Veterans Tell War Stories to Newly Admiring Public
BOSTON (AP) _ When Dennis Moury came home from Vietnam in 1970, no one wanted to hear his war stories.
″In those days the guys wouldn’t even wear a uniform because they’d get hammered about it by some long-haired weirdo,″ Moury, 45, recalled. ″If you talked about the war they’d call you a baby killer.″
But since coming home last month from the Gulf War to the Boston suburb of Methuen, Moury has spoken to classes of awe-struck schoolchildren, told a businessmen’s club about the Mideast economy, and is juggling still other speaking engagements.
″It’s turned around 180 degrees,″ Moury said, echoing comments of other Gulf vets surprised that a grateful public is interested in what they have to say.
The notion of a soldier speaking out was practically unheard of in the Vietnam era.
″We just weren’t asked,″ said Tony Cuciniello, a Vietnam veteran living in El Paso, Texas. ″Never in all the time I can remember were we asked to speak.″
Now Cuciniello, who works in the public relations office at Fort Bliss, is busy fielding speaking requests for Gulf War vets.
Lt. Col. Patrick J. Barnes, a spokesman at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, also gets a steady stream of requests for soldiers to tell their stories.
″The response has been tremendous,″ Barnes said. ″People want them on a daily basis.″
Even before he returned from Saudi Arabia with his transport unit, Moury was popular with students at the Oakland Elementary School, who sent him about 50 cards and letters.
″They really spoke their minds. Most of the cards said, ‘Please don’t die,’ ″ the Army sergeant said.
Home from the war, Moury captivated his grade school audience with desert tales of camels, scorpions and life without proper bathrooms.
″I talked about the way we lived, how we ate, and how the kids there were, how our kids are so much luckier than they are,″ Moury said. ″I showed them pictures. That really struck. They loved the camels. They loved hearing how the boys there were separated from the girls.″
Lt. Col. Molly Aldassy, 41, an Army Reserve nurse from Seattle who spent two months in Saudi Arabia, has talked to her son’s fourth-grade class, and to nursing students and civic groups.
″The kid’s questions were more on the gruesome side. They wanted to know how bad the wounds were, and did I have to shoot a gun,″ Aldassy said. ″The nurses were fascinated to hear about how we operated over there.″
Speaking out can give soldiers a psychological boost, experts say.
″It’s a very therapeutic, beneficial experience,″ said Terence M. Keane, director of the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston. ″Soldiers have a real need for public support, telling people at large what has happened to them, and that can take the form of an invitation to speak.″
Even Vietnam veterans who haven’t shared directly in the Gulf War accolades could find old psychic wounds healed by new support for soldiers.
Gary Boggs, 49, a retired Army officer and a former tank commander in Vietnam, watched wistfully one day recently when throngs at Fort Bliss cheered returning Gulf troops.
A friend watching the homecoming with Boggs said her husband, another Vietnam vet, never got such a reception. ″Neither did I,″ Boggs said.
The next day, a bouquet of colored balloons arrived at Boggs’ office. With them was a note from the woman: ″This may be many, many years too late. But welcome home.″
″I felt then almost like I did when I walked up on the Vietnam memorial,″ Boggs said. ″I had a lump in my throat. I couldn’t talk.″