I have a friend from college whose name is not important but I think his life story is. I graduated in 1966 and he in 1967. His father was an exec at a large corporation and while his upbringing included private prep school, year abroad, and a private college he was an unpretentious regular guy.
After graduation he joined the Army and served in Viet Nam. He was an RTO or Radio Telephone Operator, so he carried the communications equipment for the officer in charge. On January 25th 1969 his unit, Company C, 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry was on a reconnaissance mission near Thu Thua. They were ambushed and there was fierce fire fight. The commanding officer was mortally wounded and my friend took over and directed the maneuvers of his company. He exposed himself to the barrage of enemy fire and adjusted artillery supporting fires and tactical air strikes. For his extraordinary heroism he was awarded the Silver Star.
After leaving the military, with more than a dozen other awards including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, he went to the Law School where he did very well and made Law Review. Following graduation he went to work for a prestigious law firm in San Francisco. He met a woman who would later be his wife and life partner. Here was a guy around 30 who had a very good job, was in love, and was a well decorated war hero. Life must have looked very good.
About this time I had a business trip to San Francisco and called his office to arrange seeing him for lunch or dinner. A co-worker answered and informed me that he had suffered a heart attack. Upon recovering he was advised that the practice of law was probably too stressful so he got a job teaching law. He taught for seven years and was so distinguished the school gives out the an award in his name each year. Unfortunately, at age 40 he suffered a stroke and had to give up teaching.
It has now been determined that his medical problems stem from exposure to Agent Orange while in Viet Nam.
For the last 25 years his intelligent caring brave man has not able to read. He lives in a retirement home. He is able to go the store, fix meals for himself, watch television. He can travel and goes to Viet Nam reunions to see his buddies. He also spends a lot of time with his wife, who has MS so bad she is confined to a wheel chair in the same retirement home.
In 2009 I and some other college friends met him in Chicago. We went to a Cubs game then drove to Milwaukee and caught a Brewers game. Last summer I was in the Midwest and was able to spend half a day and him and introduce him to my daughter and granddaughter.
Whenever I am with him or on the phone with him, he is positive and upbeat. He never bemoans his fate. He makes me realize how lucky I am. Of course, he has his health, which is very good given the heart attack and stroke; a great relationship with his wife; nieces and nephews who love and respect him; and friends who understand his sacrifice. I would guess that he considers himself luckier than many.