War and History Non-Fiction posted June 25, 2008

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A few of the men who servied in the Vietnam War.

The Forgotten Ones

by earthlybeing

Contest Winner 

For all of the freedom fighters who gave so much
(Pictured is my husband and a group of Veterans he served with from the 101st Airborne.)
If only we could all get a chance to see what sacrifice our Veterans have made for our freedom. Most of us go about our daily lives blind to the hardships they have endured and still endure daily.

My husband is a Vietnam Veteran and because of this I have had the opportunity to see firsthand what war can do to a person. This story is about my husband's stay at a VA Hospital and some of the men we met during that stay. Merlin spent thirty-six days as an inpatient in the VA hospital.

I saw Robert one day when I went to visit Merlin. He was also a patient of the mental ward. I arrived at the VA every Friday as early as possible. Thankfully I had a great boss and he allowed me to come into work early and on Friday he expected me to leave for the hospital about noon. Merlin was in the hospital because he had a mental breakdown. The nearest VA Hospital was an hour and fifteen minutes from our home. I worked all week and on Friday I would head to Alexandria, stay the whole weekend until late Sunday evening when I would head back home and get ready for the next week.

Well this Friday I arrived and went straight up to the ward and signed Merlin out so we could sit and enjoy the outdoors. Merlin hated being locked up indoors and he lived for my visits. We exited the elevator and found a bench with a table under a tree. We sat and ate the lunch I brought while we chatted.

There were several men sitting at benches as we entered the area. Merlin introduced me to them and we chatted. Most of the guys were alone and had no family that came to visit.

One man was drawing a picture on an old paper bag. I asked Merlin if he did not have paper and he said that most did not. I asked him if he would mind if I walked over to the PX and purchased some for the guys. He said, "That's a great idea, I would like that."

I noticed one man running around picking cigarette butts out of ashtrays or off the ground. Merlin informed me he was a smoker and had no cigarettes. I asked if we would be allowed to bring a carton of cigarettes in for those who needed them.

He said the nurse's station could hold them. He thought that would be a good plan, as some of the guys had Hepatitis B. It was not safe for them to be smoking butts after others. I know that smoking is not healty for anyone, but instead of seeing these men smoking old butts that may make them sick with Hepatitis, I thought it would be better to provide a carton.

Merlin asked me if on my next visit I would bring some kind of food. He said many of the guys had eaten only the bland hospital diet for a long time. He was sure they would enjoy some outside food for a change. We planned for me to bring some of our Cajun boudin the next day.

Later, a nurse came out with a group of men for their break. I asked her if she would watch Merlin as I had signed him out. I explained I needed to run an errand to the PX. She said that was fine. I ran into the PX and picked up all the tablets and pens that I could find. I found some drawing paper and also several packs of colored pencils. Merlin had mentioned needing soap as someone had stolen his soap. I picked up a multi-pack of soap and a carton of cigarettes.

When I walked back to building nine, I went to the nurses' station and handed her the carton and asked her to give them out to the men at her discretion. She agreed to do so. I let her check my package and all items were approved. She said I could hand them out to the guys.

I exited the building and went to join Merlin. I handed him the package and he began to pass out the items. Many guys also needed soap, as this was one item they had to supply themselves, and many had none. They were all very excited with simple gifts like paper, pen and soap. Merlin joined me and we began to chat again. I felt so good that we could bring pleasure to the men who had gone through so much for my freedom.

I noticed a man leaving the building. He walked with a limp and was all hunched over. He came near us and crouched down near the tree in the shade. We continued to visit and I noticed the whole time he just crouched down and chain-smoked cigarettes, using one to light the next. He had a tremor in his limbs and at times it was so pronounced, he had trouble getting the cigarette to his lips.

After he left, I asked Merlin about him. Here is his story as it was related to me.

Robert was a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. He had been kept in a small cage the whole time he was a prisoner. He only had room to squat. If he sat he would have to sit in his feces, as they were not allowed to leave the cage. For nine months he had lived though horrible torture, starvation and had been kept in a cage in the elements. Through monsoons and the heat he was forced to squat in the small cage. He and others from his squad had started their imprisonment together. Robert said that, at one point, they had a visit from an American woman who was to be shown their condition. If you all know the story of that era I believe you can figure out who this woman must have been. He still hated her with a passion.

He stated that they were taken from the cages and allowed to clean up in the river prior to her arrival. They were told they had better be on their best behavior or they would pay if not. They were given the black pajama clothes to wear. A couple of the men were in bad condition, at death's door. They were not allowed to attend the visit. During the visit Robert stated that they were left alone for about five minutes to speak with the woman. She asked them questions about how their living conditions were. He and several other POW's responded with the truth, telling her of the horrid conditions, torture, and the death of other POW's. He said she asked them what did they expect. She told them they had come to this country and killed these peoples babies and then expected to be treated with honor. He said she was very cold and rude to them.

He said they were all shocked by her words. However, they thought she was saying this just in case others were listening. They were sure it was a cover, as no American would be so heartless seeing the condition they were in.

After the visitor left, the guards took them back to their cages. They were made to strip naked and enter their cages again. One by one they were taken and tortured for telling the woman the truth. Robert, in tears, reported that half of the men died over the next few days from the beating they received. He has always blamed himself for their deaths.

Robert had been unable to lead a normal life after he had been rescued from that prison. He often had flashbacks that sent him into long bouts of depression. He rarely spoke and was not able to find work or hold a job. His wife had left him several years after his return. They had not had any children. His parents had died several years earlier, leaving him with no family. No one came to visit him. He had been homeless on and off since the war ended. Recently he had begun living in an assisted-living facility that the VA ran. When they noticed his depression returning, and before he became suicidal again, he was sent to the VA Hospital for in-house treatment.

The last time I saw Robert, sadly he was squatting under a tree at a VA Hospital. Robert took his life a few months after he was released from the hospital.

Contest Winner


I learned so much from visiting Merlin in the VA Hospital. It really is heart breaking to hear all of the stories and see these men. They are the forgotten ones, the throw-aways. People no one cares about, and no one wants to help. They were never given thanks or any tribute for their efforts when they returned, and many still suffer from the memories of that time.

I hope I have been able to capture the feeling I had during these events. It was such a hard and emotional time for us. I will never forget these men and the smiles they had for simple things like pen and paper. Most trips I cried all the way home. It was such a heart breaking experience to get to know these guys. They gave our country their all, and in return we failed to reach out and tell them thanks.

Thanks for reading. Jeanette
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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