- Associated Press - Monday, September 11, 2017

WOODWARD, Okla. (AP) - It was September of 2015 and after having been gone working as an over-the-road trucker and in power line construction for several years, David Merkerison had finally come back home to Woodward.

On this particular day in September, he decided he would go and visit the grave of his only brother, Hubert Merkerison Jr., a decorated war hero who is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

“Well, I went up to the graveyard to find his grave but the tractor has been running over his grave and I had to pull the stone up,” Merkerison said. “And that was what motivated me. I decided I was going to let everybody know who was up there.”

Who was up there was an American Hero. Merkerison’s brother had performed a little over two full tours in some of the bloodiest battlefields of Vietnam and had come home a broken man. He was the recipient of the Military Air Medal, an award for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial combat.

“He died as a result of a bar fight he got into up there in Beaver County in a little place on the Texas-Oklahoma line,” his brother said. “He just really never could get over that time he spent as a gunner and the things he did in Vietnam.”

And the problem for Merkerison was that his brother seemed only to be defined by the way he died, not the way he lived, the way he served his country or the way he came home and helped raise his only little brother.

According to the National Institute of Health, Hubert Merkerison isn’t an anomaly. In fact, he is the rule, rather than the exception. According to statistics gathered on all returning war veterans, 70 to 75 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD report physical aggression in the previous year, as compared with 17 to 29 percent of veterans without PTSD.

The problem was that when Hubert Merkerison returned from Vietnam, the idea of PTSD hadn’t even been discussed, let along studied. And there simply was no treatment for a guy who had seen and done things no one should, and yet was expected to land back in northwest Oklahoma and fit right back into his community again. Many, with no outlet for their feelings, resorted to drinking as a way to numb memories and emotions.

And so Hubert Merkerison died, it was determined nearly 40 years later, as a direct result if PTSD.

The Woodward News reports that David Merkerison began looking into how to better honor his brother.

“Well, it started out that I just wanted to put a memorial stone at my brother’s grave,” Merkerison said.

It wasn’t until he began researching how to best honor his brother that he discovered there was already an organization who realized it was high time to recognize those who died as a result of a different kind of war after Vietnam - one that still raged in their bodies and in their minds.

“I found on the computer, there were a couple of sites,” he said. “And I ran across a website for a memorial to Vietnam Vets who died after the war.

In 2004 the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Fund, the founders of The Wall - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. - created a memorial called “In Memory” for those who served and died later as a direct result of their service.

The memorial reads “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam war and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”

When Merkerison saw the site, he knew he had found the right organization to honor his brother’s sacrifice. So he began the application process, and when his brother was accepted by the organization, he was only one of five Oklahomans who have been honored for a death after serving, as a result of serving.

The honor included a ceremony that was held in Washington, D.C. at the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Hubert Merkerison’s name and his story were read at the ceremony, an event to which his brother dearly wanted to attend, but for which he could not raise enough money.

But even with the help of businesses like Butches Guns and Jewelry Station and others, there still wasn’t enough money to send him to the service.

So, at the completion of the ceremony, the officials of the Vietnam Veteran’s Fund sent Merkerison a video of the event and a yearbook, which added his brother’s name to the 3,000 others across the United States who died after serving, because of serving.

“They sent me the certificates and a DVD of the ceremony in Washington and a yearbook showing that he was one of five from the state of Oklahoma, who was honored there in Washington. And his name and story is going to be on the Virtual Vietnam Wall that travels all over the United States.

However, the funding that was raised locally was put to good use, Merkerison said.

“I used what was raised to start paying for a memorial grave marker for him,” he said. He’s still making payments on that stone - happily, he said.

And so, for anyone who wants to get to know an American Hero, Hubert Merkerison is among many others in the Elmwood Cemetery. You will know when you reach his stone.

It’s a large, dark marble stone, intricately carved with a Huey helicopter, the kind of war ship on which Hubert Merkerison was a door gunner when he served in the 162nd Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). Later, during a second tour, he served in the 121 AHC Vikings.

The stone is big, and noticeable. And just as his brother wanted since coming home to Woodward, it really says “Just who is up there.”

___

Information from: The Woodward News, https://www.woodwardnews.net

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