A Veteran’s Tale
Veteran’s Day is November 11. It’s a day to remember all veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
A Marine’s Story
My dad was a Vietnam Veteran, honorably discharged in May 1972 as a staff sergeant in the First Marine Division, First Recon Batallion. He enlisted in 1966 and served two tours in Vietnam, returning home in November of 1969. His military service was a huge part of who he was every day, but growing up I knew very little about it.
As a kid, I don’t remember being told not to ask him about his time in Vietnam, but somehow I knew not to and it seemed like everyone else knew, too. We had pictures that showed his time in country: receiving his promotions and medals, cleaning his weapon, one with my dad sporting a cast on each leg, and many of him horsing around with his fellow jarheads. One time I asked about his buddies, all smiles and full of hijinx in the pictures. His response was quiet and minimal, “All of those men died.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, I think he was talking about himself, too. He never talked about Vietnam, but really, he never talked about much at all. My dad was strong and silent and anyone who knew him would agree–the quintessential Marine. It’s hard to believe that in his self-imposed silence, he was also an incredibly successful salesman who spent three decades selling furniture to half of Washtenaw County from the showroom floor at Tyner’s. If you ever shopped at Tyner, you might remember Bob Arreguin. And if so, you already know him almost as well as I did.
That’s because, for the forty years since his discharge, my dad suffered from undiagnosed PTSD along with a half dozen other service-related injuries. Some of his injuries we knew about from the beginning, like his tinnitus and hearing loss. Others, like heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes, came along a little later but like many of the men in his age group at the time, these were attributed to aging and poor diet. His bout with prostate cancer was as common among men in his age group as his heart disease was so that, too, was dismissed as routine, after his final treatment was successful.
Then, in the summer of 2009, I received a call from my dad’s boss. He had just sent my dad home for the day after he’d been found confused and crying at his desk. What? Confused and crying? MY dad? I’d seen my dad cry exactly one time in my life and that was when my mother died, so whatever this was, it was big.
It turned out his boss had been worried about him for a few months, having noticed my dad struggling with basic math and requiring the use of a calculator for the first time in his career. Knowing my dad as well as he did, he knew better than to ask but when he found him crying, he couldn’t ignore it anymore.
From that day, it took more than three years to get my dad a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. After countless appointments with doctors from every specialty in every nearby medical system–St. Joe’s, U of M, and finally, when his insurance and options had run out, the VA (United States Department of Veterans Affairs)--we learned my dad had Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) and that it was progressive and incurable. We also learned that it, along with every one of my dad’s other health problems, was the direct result of his exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.
After not showing even minimal improvement from his LBD treatment, my dad was also diagnosed with trauma, anxiety, depression, and complex PTSD. His brain had already deteriorated so much that treatment for LBD–or any of his other conditions–was no longer possible. Staff Sergeant J. Robert (Bob) Arreguin was gone long before his tired and wrecked body finally expired in 2014.
The collection of service-related maladies that isolated my dad from his family and that eventually took his life were: tinnitus, hearing loss, heart disease, two heart attacks, Type 2 diabetes, two bouts of prostate cancer, Lewy Body Dementia, Complex PTSD, Anxiety and Depression. So personally, I don’t think that parades, ceremonies, or flags ‘honor’ him or the millions of other veterans. I think we use those things to convince ourselves we’re taking care of our veterans while we ignore the serious challenges they face post-service.
Let’s Do Better
I shared my dad’s story to cast light on some of the unseen struggles many veterans face after their service ends, sometimes long after. On Veterans Day, we remember their service to us. Let’s not forget our service to them.
Ooh-rah, Dad. Semper Fi.