“Depression and booze became my main-stay in life”

Specialist 6th Class Nelson Wheatley
Multiple tours of duty in Vietnam

I’m 73 years old. I have been married for 43 years to a pen pal I had while I was over in Vietnam. I am Army retired and 100% disabled. I am homebound, so I spend a lot of time on this computer. I can’t walk so I use a wheelchair everywhere I go.

I joined the Army to get the training I wanted. I served from December 1962 to January 1983. While in the Army I held several MOS’s. I was an 11B (Infantry), 05C (Radio Teletypewriter Operator) and a 71D (Legal Specialist).

I volunteered for Vietnam and spent five tours over there. I was assigned to 13th Aviation Bn. at Can Tho from 65-66 (was medivaced to Camp Zama, Japan). I then served in Company B., 37th Signal Bn. at Hue/Phu Bai, Dong Ha, Quang Tri and Camp Evans from 67-68 (I was in Hue during Tet 1968). I also served with the 7/1st Cavalry at Vinh Long from 1971-1972, and the 131st Military Intelligence Company at Da Nang in 1972.

Coming Home
My last few days in-country were very exhausting. Saying goodbye to most of my friends and wishing them the best of luck was kind of rough on my nerves. It seemed like it was the longest flight. I made four trips back home from there. I had a lot of adjusting to do

The trip home was uneventful. I slept most of the way. My thoughts were of the different actions me and my friends went through while there. Some were flashbacks especially of what we found during the battle of Hue in Tet 1968. So much needless killing and just plain slaughter to the civilian population. Especially the pits full of bodies of men, women and especially the babies.

The reception in the States was horrible. I was spit on. I put up with rude comments and had bags of shit thrown at me.

I wrote my family that I was coming home, but they weren’t waiting for me. I stood at the train station by myself for a long time just trying to understand no one was there to meet me. That’s something I’ll never get over. Actually, I guess I had no real family of my own to care whether or not I came home.

While home I was treated like hell. My family and friends could care less that I made it back. I pretty much was alone almost all the time. I was never comfortable because the vets at the VFW and American Legion did not want to let me join them. They called me “a loser.” They made that perfectly clear so after a few days, I just left and headed to my next assignment

Afterward
I never really felt connected with my family after this. Now I am the sole survivor of my family.

In 1975 when Saigon fell it was just another day at Fort Bliss. I didn’t really care.

I had real problems that began after Tet of 1968 at Hue. The army wouldn’t give me any help what so ever. They didn’t even want to talk about it. They just pushed me away and said I was a mental case.

Depression and booze became my main-stay in life but with the help of a really good 1st Sergeant and a wonderful woman (who I have been married to for over 43 years now) I pulled out of the mess I got myself mixed up in. I was drinking myself into a stupor every moment, on duty or off. And now I have been able to leave it alone for over 43 years. Those two were angels to me. God bless them both.

I have some bad medical problems due to my multiple tours in Vietnam. Heart, lungs, arthritis in both knees, diabetes, hearing loss and bad PTSD.

Looking back, I have to say my wartime experiences completely changed me. I have a whole different outlook on life and people. It is very hard for me to trust and befriend people.

Vietnam was hell on this earth the 42 months I spent there, and I’ve really wondered if it was even worth it.

I hope that helps you fill in my interview. It has brought some very bloody, bad memories and nightmares back to me. Let me know if you need more information. I had a real bad time growing up and also when I spent my first years in the army. When your family treats you like hell your whole life, it takes a while to bring it all out.

Author: Jack McCabe

Jack McCabe was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from high school in 1969 at the age of 17 and two days after he turned 18 he joined the Army. He was sent to Vietnam less than a year later in October of 1970. He extended for a second tour and finally came home for good at the end of May 1972. He finished his three-year enlistment at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and returned home to Chicago. After his return from Vietnam, he pursued his education using the G.I. Bill, receiving an associate degree in electronics engineering from DeVry Institute. He eventually continued his education by attending night school and received his bachelor’s degree in business and management from Northeastern Illinois University in 1981, at the age of 30. He owned his own business for 20 years and then sold real estate for 20 more before retiring to North Carolina, where he became a certified Peer Support Specialist with a veteran designation. He has a deep passion for helping veterans doing volunteer work with the YMCA Resource Gateway in Gaston County, NC where he handles all the calls from those with past military service. He helped veterans with PTSD, financial crisis’s, substance abuse, homelessness, and veteran benefits. He received the North Carolina Governors Award for Volunteer Work. Jack believes that the most important thing he can do is to give Vietnam and all veterans a voice. By sharing their stories veterans understand that they are not alone. There are many going through the same struggles as they are. For non-veterans, he hopes they will understand the struggles veterans face when they return home from war. He has since retired and is in the process of writing another book.

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