Monday, February 28, 2011

Roger the Vet

Dec 25, 2010

I was at the Love’s (soon to become a Pilot) truck stop in Houston, Texas when I met Roger the Vietnam vet.  He was at the counter buying a Budweiser in the can when we started talking.  I found out he happened to be from the town that I work out of, Chattanooga, Tennessee.  He seemed normal enough inside the truck stop, but he started talking a bit darker when we walked outside.
He was telling me that he thought that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was misunderstood.  He said that McVeigh only did what the government trained him to do.  It was then he told me that he was a veteran like McVeigh, and not only that, he was a Tunnel Rat in Vietnam during 1972.  I think the point he was trying to make is that he was trained by the government, and the reason he was so messed up was because the government made him that way.
For those who don’t know, a Tunnel Rat is a soldier who would crawl down in the holes the Vietnamese would dig, and shoot a flamethrower in the tunnel.  It would burn out all the oxygen, and suffocate whoever was down in it.  Of course it was extremely claustrophobic and dangerous.  I asked my Dad, who is a Vietnam veteran, about it.  He asked me, “Was Roger a small man?”  I said, “Yes, he was barely five foot.”  He then said, “Yeah, he was a rat alright.  He was told he would be.  He wasn’t given a choice.”
Roger then told me that since my name, Adrian, was a biblical name, God had a plan for me.  I tried to keep our conversation lighthearted, and said that I didn’t feel like I had any pressing biblical plans at the moment.  He kind of laughed, and told me that I knew what he was talking about. 

We discussed a few things, and I tried to disagree with him gently.  Namely, on things that were of a violent nature.  He then told me, and I quote, “I know I’m a fucking lunatic.  But I’ve given up the crystal meth and the cocaine.  I still smoke my cigarettes and have my beer.  I also smoke pot once in a while.” 
He then said with an almost too straight of a face, “I have congestive heart failure, and the doctors gave me two years to live.  But I have my medicade and my medicare.  So I’ve been traveling around the country seeing things and going places.”
Roger then said he got by on change, and that last Christmas he was handed a one hundred dollar bill by three different people.  He asked me for change, but I only had a couple of bucks on me, and that’s not good for a truck driver.  Looking back on it, I wish I had bought him some food, or at least something to go with that beer. 

It bothered me to think that’s what war had done to a person.  I had to call my Dad because my conversation with Roger kind of got to me.  My Dad had worked at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital for thirteen years.  Looking back at it now, I’m not sure if I could have worked there like he did.  I know he mentioned a few incidents where some of the more disturbed patients would get loose, and the orderlies would have to run/ track them down. 

As I travel across the country in my semi truck I will keep an eye out for Roger.  I hope he gets to see all sorts of things across this land.  I know he loves America, even though he hates the government.  I hope that he realizes that he doesn’t have to carry all that pain with him.  As I close out this blog I will leave you with some of the last words that Roger asked me.  “So your Dad served?”  I said, “Yes, he was in the Air Force, and served one year and three days in Vietnam.”  He then asked, “Is he still alive?”  Which I replied, “Yes, he’s retired now.”  Then he smiled and said, “God bless him for serving.  Make sure to tell him you love him.”

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