Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Every veteran has a story

November 07, 2013|By Joe Puglia

I was sitting in Starbucks writing poetry into Seamus O’Grady’s character, making him worthy of Ophelia Hawkins’ love. Brooklyn had just brewed a cup of tea; she knows I prefer a ceramic cup.

My friend Vic was there. “Dr. Joe, Veterans Day is coming; have a happy one,” he remarked.

“I don’t see how that’s possible considering what it took to become a veteran,” I said. “Although, there was the time a pilot of a 707 moved me from coach to first class for wearing the uniform. I sat right next to Ann-Margret. You don’t forget something like that.”

He pulled up a chair and said, “Tell me about Ann-Margret.”

There wasn’t much to tell, even though the singer/actress/dancer and I spoke incessantly during the flight. I was en route from New York to L.A., heading to Vietnam.


“What was it like to fly to Vietnam?” Vic asked.

From L.A. we took a bus to Norton Air Force Base. We drove into the gate; there were students protesting the war, urging us not to go. I read their signs. I felt queasy. As we crossed the tarmac toward the aircraft sitting on a dark runway, a nun handed each Marine a rosary. “God bless you and bring you home safely,” she said. What a remarkable woman she must have been to do that.

I was commanding the contingent of Marines going over and was the last to board. As our eyes met, it was clear she and I both knew that God would not return all safely. “God speed, Lieutenant!” She handed me the rosary and began to cry. That was the first time I knew fear.

Nonetheless, we left with high spirits to Vietnam. It was a purpose that gives credence to the old adage that war is only for young men.

I sat between two seasoned sergeants; opened a new journal, titled it 1970 and recorded my first thought, an aberration of the 23rd Psalm. “Jan. 10, 1970; …though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…and I am the meanest mother in the valley.” Regardless, I could not mitigate the fear.

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