More than 8,000 miles and three decades separate the quiet fields at Jubilee Farm west of Springfield from the violence and death of the Vietnam War. But for Richard Tapia, a Springfield veteran of the Vietnam War, there is a common element to both places: the camaraderie and trust of a fellow veteran.
Tapia spent part of his day on July 9 volunteering with another Vietnam veteran at Jubilee Farm, 6760 Old Jacksonville Rd., a 111-acre nature center operated by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield.
“Part of it is, let’s see what good we can do in the community,” Tapia says. “We’re hoping to draw our veteran brothers and sisters out and participate.”
Tapia and the other veteran, who asked to be identified only as “a veteran representing those who didn’t come home,” are part of a group of veterans that meets weekly at the Springfield VA Outpatient Clinic, 5850 S. Sixth Street, to fraternize and support one another as they discuss their experiences.
Though their efforts at the farm were meant to benefit the Catholic-run ministry, the two veterans say they have other reasons for donating their labor.
“I know there’s a lot of veterans that have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] – a lot of returning veterans, young ones – and we’re going through the same kind of stuff,” Tapia says of his fellow Vietnam veterans. “I guess we want to kind of mentor the younger ones.”
The other veteran volunteering with Tapia explains even more personal motivations.
“One of the reasons that us Vietnam veterans are coming out here is that we tried to help the South Vietnamese, and we came back and were chastised for it,” he says. “It still didn’t stop us from trying to help others. Veterans help each other; it’s in a veteran’s DNA – not to kill and maim, but to help.”
Both men carry with them the emotional scars of a prolonged war they experienced firsthand: the loss of friends in combat, the gruesome visage of death that surrounded them constantly and the poor treatment they received when they returned home from service. For these veterans, the peace and beauty of Jubilee Farm offers a release and a respite from questions about their purpose in the war and why they survived.
“In the back of our minds, we’ll forever be trying to show those people out on the outside that we weren’t bad people,” the anonymous veteran says. “We were good people, we did our job, and we’re still helping people. Maybe it will sink in, because there’s still a lot of hatred for the Vietnam War out there. There will always be people that feel that way, but we’re not animals. We’re normal people, and we like to help people.”
Tapia especially worries that large numbers of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will have similar issues when they return home, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
That worry seems to have already come to fruition, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs which says that almost 45 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who sought VA services through September 2008 were diagnosed with possible psychological disorders. Another VA-sponsored study in 2009 showed that rates of PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans rose from 0.2 percent in 2001 to 21.8 percent in 2008.
Although only the two veterans volunteered July 9, they are hoping that other veterans will join them each week to help make a difference and build on their common bond of service.
“This is also our way of inviting younger vets to get out of where they’re at mentally,” Tapia says. “We were there once. Don’t be there.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.