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Chasing the war demons away

Motorcyclists ride up County Road 1 Saturday in an effort to raise consciousness and funds for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Sarah Smith /Enterprise)

By Sarah Smith

It was the love of a good woman that’s gotten Richard Martin through the 30 years of hell that started in the 1970s when he returned from Vietnam.

They had married in June. By Christmas he was in Vietnam.

In those 30 years he’s availed himself of group therapy and oodles of individual counseling to keep the anxiety and bad memories at bay. He’s also kept busy. An idle mind is a terrible thing, he’s recognized.

Ditto for Virgil Johnson. He had terrible recollections when he found two horses near Dorset corner tied to a tree last spring, something that surprised him.

There were no horses during his three tours of Vietnam. But the starving horses brought back horrors that he wasn’t prepared for. The sight jarred him.

It was not politically correct in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s to reminisce about Vietnam or any armed services confrontations, much less cry over them.

Real men sucked it up and said nothing while the memories of war curdled and soured in their brains.

It was the worst possible outcome, Martin said.

Vets retreated from the public, took their own lives if they couldn’t deal with the trauma, or took it out on loved ones, even strangers if their anger bubbled over.

Terry Martin endured her husband’s absence with the philosophy that “if he was meant to return, he would,” she rationalized.

But there were those two months where he was missing in action that undercut her tough exterior.

“I was in the hospital for two months,” he said. “She didn’t know where I was.”

Richard Martin suffered in silence “30-some years,” he acknowledged. “The government at one time didn’t know what it was,” he said of the depression he and fellow vets were suffering.

Something propelled him to seek help. It wasn’t a grand Eureka moment, simply a realization that life was going by without him.

“I just let things happen,” said Terry. She figured a higher power was pulling the strings of her life.

Richard became a born-again Christian and left his fate in the hands of a higher power, he said.

Johnson went to counseling, post-traumatic stress disorder meetings and still attends twice monthly meetings.

Vets and spouses have joint meetings later those same days.

Lefty Anderson was one of the lucky ones, doing his service time between Korea and Vietnam.

“I never saw combat,” he said almost apologetically. But he’s seen what PTSD can do to his fellow vets.

“In knew a guy in the Battle of the Bulge,” he said. “He would not say a word. People here have to know. You guys have to tell your story,” he said to Martin, Johnson and other vets nearby in the Legion parking lot.

And that was the point of Saturday’s ride – to tell a story.

As bikes rumbled by, vets smiled and waved.

Redemption, like a 12-step program, is a work in progress that needs to be maintained daily.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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