Veterans get no respect

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Veterans get no respect

By Manning Peterson, Staff Writer

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No one has been barred on account of his race for fighting or dying for America – There are no “white” or “colored” signs on the battlefields.” — U.S. President John F. Kennedy

 

Before and after each visit to any Veterans Administration Health Services Center (VA), I practice counting my blessings and never consider demanding a recount. My wise, God-fearing maternal grandmother, Anna Brooks Crosby, always cautioned me, “If you don’t count your blessings, than your blessings don’t count!”

Five decades of visits to a variety of VA clinics and waiting rooms have allowed me to observe veterans in collateral compartments of disrepair due to loss of limbs, vision and mobility. Some utilize walkers, crutches or canes while an attendant alternative armada is rolling through life in wheel chairs.

Others have been unfortunately bombarded with various levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) and undiagnosed psychoses.

Uncounted minions of unemployed and homeless vets are completely out of touch with reality, living in their own personal zip codes uncharted by U.S.P.S.

Jim Jones and I met accidentally on Friday, November 9, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. If you don’t believe in synchronicity, it was two days before Veterans Day. We were waiting to pick up our meds at the VA Medical Center Pharmacy at 2221 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, California.

Jones had the good fortune or misfortune, depending on your historical, ethnocentric or socio-cultural perspective, to be born in Richmond, California during the post- World War II era. His specific birth date was May 24, 1949.

He entered this world kicking and screaming before his original hood became infamous as “The Iron Triangle” aka “Da I.T.” As of Memorial Day, 2014, this 1.5 square mile unincorporated section of North Richmond is a rusty repository and dangerous disorderly dumping depot which is inhabited by the economically challenged and overwhelmed by the use, abuse and illegal distribution/sale of contraband chemicals.

“Da I.T. (Iron Triangle)” has the highest homicide count in Contra Costa County and is polluted with an acrid atmosphere produced by historically unhealthy, unfriendly ecological, political and corporate decisions.

Jones is the generic nom de plume for every African-American male in the U.S.A. Jim, like the rest of us brothers, did not have any choice regarding the location or date of his birth, parents, gender, ethnicity or family socio-economic status.

Today, he is a 65 year old Marine Corps veteran and grateful survivor of the Viet Nam War. Jones proudly and heroically served our country from February 4, 1969 to July 27, 1971. His nick-name is “Peja-Peja” which is African for fisherman because he loves to fish.

Fate directed Jones to activate a land mine during a combat mission in Viet Nam on August 8, 1970. He had to have his right leg amputated just below the knee. Ironically, this fatalistic faux pas occurred on his only sister’s eighteenth birthday.

He was awarded a Purple Heart and honorable discharge under medical circumstances. He returned to civilian life in “The Iron Triangle.” His spare time is now occupied as a community service volunteer hip-hop/reggae disc jockey at the Berkeley-based radio station. Jones serves sounds four shifts a week from 1:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.

My over-sized inquisitive ears couldn’t help eaves-dropping on the cozy conversation between Jim and another vet who happened to be Caucasian. “You sound like you’re from Brooklyn, New York bro. That’s my wife’s home turf,” Jones said.

The Brooklyn non-draft dodger replied, “You’ve got great rhetorical listening skills, my brother. That’s where I was born and lived growing up.

My birthday is on the Fourth of July. The day after I turned 18, my patriotic papa marched my unpatriotic patoot down to the enlistment station at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He told me, ‘Da Navy will make a man outta you like it did outta me!’

The Navy shipped me to the Alameda Naval Air Station here in California where I was assigned as a supply clerk trainee. Four years later, all the Navy literally did was create a certified alcoholic/dope-fiend monster.”

Jones spoke up sadly, “Alameda sucks big time, bro. It should be named “Crazy Central.” I was over there at a friend’s house party on Christmas night in 1976.

That night, I got drunk and wandered off to the northeast corner of Chestnut and Santa Clara to catch the #51 bus back to Oakland.

The fact that it was three o’clock in the morning and #51 buses don’t run all night never occurred to my drunken ass. I felt like I had been eating lit fireworks. My best booze-saturated thinking told me to lie down on the bus stop bench and take a snooze.

I returned from the world of Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory four hours later. I tried to stand up, fell flat on my face and kissed a cold curbstone. I told myself ‘Getup. You can’t be that drunk fool!’

