as well as his exposure to Agent Orange while he served.
Later into adulthood, I learned that my Dad had been awarded two Bronze Stars with Valor for his heroic efforts to protect his men and put himself in repeated danger to keep them alive. He never spoke about the events that led to these medals, and it wasn’t until his death earlier this year that I learned more details about his time in Vietnam. While my brothers and sister and I combed through photos and files after his death from heart failure, we came across a letter that the Army wrote to my grandmother in support of one of his Bronze Star medals. The Army described his “devastating level of covering fire” provided during battle, and my brother, himself a Sargent in the Army, read us this letter and explained how rarely the Army uses such terminology. My father served his country and his unit with distinction, and I hope he knows how proud we are of him.
For those who haven’t served or don’t have a family member in military service, I’d like to ask you to reflect today on your communities and the people you pass by on your way to work, school, or church. Would you be willing to run in front of machine-gun fire so that your neighbor could vote in a free election? I don’t know that I could do it, but I know I’m proud my Dad did. I hope my brother and all the men and women who have served and continue to serve their country with honor know just how very much we appreciate their sacrifice for us and for our freedoms.
At Goodwin Recruiting, we honor the sacrifices our veterans have made and continue to make on behalf of this country. Thank you to all who serve.