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Fred Rendon Jr. served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He said he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for many years, but found a program that helped him recover.
By ALLEN ESSEX
HARLINGEN " From 1964 to 1973, a total of 58,209 American soldiers, Marines, Air Force personnel and sailors died in the Vietnam War, 47,424 of those in combat. Also, 153,303 service members were wounded. But those statistics don`t include those who still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other emotional scars from their Vietnam service.
PTSD, known as "combat fatigue" in World War II, and "shell shock" in World War I, sometimes is not even diagnosed until years after soldiers return home.
A Harlingen man who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam said he suspected there was something wrong with him even while he was still on active duty. But military psychiatrists told him tests showed he was normal, Fred Rendon Jr. said.
Born in Dallas, Rendon sang with a small band when he was about 14, he said.
"We used to play in little honky-tonks," he said.
"I didn`t play an instrument, I was mostly background (vocalist). I played a guitar a little bit. ¦ We just had a little band that would go around and play in these little places, little holes in the wall."
His singing career ended when his family moved to Bakersfield, Calif., Rendon said.
"My father took us out there, thinking we were going to get rich picking grapes," he said.
After his service in Vietnam, he never again would have dreamed of singing in public or appearing on a stage, he said.
"In `65, I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17," Rendon said. "I joined in August of `65 and by May of `66, I was on a ship to go overseas. ¦ I was only 17. I had to wait six months until I turned 18. Then I was in Vietnam seven months."
Rendon doesn`t consider himself a hardened combat veteran.
"I was not any kind of a hero, I was not a big killer, none of that stuff," he said. "Mostly I was frightened, I was very scared."
However, his job as a Jeep driver sometimes took him in harm`s way, he said.
"I had a couple of occasions when I was actually involved in combat," he said.
"It was while I was taking a second lieutenant out to his base. When we got out there, they started getting hit by the Viet Cong. ¦ After a few minutes, the commanding officer yelled at me to go over to a bunker where a Marine had just been killed. I took over a .50-caliber machine gun in a big sand bunker."
The noise of the machine guns probably accounts for hearing loss he has now, Rendon said.
"It was very traumatic for me," he said. "I don`t recall what happened. All I remember is shooting ¦ watching the little parachutes with the illumination flares and the tracers and hearing people screaming for the medics or screaming for their mother, they don`t want to die, they don`t want to die."
The next thing he recalls is being back at his base camp two days later, he said.
After that first firefight, the war became much more real to him, he said.
Another similar incident involved taking an Air Force officer to a forward base that came under attack while he was there, Rendon said.
He said he and fellow Marines kept going out on routine patrols. "I was a Jeep driver and so I would oftentimes be out in front, following the mine weepers and probers as they swept and probed for land mines."
Fright turned in to numbness, he said.
"You`d get tired of being scared, but you can`t stop it," he said. "I think that`s what gets your emotions all screwed up. You get so tired, but you can`t stop. It just goes on and on and on."
The PTSD he later learned he had is probably from an accumulation of all his experiences in Vietnam, he said.
After returning from Vietnam, he repeatedly got in trouble in the Marine Corps from drinking or breaking rules, Rendon said. He was discharged as a private, just as he had entered service.
After his service, he worked in a long series of dead-end jobs, he said.
"I worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken, I swept warehouses, I sold pots and pans, I worked in an auto body shop, I was a bill collector, I did telemarketing for The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Times-Herald and I worked at a furniture store in Dallas," he said.
Many times he was fired for being late to work after staying up all night, unable to sleep, or from drinking and making excuses.
After he left the Marine Corps, he spent years going to Veterans Administration hospitals, asking for help, but received only tests and pills, Rendon said.
After years of trying to get help through the VA, now Department of Veterans Affairs, he sought help from a program developed by television psychologist Phil McGraw.
By using a systematic approach of group therapy and counseling sessions, Pathways helped him learn to get up each morning with enthusiasm for a new day, Rendon said. He now can socialize with others and is reconnecting with family and friends, he said.
"All I know is that it worked for me. I would like to see if it can help other veterans."
He helps other veterans in dealing with DVA paperwork and other issues, he said.
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