Forum provides space for Vermont veterans to share stories
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — For more than 40 years since serving in the Vietnam War, Rutland Town resident Adrian Megrath has carried with him the memory of lightly catching a trip wire on his boot and almost setting off a grenade.
Luckily, Megrath didn’t step far enough forward to set the grenade off, but he said, “I looked over and the grenade was halfway out of the can.”
Megrath recalled the story on Sunday in Burlington during a Veterans Town Hall, during which about 15 war veterans of all ages shared stories of fear, grief, humor and togetherness.
The event, which was held at City Hall, was meant to foster understanding among those who fought in wars and the people for whom they fought. About 40 to 50 people attended the forum, which came before Saturday’s Veterans Day.
Megrath said he was a point-man on a patrol at the time of the grenade incident.
“Being point-man on a patrol, if there was anything that was going to bother some of us while we were out there, I was the first guy who was going to catch it,” Megrath said.
Megrath said he signaled to his patrol to hold on when he noticed the wire. Another guy in the patrol pushed the grenade back into the can and cut the wire. Megrath said he never served as point-man on a patrol again.
“That has stuck with me for 40-plus years,” he said. Megrath added that it took him about 30 years before he would tell that story.
Megrath said when he came back to the U.S., the reception he and others were given “was almost as bad as what we were doing in Vietnam.”
“I had eggs thrown at me, I was called names, spit on,” Megrath said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
Chris Boutin of Milton, served more recently and said his troubles after arriving home had more to do with his having given up his individuality to fight as a team. Boutin said he first served with the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2008 and then with the Vermont Army National Guard from 2008 to 2012.
Boutin was eventually discharged from the army due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When I got out, I was lost for a little while,” Boutin said. “I couldn’t keep any jobs, I always had an excuse to blame it on, and I turned to drinking. I had a lot of friends who started committing suicide.”
Boutin said many of his friends were also angry about the government, including U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He decided to go back to school and help be part of a solution.
Boutin graduated from the Community College of Vermont and now studies psychology at St. Michael’s College. He has also gotten involved in several community organizations, including Green Mountain Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which fosters rehabilitation through fly fishing.
Boutin said he is glad people are coming together to try to help veterans, and he is looking forward to being part of that solution by pursuing a career in social work.
“When you’re in, you give up your individuality and you become a team,” Boutin said. “When you get out, you get out alone and you come home and you’re alone and everything you’ve done up until that point when you’re in the military, you’ve done for others.”
Fellow veteran Jon Turner of Bristol, who owns Wild Roots Farm, said he has been waiting for a forum like Sunday’s to occur so the community can understand who veterans were and who they are now. Turner served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years and did three deployments to both Haiti and Iraq.
Turner said few people in the U.S. other than fellow veterans understand what it is like for young men and women to go off and fight in conflicts. He said coming home to this can be a shock, and it took him 10 years to realize he never wanted to come home.
“I think that subconsciously, during my last deployment to Iraq, I had reached that point where the inevitable truth of death was far too close,” Turner said. “I had to be able to accept that in order to go forward and continue on the mission I knew I was supposed to be fulfilling.”
Turner said storytelling is one of the things that has helped him reintegrate back into “normal life” in the U.S., along with community organizations that have formed to help rehabilitate veterans.
“The impact that this will have is beyond what you can even begin to imagine,” Turner said of Sunday’s event.
Information from: The Burlington Free Press, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com