Mike became homeless for the first time in his life this month. As a retired nurse and well educated man he wonders how it could have happened to him. Maybe it was just his turn. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website states that nearly half of all homeless veterans served during the Vietnam War.
Mike's got the Purple Heart with Oak Leaves and the Bronze Star. He was a medic in the war. He treated and evacuated wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. He got shot once when they were flying into a battle zone. That's not real surprising because -- according to History.com -- helicopters in Vietnam almost never flew above 1500 feet. Helicopter warfare, rescue and recon came into its own in Vietnam and often turned our troops into a duck shoot. In this case, the bullet went clean through Mike's leg without causing much damage, so after a short recuperation he went back to patching up ARVNs. ARVN was the anagram used by the U.S. forces for members of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.
The second time he got wounded he went home. Everyone else on his chopper died when it went down. Even the ARVN he was treating -- although part of the reason Mike survived was because he went forward to tell the pilot his patient needed a smoother ride -- this positioned him between the two front seats when something took out the tail section of the chopper and the forward motion of him rolling head tucked into the console saved his life.
Mike smashed up his face and hands. That makes him one of the 303,635 Vietnam soldiers wounded in battle. Another 58,159 soldiers died in that war and about 2000 are still considered missing. But those casualty numbers are dwarfed by the number of Vietnam Vets who over the last 40 years have become homeless.
It seems -- depending on who's definition of fighting we use -- the U.S. deployed about eight and a half million soldiers to fight the war. Since then -- according to findings by the U.S. Census bureau and the Veterans Administration -- approximately three percent of those deployed are homeless in our country in a given year and a hundred thousand are homeless on any given night.
So now Mike's one of them. And he really hates it. There are lots of reasons he's so unhappy with his current living situation but the biggie is that he's humiliated. When he first moved into the shelter he didn't talk to anyone. If staff came in the room he'd turn his face away as though he hoped that if no one actually looked straight at him, someday he'd be gone leaving no memorable impression behind. Mike spoke only when spoken to and then with the barest minimum of words necessary to complete the communication task required of him.
Perhaps that's why it didn't seem likely that Mike would volunteer to be interviewed about living a life filled with violence or fear.
When Mike first started talking I thought for sure it would be about the blood bath he dipped his hands into in South East Asia.
But Mike wanted to explain why he joined the army in the first place. Pete, Mike's dad, made his childhood a living hell. In fact, Mike's mom was so aware of how awful Pete abused Mike that she signed the papers for her son to join the military at seventeen. According to a study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology boys are 50% more likely to be victims of violent assault then girls. Just like the homeless statistics these numbers worked against Mike but he figures at least his sisters were safe.
Mike sat for hours talking about Vietnam. He detailed harrowing experiences and then confided, "I had been in the army -- been in Vietnam seven months of it -- but not once had I been abused the way I was at home. I didn't have a fear in my stomach any more of my dad coming home. I had new fears, but the army at least gave me 35 other guys to get through it with me."
This disabled decorated vet's homeless, but he doesn't lump that in with his military service. Nearly forty years after his helicopter crashed in Vietnam Mike explained that even when it comes to being homeless, "None of my fears were worse than my fear of my dad."