Join the Army, see the world. That is what I did. I signed up for the Infantry as long as they would send me to Europe, pay for me to finish college and give me some money.
Basic Training and Infantry Training were almost a joke to me as I had been a multi-sports athlete but I tolerated the near comical antics of the Drill Sergeants as I knew they had to bring younger boys up to speed while keeping the attention of more worldly fellows like myself. I was 24 and had traveled a bit by then, had worked a job or two, had three years of college behind me and had even ran my own business. My friends thought I was crazy for enlisting but I did it.
Arriving in Germany and assigned to a unit, I did my job and spent my free time on the rails, seeing every country I could see from The Netherlands to Italy to France and all points in between. I took college classes at the Education Center on Post and had lucked in to driving a Staff Officer who traveled widely and regularly. My life was on track.
Then I went to Iraq and went to war. Over a short period of time, I became completely desensitized to death, both as a reality and a concept, not shedding a single tear at the funeral of my own mother a year later. I finished school, left the Army for the Reserves, earned my pilot’s license, I got married, went to work, moved in to my childhood home in a great neighborhood, had children and led an active life. I was a football coach, a pilot and Squadron Commander in the Civil Air Patrol, volunteered for Emergency Services and ran a successful Appraisal and Home Inspection office.
Two years after I came home I began having problems with short term memory and my limbs would jerk for no reason, throwing me into sessions of severe cramping all over my body. My legs began to swell notably and I gained 200 pounds over about 5 years. One day at work my legs began to feel as if they were on fire and I found they were swelling rapidly and did so to such a degree, they split open, leaking fluid and blood. I was rushed to the hospital where I contracted MRSA and suffered its damaging effects.
I was in organ failure and fighting for my life when scar tissue was discovered on my brain. It seemed that my close proximity to a mortar detonation that had thrown me head first into the wheel of a Hummer had done more than just addle me at the time. My other symptoms were attributed to the PB pills, Depleted Uranium Exposure, Exposure to other/unknown toxins. I had effectively been badly wounded by a silent bullet and didn’t even know it.
I lived, my symptoms in check but uncured, leaving the hospital with permanent nerve damage, deformed and discolored legs and pain that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. I had a later bout with a blood clot in my leg going to my lungs and spent several days in a coma, but I lived. I became depressed and lethargic with regular thoughts of suicide. I was no longer the man I once was. After fifteen years of marriage my wife left me for a man half her age. At 40 years old I lost my kids, I lost my business, I lost my home. I lost everything.
Now I am 48. I live in a trailer which I have made into a home using many items from the old house to do so. It is a comfort to the kids that something of their past is preserved and comfortably familiar to me. I drive a dependable fifteen year old SUV, I take my medicine, I go to doctors appointments, physical therapy, meetings with my lawyer to increase my VA benifits and I take a dozen pills a day for my symptoms.
I receive $680 per month from a 100% social security disability for PTSD and other symptoms, $640 from VA who refuses to acknowledge what has happened to me and rates me a 40% disability for “Combat Anxiety” and “Tinnitus.” I manage a few hundred dollars from other sources. A far cry from the one thousand plus a week take home I had become accustomed to.
I get by though and have learned to watch every expense and still manage to go to the movies with my son now and then, and dine out with both him and his sister once a month. I add to things by picking up cans and collecting scrap metal and am fortunate to have a sister who helps me out often with the unexpected bill. Vacations are rare but I still manage to take one on occasion. I was, until recently, embarrassed to wear shorts in public until this pretty young waitress said to me, “Hey they are your legs, the only ones you have got; don’t worry about it.” I have worn shorts every day since. Life changed for me but life goes on, and I will be a Grandfather in a few short days. Life is good.
LOOKING FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR OUR 2nd “My Gutsy Story®”ANTHOLOGY
Do you have a “My Gutsy Story®” you’d like to share?
NOW is the time to submit your “My Gutsy Story®” which may be included in our 2nd ANTHOLOGY.
Here are the stories we have in October:
- October 14th: Marcia Molina-Lehmann
- October 21st: Cappy Hall
- October 28th: Don Westenhaver
Please share these stories on social media and to all who need some inspiration. Thanks you. Sonia Marsh