MY STORY AS THE CHILD OF A VIETNAM VETERAN
By Danielle K. Reyes
My Father Reuben “Bud” C. Perry III joined the U.S. Navy when he was 17 years of age, during the Vietnam War. He did not wait to be drafted. He grew up in a small town in the state of Maine. Having no hopes of going to college and knowing that his number would be called in the draft. He did what any red blooded American would do when his country called in it’s time of need; he was a true patriot, he went to war.
As much as I would like to be able to say that I am not angry, hurt and disgusted at what happened in the Vietnam War and the domino effect that it has had in my life, I cannot. I thought that I could bury it with my Dad the day that we put him in the ground, I was wrong! The feelings grew. They got bigger than life. They consumed me. I still try to hide from the anger and pain that it has caused me but I know now that will never happen.
As an adult with a daughter of my own and a life long history of illness I can no longer sit silently! I must find my voice, I must find courage to stand up and fight for the help that should rightfully be mine and every other child of a Vietnam Veteran.
As a young child I had no idea what war was or the fact that my father had been to war. I do remember the day that I found out. It was early in the morning, mum was up and dad was still in bed. I said “you would have to be crazy to go to war”. Well I was told then in no uncertain terms not to say that. My mother then told me that my Dad had gone to war. That my Dad had fought in the Vietnam War. At that time I had no idea what the Vietnam War was or even where Vietnam was, or what it meant for me. Ah the innocents of being a child. I think that was the day my entire life changed forever. I was never the normal kid. I always had problem. I was always sick never understood why but I could now add that I was the child of a Vietnam Veteran and with that came a stigma that I could not understand.
Just writing this, the scars are reopening, gaping, oozing with nastiness and pain. As I hold back the anger and tears I know that I cannot run away from this that I must tell my story, hoping that many more like myself will come forward and do the same!
I started having real problems when I was in second grade, a lot of what went on is hazy, and I can only remember parts. I began to develop sever muscle spasms in my neck that would last about two weeks. It only got worse from there. By fifth grade I had lost my ability to walk and was in a wheel chair. My parents no longer knew what to do. They we at a loss. There were doctor appointments after, doctor appointments, MRI’s, cat scans, bone scans but, still no answers.
As a mother I cannot imagine what they must have been going through. Alas the doctors with all the tests and diplomas could only come up with “she must be faking. It is all in her head, she is not really in pain”.
What do you do with that?
I still can’t wrap my brain around it! I get so angry!
My first real diagnosis was Conversion Disorder. A condition that as an adult I still struggle with. Conversion disorder can be very painful and debilitating at times. (This was a diagnosis by the Chief of staff from the Shriners hospital).
This thing, this conversion disorder had hindered my ability to live the life that a “normal” child should have. It changed life as I knew it. I was unable to attend school most of the time. I was taken out of main stream classes and placed in the special education room from fifth grade through seventh grade. During those years I went to a therapist to learn how to deal with my conversion disorder; I hated it! Although it did help me, I was able to learn how to cope the best I could.
Meanwhile the actions taken by the school administration in my opinion was unconscionable! They wanted to place me in an intuition! They accused my parents of making me sick, when all they were trying to do was get me the help that I so desperately needed! My mother had to contact the Human Rights Commission at one point because the school refused to make the bathroom handicap accessible or put a ramp into the school so I was able to gain access to the building. The PET committee thought that the student aid should have me disrobe in there presence and then carry me into the bathroom stall and back out.
In the end the school was forced to install a wheel chair ramp as well as a handicap bathroom stall. I was unaware until years later that my father had to build the bathroom stall.
By eighth grade I was main streamed back into regular classes. It was not easy but it was a good thing. That year was the only good experience that I ever had in school. I attended high school for a year and a half and just could not bring myself to go back. I dropped out and was able to get a home based tutor and by the age of twenty earned my high school diploma.
Life at home with a Vietnam Veteran was no cake walk. It was just the opposite. It was hell! Don’t get me wrong there were good times but the horrific ones just seem to override them. When I was fifteen is when I clearly remember the flashbacks, there were many before that but I either blocked them out or was just to young to understand or remember what was happening. The flashbacks were terrifying. He would just disappear and this monstrous rage would take over. He was no longer with us; he was in Vietnam and we were the gooks as I so often heard the Vietcong referred to.
Now we are going down a dark path, of which I care not to go but, unfortunaetly to tell my story I must walk this path once again.
As the years went by and go by my list of illnesses get longer and longer. None of them go away they just accumulate, some things I have no diagnosis for because doctors just don’t know what this problem is or what that problem is. So I hang in limbo, waiting, hoping that I will someday get the medical help that I and many other children and grandchildren of Vietnam Veterans need.
My Dad was my best friend. He was a good man but the Vietnam War tormented him and in turn made our lives (his family) a living nightmare! We never knew what to expect. Would he be Dad or would he be the monster that the PTSD turned him into, I never new what to expect. All I knew is that I loved my Dad no matter what and would stand by him while he relived the horrors that he saw in Southeast Asia in Vietnam. I wasn’t born till many years after Dads service but I have all but been to Vietnam. I am the living portrait of a war vet that had never been to war or enlisted into the military, I have felt the horror, I have felt the fear, I have felt the torment of war. I am the product of what happens when a country turns its back on their warriors. I am the product of biological warfare. I am tormented by design.
As I go backward in time in my memories I feel myself reliving it all. To write my story is kind of like torture that I wish to no longer endure! Yet immersed in it I must go on. My story must be told and so must the story of every child of a Vietnam Veteran.
Remembering anything before the age of fifteen is almost impossible. I get little blips and pieces it is like watching
TO BE CONTINUED!
~ Danielle K. Reyes