5/365 – Honoring – Chester Evans – USMC Retired Vietnam Veteran 1969-1970 1st Recon
I was probably eight or nine years old and living on the farm in Oakgrove, near Oxford, North Carolina, when a cousin of mine came with his family to visit. My cousin’s father was in the Army. I had never known anyone who had lived in Germany and France until I met this cousin and his dad. It was then I knew I wanted to be like him and go to Germany and France. I had not even been to Henderson, which is in my county or Raleigh, which was in the next county. That memory stayed with me through grade school, losing my mom to breast cancer and into high school.
When I was seventeen, I was in Job Corps in Cedar Flatts, Idaho. It was first time I had been away from home, and the first time I had been out of the state of North Carolina. One day I was sitting outside with a couple of guys I worked with, when this car drove up. We were laughing at the recruiters that exited the car… Popeye (Navy) got out of the car, the bus driver (Air Force) got out of the car, and the Army guy looked like he was delivery man, but it was the Marine who I noticed. I had never seen a Marine. We didn’t have a TV at the farm, but this guy had the best looking uniform. Khaki shirt and blue pants with a red stripe. I told him, “I want one of those outfits”. He laughed at me said “you can’t get one of these; you have to be an NCO”. I asked, “Well, how do I get one of those?” and he answered, “You have to join my Marine Corps.”
I joined, not knowing I was one of “McNamara’s 100,000”. The recruiter told me and others that had signed up two years. He didn’t expect me or my friends to last and he didn’t want me to mess up his Marine Corps. The reality was, I wasn’t expected to even make two years, even if I made it through boot camp. I was considered an “education drop” because I struggled to read and write. I found out later after I retired, that I have dyslexia, but at the time, I was considered illiterate. Once the Corps determined I was athletic and could follow orders, I was given assistance. I was sent to be grunt, an O311 – infantryman.
In Vietnam I served in First Recon for seven months. I was wounded in a skirmish, sent out of the combat arena to DaNang to have my injuries attended to and then returned back to Recon. After three months, the balance of my time in Vietnam was served in Combat Engineers.
Later in my career, my athletic ability put me in a position to compete in inter-service Judo competitions. I earned 7 All-Marine and 7 CISM’s (Conseil International Du Sport Militaire or International Military Sport Competition) during my time competing. I was able to travel to different countries, that in a regular military career, I would not have ever visited.
In 1989, when it was time to retire, I never considered myself a civilian. There was no transition. I was simply a retired Marine. I realized that I was never going to fit in to civilian life and I did not care.
What I did want, was to supplement my retirement with work doing something that kept me from dealing with people and found a job cleaning pools in Southern California. By then, I was on my second marriage and having the same issues as I had with my first marriage. A series of confrontations with my spouse, escalated to the point I went to a local VA Hospital and they admitted me after a brief interview. I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress. This was 1992.
As a man who came from nothing, the son of a sharecropper in the South, a Purple Heart Recipient, to a man who was sitting across a psych counselor, was hard for me to accept. I was a member of a church, a church choir and even had a SAG card to work as an extra on movie sets. I worked at being a part of mainstream society, but somehow I could not seem to get it right. Even harder was accepting the fact that I didn’t have PTSD, PTSD had me. Because if I could give that shit back, I would have given it back in a heartbeat.
In the next few years, while going through this process, my marriage to my second wife ended. A year later I met the woman that would be my third wife. She met me while I was in the process of finalizing my disability claim. Getting a disability rating was a drawn out process that can challenged a right-minded individual, much less an individual with a bruised brain. I had a learning disability and had been given medication for the PTSD, Paxil in the beginning. I was more disengaged than I had been in the preceding years as an angry Veteran.
What helped me early on was the counseling group I was in once, sometimes twice a week. The group I attended was full of veterans and the counselor was a veteran. The group was a lifeline that helped me recognize the tools to manage the anger, the hyper-vigilance, the anti-social behavior, the “I don’t care about anything” to the sorrow for the nineteen year old kid that was happy to have a clean uniform and get paid to shoot.
That was thirteen years ago. I am still married and I still go to counseling once a week. I have had an opportunity in the last three years to work with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. The young men and women returning home with Combat Related Stress is not the same as what Vietnam veterans experienced, in my opinion. It took thirty years for me to realize that something was not right, and these young adults are advised before they are deployed that they will experience some sort of combat stress disorder.
At this time, the Iraq and Afghan Veteran Group is not being held, because almost all the veterans that were in it, have stopped attending. I think that what needs to be changed, is that counseling should be mandatory; not an option; if you go off to war and you have combat related stress, counseling should be mandatory, so consequently no stigma is attached to it, because everyone has to attend. It should be presented as something that not only benefits the veteran, but benefits the military family and civilian society, as well. I recommend a twelve (or more) week course on Combat Related Stress Disorder be part of the SOP’s for returning servicemen and women whether they are discharged or continuing service. We are doing a disservice to them and our country by not helping our young servicemen and women and their families.
My final word: If you think you don’t have PTSD or Combat Related Stress Disorder, ask you mom or your sister if you are ok. Your mom and your sister, because they love you, will tell you the truth.
~ Chester Evans
UPDATE: Please direct comments for Chester to firstname.lastname@example.org alternatively he can be reached on Facebook.
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