- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Whether he’s preaching at Destiny Baptist Church on a Sunday morning, or serving breakfast to children at Burke Street Elementary School, Lorenzo Everett does whatever he can to make a positive impact on his community.

However, Everett, a Vietnam veteran deployed on two tours of duty, said his life hasn’t always been that way, especially since he had a difficult time transitioning to civilian life after his military experience.

Everett, who grew up in North Carolina, was drafted into the United States Army in 1967. Though he was already married and had enrolled to go to college, Everett said he “had no choice” but to serve in the military.

“With the draft, you either answered the call, went to jail or tried to run,” he said. “I had too many people I cared about here to take any other option.”

Everett said he was stationed in the Quang Tri province in Northern Vietnam from February 1968 to February 1969, with an infantry unit of the 1st Air Cavalry Division.

He said adapting to the physical climate of Vietnam, which he described as wet and hot with temperatures reaching above 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, as well as the reality of war was difficult for him as a young man.

“It was amazing, and it was an adventure. As a young man, I saw it like a challenge. After seeing what we were doing, and seeing people dying around me, it changed me. It’ll change your whole life,” Everett said.

Everett said once, his unit went into a mission with 275 men, and only 35 men came out alive.

Despite the experiences Everett had in Vietnam, he said returning home was “shocking” as he faced racial prejudice and a public distaste for the war in general.

“Coming back home, the way people treated you was crazy. People turned their back on you,” he said. “Being a black man, it was like you were fighting two wars: The one you fight in for your country and the war for your own dignity. I really felt like I was better off overseas.”

Everett said his treatment when he was home led him to enlist for a second time, this time with the 184th Ordnance Battalion in Danang, Vietnam, working on aircraft.

When Everett was finished with his second deployment, he said his life took a “crazy turn.” Having difficulty adjusting to a civilian life, Everett said he turned to drugs, and his addiction caused him to have difficulty keeping a job.

“I was a functional addict, and it finally got to the point when I just felt like I wanted to give up. I had been trying to get into a (treatment) program, but people kept saying I was having problems because I was in the war,” he said.

In 2001, feeling hopeless and helpless, Everett said he decided to sleep on the lawn of the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg “to see if someone would do something.”

Everett said he got the help he needed, and has been clean for 22 years, but said he still had problems.

“Being in the war overtook me, that was when I lost a part of myself. For someone who wasn’t there to try to imagine what it was like in Vietnam, it’s hard to understand,” he said. “Forty-some years later, I still have a hard time. Most of the things that went on, we tried to forget.”

Now, Everett said he has turned his life around and has been ordained as a deacon at Destiny Baptist Church in Martinsburg. Everett said his faith has always been part of his life.

Everett said he has been recognized by the Martinsburg City Council for his volunteer work in schools and churches, and in addition to his work in the community, he enjoys spending time with his daughters and grandchildren. Everett is also an avid bowler, and said “bowling is my outlet.”

“I give back because I’ve been given a lot,” he said. “I know there were times I should have been gone. I saw some things and did some things I’m not proud of, but God kept me on this earth because I still have a lot of good work to do.”


Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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