That’s when I observed what the crux of my problem was. I HAD GOT LEG-JACKED WHILE I WAS BOOZE-JACKED!”

The former nautical night owl asked Jones, “What the hell does leg-jacked mean, bro?” Jones screamed, “IT MEANS SOME ROTTEN LOW-DOWN MOTHER FUCKER STOLE MY PROSTHETIC LEG!

AND HE HAD THE COLOSSAL GALL TO LEAVE A NOTE ON MY LAP PRACTICING HIS SOCIOPATHIC SKILLS. IT READ, ‘ THANKS FOR NOTHING, SUCKA!’”

“So what did you do next?” I asked Jones. He answered in a jovial manner, “I managed to play a game of one-leg hop-scotch, fall down and crawl to find the nearest pay phone. I dialed 911 and had them contact Hal, my prosthetic services case manager, at the VA in San Francisco. I explained my dilemma to Hal.”

Hal told Jones, “Stay right where you are. I’m sending a taxi to pick you up and you won’t have to pay any fare. The driver will bring you here to twelve hundred Otis Street. I’ll make you a new prosthesis and, with a little luck, you’ll be able to walk into your home tonight to have dinner with your wife. I don’t know if she’ll buy the A.W.O.L. all-night with your lost leg episode excitement, but that’s between you and her, ain’t it?”

I asked Jones, “Have you ever considered counting your blessings or life gifts now that it is four decades since your original limb became a war casualty?”

He quickly replied, “Sure, about ten years after I got discharged, I chose to unconditionally accept the fact that I had lost the lower half of my right leg and it was not going to grow back. That was the bad news!

The good news was I realized I didn’t lose my life like a lot of my buddies. I did some intense weekly therapy for two years, here at the VA, to neutralize my anger and grief.”

Now, Jone’s thought processes have become more clear, specific and reality-oriented. He said he is focused on how fortunate he is, despite of all the previous years of lamenting his lost leg.

“Like, I’m alive today and countless numbers of my fellow marines are not. I only lost part of one leg while they lost their lives, families and futures. SEMPER FI MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS!”

Every time Jones read the logo on the side of our VA shuttle van, he said he was reminded of how he is truly blessed.

I asked, “What logo are you talking about, (Jones)?” He answered, in a proud basso pro-fundo, “ALL GAVE SOME AND SOME GAVE ALL!”

Jones continued, “Now, I keep my focus on unconditional acceptance, unlimited love and eternal gratitude. My life is devoted to community service and attempting to create a more peaceful, enjoyable, loving world-wide community. And at the end of each day, I thank God for all the gifts and blessings prophetically placed in my life path that day!”

My final question was, “(Jones), do you think you will ever forgive the person who stole your prosthesis?”

He spoke swiftly in a voice filled with rage and resentment, “HELL NO! I’M TAKING THAT ONE TO THE GRAVE WITH ME! AND I HOPE THE HAIR ON THE MOTHER FUCKER’S ASS TURNS TO BARBED WIRE AND THE ONLY JOB HE CAN GET IS DRIVING A TAXI. THANK YOU JESUS FOR RETROACTIVE RETRIBUTION!”

“One last comment, (Jones). Many vets can’t, or ain’t, gonna march in any more holiday parades, you know why?,” I asked.

He serenely smiled and said, “Cuz all vets aren’t able to walk, but we never die. Us lucky vets can relax on the porch, smile while we count our blessings and watch the parade go by.

If it wasn’t for us, and those who gave their lives, there wouldn’t be any Holidays or Parades to celebrate them. Semper Fi and God Bless America!”

 

“You don’t have to have fought in a war to love Peace.” — Geraldine Ferraro

Candidate for Vice President

1984 Democratic National Convention

 

This story is dedicated to my youngest brother, Rufus Franklin Peterson. He served valiantly as a member of the elite Navy SEALS Team (Sea Air and Land Team Service) on PT Boats, rescuing and transporting fatally injured and wounded troops during the Viet Nam War.

After his honorable discharge for 10 years of heroic duty, he returned to Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts and continued performing his assignment of community service with the Martha’s Vineyard Steamship Authority before he peacefully passed away in 1995.

YOU DA MAN, BUTCH!