- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) - Sleep for Vietnam veteran Fred Rendon Jr. was not an option.

“It’s a good time to die,” he explained to the Valley Morning Star (https://bit.ly/1LjbKId) of Harlingen. “It’s a good time to get killed,” Rendon said.

Author of the just released “My Battle With PTSD,” Rendon chronicles his battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which shadowed his life for years.

For the now 67-year-old Rendon, who has lived in California, Dallas, Brownsville, McAllen and now Harlingen, it all started when he was 18 years old.

“I felt there was something wrong with me when I returned,” Rendon said of when he came home in 1967 after his tour in Vietnam in 1966. He didn’t know what was wrong with him.

Nobody did.

“I knew that I couldn’t be around people anymore,” he recalled.

“I felt very uncomfortable. I hated to look people in the eye.”

Writing the book, he hopes, leads to a better understanding of the disorder, and helps families of veterans understand, but also know it is manageable.

His feelings of desperation upon his return from Vietnam were in sharp contrast to his life prior to joining the Marine Corps in 1966.

“Before Vietnam, I was out singing in little clubs, night clubs. That is when the Beatles first came out,” he reminisced.

A musician, Rendon had been a backup vocalist in a group with Dusty Hill and Rocky Hill, who would subsequently be in a group that became the American rock band ZZ Top. “But when I returned I couldn’t be around people. That was part of the question of, ‘What’s going on with me?’

“Everything changed. I didn’t know why,” he recounted.

At the time, little did he know he would embark on a life filled with inner turmoil, drugs, alcohol and marital problems. And although he was able to find jobs, he was unable to keep them.

“As time passed, I continued feeling more and more worthless. I would wake up hung over or simply so depressed that I couldn’t go to work,” Rendon recalled.

“I couldn’t understand myself. Sometimes I felt like fighting and then sometimes I felt overwhelmingly scared.”

When in Vietnam one day, three guards had been on perimeter duty about 100 yards from his post. “All three of them fell asleep at the same time, and the next morning they were found. All three of them had their throats slit,” he said.

“For me that was a certain wakeup call - I’m not sleeping anymore until I get home.”

But when home, he couldn’t sleep either.

His mother later told him that, “I couldn’t sleep at night. I would scream and yell, had nightmares. I couldn’t sleep at night.”

“Those are some of the things I brought back with me, but it never dawned on me to put that and this together. I was 18 years old. I had no idea. I kept getting into trouble because I would drink to calm myself down. Then drinking became a problem. I began drinking too much, but that is the only thing I could do to let me rest for a little while,” he recounted.

He sought help the year after his return. He felt nervous all of the time, sure someone would attack him from behind. He felt very paranoid.

A psychiatrist dismissed Vietnam right away.

“They said probably when I got home my parents had separated right before I got back and something about an Oedipus complex - you want to marry your mother, and hate your father. Oh my God!” he said. “But that’s what they said,” Rendon recalled. “But all my brothers were there, my mother was there, everybody was the same, except me. I had changed dramatically.”

“I had participated in shooting and probably killed some people and watched people get killed. That was part of being there, seeing death and dealing with death. But I didn’t think it affected me,” he said.

Soon after he arrived in California from Vietnam, he was hitchhiking in uniform and a motorist tried to strike him. “Too many people were upset with us. That added to the confusion,” he said.

Rendon also chronicles his experiences with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “I found out real quick they didn’t like veterans,” he said, recalling he was asked at a VA hospital how much money he planned on getting out of the VA. “I had no idea there was compensation. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me,” he said.

“The VA is a mess and it has always been a mess. It was all about them. Their goal became how do we turn veterans down?” Rendon said.

Veterans die waiting for assistance. “A dead veteran is a dead claim,” he observed.

It would take Rendon some 25 years for the VA to recognize some of his service-connected ailments.

He filed his first claim with the VA in November 1980 and it has been a lifelong struggle with the VA.

“Even when they know exactly what it is, when you tell them, when you can show them everything, they will still deny you and continue to deny. It’s a game the VA plays. It’s a game they play today. It’s a game they play every day,” he said.

His life changed in 2006 when he discovered a counseling organization in Dallas called Pathways. The nonprofit organization notes it has several missions, including reaching out to veterans and their families in helping them find the piece of themselves left behind on the battlefield.

“It helped immensely and turned my life around,” he said, adding this is one of the reasons he wrote the book, to tell veterans and their families there is help.

“If you don’t do something, it will stay with you all your life. It stays with you,” he said.

Rendon tries to stay focused and optimistic.

“You don’t see when you’re walking how far you have walked. I don’t turn and look back. I just keep walking. I just keep walking and that’s what I do,” he said.


Information from: Valley Morning Star, https://www.valleystar.com

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