By Kaycianna Smith
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
A lovely army veteran was willing to share a bit of his story and his 71st birthday wish after years of trials and tribulations after coming home from Vietnam War.
Mr. Smith is a veteran who has spent his life overcoming the challenges he faced that stemmed from the war. Countless veterans who return home from a war face several difficulties as they try to integrate back into society. They face problems such as mental disorders, addiction, triggers, etc. Mr. Smith is a great example of a veteran who overcame obstacles and can serve as inspiration to other veterans who may be struggling.
MEET MR. SMITH
In 1967, 19-year-old Mr. Smith joined the army and went to Vietnam. He enlisted and became an engineer. The majority of his job dealt with building and blowing up bridges. Eventually, he would play another role.
After some time passed, Mr. Smith became involved in Agent Orange. Agent Orange is described in the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs website as a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. military from 1962 to 1975. It got its name due to the orange band around the storage barrel. Millions of gallons of this chemical were sprayed during the Vietnam War to clear out the forests used by the Vietcong. This, along with the killing and dead bodies, would contribute to his future troubles.
He said, "A lot of things went on; I don't even bring it up and talk about it."
The war was so daunting that not only does he not speak about it, but it had a tremendous impact on his life after coming home.
Mr. Smith mentioned that he did not feel welcomed upon returning home. It was clear that many Americans despised the war. The draft, anti-war movement, and the many deaths caused by the war caused some Americans to look at the troops in disgust.
He also took the time to touch on something that broke his heart. Part of the hate sentiment toward the Vietnam War was baby killings.
"I was hurt, because of the type of welcome received," he said. "I didn't deserve the welcome given to us. We weren't the ones in the wrong. Vietnam put those baby killings on us as propaganda. I took it to heart because I love children. It hurts when your country turns against you."
American citizens weren't the only ones who let him down. The government was a source of disappointment, as well.
"I was mad at the U.S., because I put my life on the line and they made us out to be losers, because Vietnam became one country. We were not prepared for a jungle war."
The war and unwelcoming return weren't the only issues he was battling.
Mr. Smith came home and had to battle his post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I don't think a psychiatrist can really explain it," he said.
Mr. Smith struggled greatly with bad memories and nightmares. He also developed a bad attitude, describing himself as crazy, careless, and dangerous.
He said, "At one point I was taking medication, but I didn't get the right or full effect because I was drinking a lot."
HIS EX WIFE REMEMBERS ...
His ex-wife described him as irritable, saying he used to punch walls, windows and doors.
"You could say that he became violent; it didn't take much to set him off. He didn't do anything to me physically, although he did fight with others," she said.
She remembers him having a rather short temper and mood swings. She described him as sort of bipolar.
She said, "Most of the time he was cool. It just didn't take much for him to snap. His brother would even call him 'Tick Tick Boom'. It's hard to explain if you weren't there."
She also remembered him drinking a lot.
"He drank a lot, all day and all night just about. He used to buy liquor by the case - a case of pint bottles, and stash them. I guess you can say he was pretty much an alcoholic," she said.
Drinking alcohol became Mr. Smith's way of coping with everything. He drank, smoke cigarettes, gambled and entertained other women. His ex-wife even went so far as to say, "drinking and smoking cigarettes were his hobbies."
He also didn't keep any jobs after coming home. Even with good-paying jobs, he would only keep them for a couple of months.
She also described him as flighty, saying that he would leave and be gone for a couple days at a time.
"I don't know where his mind was at," she said.
In 1980, she decided to leave him.
HIS OLDEST CHILD REMEMBERS ...
"He was always drinking and fighting. He was combative toward everyone except his wife children. He would argue with his brothers and sisters. Sometimes he would have brawls in the street," his oldest daughter says.
Her memories paint the same picture of an alcoholic veteran trying to cope.
She said, "It was crazy. We never knew what was going to happen or when he would flip."
Mr. Smith was also always going to jail. He would get into fights with the police and end up at the veterans' hospital for his post-traumatic stress disorder. The police uniforms triggered him.
As a father, she remembered him as being extremely strict with her. She had to get 90s in school; an 88 wasn't good enough. She also remembered having 15 minutes to get home from school and being late would result in punishment. She also wasn't allowed off the porch.
She also remembers moving a lot. As she grew older, she realized that it was due to him being unstable.
She said, "If it hadn't been for Momma, we would've been jacked up. Growing up with him was a nightmare, but we still did stuff together as a family like vacations and dinners. It's just that the other side of him was really a nightmare."
MEET MR. SMITH ... AGAIN
Fourteen years of sobriety later, Mr. Smith reflects on how is pretty much a brand-new man.
While battling his alcoholism, Mr. Smith lost his wife, had strenuous relationships with family members, and was basically throwing his life away. After realizing he had many regrets and didn't want to damage his life any further, he finally sought help. After getting sober and working with his family and friends to get his life back on track, Mr. Smith has reached a place where he is proud of the man he is.
"Only over the last 15 years, have I been the man I'm supposed to be. I messed up my marriage, my life, and could've been a better husband."
He is now remarried and in much better shape than he used to be. "My medication helps a lot. It keeps me calm and I'm not as violent as I used to be," he said.
Dec. 9, Mr. Smith will celebrate his 71st birthday. He gave one of his birthday wishes, saying,
"I wish the U.S. could find a better and faster treatment for PTSD for the soldiers that are coming home from war-torn countries. Right now, it takes too long for just the diagnosis. I know they can do better."
He then expressed that killing a person is far from easy and that anyone struggling to cope with their experience in the military, should seek help immediately.
LOCAL VETERAN ORGANIZATIONS
Listed below are veteran organizations in Niagara Falls, NY where veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems can go to receive help.
•Niagara Falls VA Outpatient Clinic
2201 Pine Ave, Niagara Falls, NY 14301
•Veterans of Foreign Wars
2772 Main St, Niagara Falls, NY 14305
•VFW Post 917
2435 Seneca Ave, Niagara Falls, NY 14305
752 E Market St, Niagara Falls, NY 14301
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