By Bob Leary
Weaverville – On an October Tuesday night in the basement of the Weaverville Library, I got to share in the stories of some extraordinary Vietnam Veterans. The group is called Brothers Like These.
The program began in the basement of the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, and encouraged by Dr. Bruce Kelly, their primary care physician who had started a writing class, they wrote down their stories from the war to help them cope with the traumas they were carrying. Most didn’t know they had PTSD until after they retired.
Eight men made up the group of vets, some of whom grew up in Western North Carolina, ready to share their stories with us, other vets and the general public. They were speaking to their friends and neighbors, and as one vet said, it was much easier talking to strangers than to share these stories with people they knew.
One by one, Ron Poler, Allan Perkal, Stephen Henderson, David Rafoth, John Sitman, Michael Ireland, David Robinson, and Butch Gudger, came to the podium to tell their stories. Some more practiced than others, some stories lighter than others, some evoked the horror that they had experienced, but all were touching. Some talked of their time at war, some spoke of friends who didn’t make it back, some told of coming back home and being rejected by the very people they hoped would welcome them with open arms, and recognize their sacrifice.
The goal of this group, and a non-profit that they started, is to reach out to veterans who had not gotten any treatment, fellow Vietnam Vets and also branching out to vets, male or female, from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
One of the comments that touched me was when one of the men said “We don’t want to be thanked for our service. We just want to be welcomed home!”
Author’s Note: Their stories are also available in book form and on Amazon in Kindle format.