Historically, Veterans did not talk about the events that unfolded for them while on the battlefield. It was just a reminder of what they lost just for being a part of the war. Whatever feelings they had from the war were locked away and not talked about. Back then you had to be a man. Admitting you needed help, or seeking it, only made others think you were weak.
My Uncle Fuzz, a Vietnam Veteran, never talked about his experiences while serving his country. He was a closed book, to put it modestly. Maybe he resented the war because he was drafted, or maybe it was because he might have received the typical homecoming so many Veterans of the Vietnam War were victim to. Whatever it was, the slightest mention of war would irritate him.
In 2006, I was lucky enough to be home in Wisconsin for the gun deer hunting season. After the day’s hunt, a few members from neighboring hunting shacks stopped in to find out the details of the day’s adventure. We all huddled around the table, engaged in conversation typical for deer camp — how someone saw a big buck but could not get a crack at him or how some flat lander from Illinois walked past somebody’s tree stand and ruined their hunt.
During a short lull in the conversation, someone asked how my recent deployment in Iraq went. I answered his questions, most of which were the typical things civilians inquire about. Rick, a gentleman that owns land just down the road, interjected and spoke about how he thought Iraq was a waste of time and that we should get out of there. Heads nodded in affirmation of his comment and Fuzz stepped in to say, “We’re done talking about war in here, period! Go someplace else if you wanna talk about it!” The shack was silent for a brief moment before everyone began socializing about lighter topics.
I didn’t care that he did not want Iraq to be the topic of discussion. Truth be told, I didn’t want to talk about it either. Talking about chasing a monster buck was more suited for me. It did, however, make me curious about his service in the Army. I recalled some pictures on display at his home of him receiving a Combat Infantry Badge while in Vietnam. My interest was sparked!
Years later, after completing my third tour in Iraq, I was once again home on leave. Fuzz asked if I would help him plant soy beans out at the hunting shack. I agreed to help him, and half way through planting the field he stopped the tractor and said, “Let’s go have a treat!” While we were enjoying our drink I asked him about the Army chow in Vietnam. He laughed and said, “Not good!” I figured since he entertained my first question, I might as well ask him another. Without hesitating, I said “Hey Fuzz, what unit were you in?” He paused a second, and replied “1/77 Air Cavalry. Now talk about something else!” Despite his displeasure in the conversation, he also told me that he operated a M60 machine gun during his tour.
After that day I never asked him another question. We both had an unspoken agreement to leave the topic alone.
As for me, I will talk about things I did or witnessed in Iraq. After growing up around Fuzz, hearing stories of how nervous going in the woods before daylight made him, I saw firsthand what “bottling it up” can do to a person. Fuzz made that work somehow, and was someone I admired and loved very much. Maybe that old stigma is gone in today’s culture, maybe it’s not. Everyone is different, and deals with personal conflicts in their own manner. If a Veteran needs help, they should seek it — no matter what form that help may come in. I believe that if sharing your experiences can somehow help you move past the costs of going to war for your country, you should do it.
Editor’s Note: Travis Jochimsen is an Army veteran of the War in Iraq and is currently a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he is studying forestry management.