November 19th, 2012 14:18 EST
Fred Rendon, Jr. Battles PTSD, Helps Other Vets Find Hope with New Book, Echoes of PTSD
Fred Rendon, Jr. woke up after a thirty-year nightmare just five years ago. He jokingly referred to himself as "Rip Van Winkle" and making light of his experience is telling of just how far he has come. For more than four decades, 64-year-old Rendon was wracked with guilt, anxiety and depression, a potent formula for post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD).
It is pitch dark and I have never been so terrified in my life. The darkness I am experiencing is another new awakening in my being. It is consuming my every thought with fear " fear like I have never felt. It is hard to experience this degree of darkness until you`ve been in a country where electricity does not exist. "The noise is roaring, and because of the pouring rain my sight is limited to total blackness. I am 18 and halfway around the world fighting for my country in a place called Vietnam, ten thousand miles away from home."
So opens Rendon`s book, Echoes of PTSD (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, October 2012), an autobiographical account of his experiences in Vietnam, and the subsequent disorder that, as Rendon put it, stole more than half of his life away.
The Harlingen native decided to enlist in the army when he was just 16 years old, but he had to wait for his 17th birthday, and get signatures from his mother and father in order to enlist. He spent a few months in Okinawa, Japan until he turned 18. Then he was shipped off to boot camp.
"Some funny stuff happened there, at boot camp. But you know, it wasn`t funny at all at the time," Rendon said lightly. "The names they`d call you, the things they`d have you do, were sometimes ridiculous."
Rendon was a driver in Vietnam so he didn`t see as much combat as some, he said. However, he was involved in several skirmishes and gunfire exchanges, and he is confident that he killed more than one man during his time as a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps. After a tour of nearly five years, Rendon received Vietnam Campaign, Vietnam Service and good conduct medals, and returned home in 1969.
When he arrived, he found that he was not the same man, he said, and he couldn`t live a normal life.
The worst part was coming back here and not fitting into society. I was going to the Veterans Administration and being treated pretty badly. "I went to the VA in Dallas and told them I was hearing echoes in my ears and having a lot of problems and they said, "Were you shot in the head?` And I said, `no,`" Rendon said. (The VA representative) said, "Well then, there`s not too much we can do for you. And furthermore, you better be careful, because a lot of those guys who get hearing problems like that end up committing suicide, but we can`t do anything for you.`"
He pursued an education and earned a degree in English, then he taught for a few years, but he said he felt like a fraud. He had a wife, with whom he had two daughters, but he regrets that he wasn`t as available as he wanted to be. He found himself holing up in his bedroom more often than not, curling into the fetal position and crying, unable to escape the grip of depression.
"I was never shot or wounded," Rendon said. So I had a lot of guilt that I was suffering from PTSD when I was around these other guys who had seen way more combat than I did. I just felt like a loser, like I didn`t deserve counseling when these `real marines` and `real soldiers` had been through so much worse. Suicide began to seem like a better and better option. I used to think of the guys that had died (in combat), and feel envious of them, like they were the lucky ones."
Rendon recalled a specific incident in which he watched a friend he`d gone to high school with release a prisoner of war for a laugh. The man sent German shepherds after the POW; the dogs chased and attacked him viciously, visibly ripping his flesh. Rendon protested, and his friend laughed him off, and then shot the man in the head. It was one of the scenarios that haunted him the most.
"It never dawned on me to (tell counselors) that I`d been in a firefight, or I had watched a guy kill another guy, because we all went through that," he said. I said, "I just can`t be around people. I get very sad, I cry for no reason, and I don`t know what to do.` I just wanted somebody to help me learn how to keep a job and live a life. I didn`t know how to ask them, and they didn`t know how to help me, so it made for a pretty difficult life. You lose self-esteem. You become nothing."
PTSD is known to cause intense nightmares, trouble sleeping, extreme anxiety, an inability to interact normally with others (particularly in large groups), depression and crippling flashbacks. These symptoms lead many to turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate, Rendon said. He himself dealt with an alcohol problem for many years until he was introduced to a program called Pathways in 2007, which was created by TV psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw. Rendon credits the program with saving his life, and now he`s made it his mission to help other veterans find the rehabilitative program, and also get all the benefits that they are due.
So Rendon decided to start his own non-profit organization, SAVE: Special Assistance for Veterans Endeavors. Rendon acts as an advocate and liaison between veterans and the VA. He contacts local veterans and veterans` hospitals, to help file and secure claims for benefits that they are due because of their status as wounded or mentally disturbed to the point where they are unable to provide for themselves and their families. One hundred percent of the proceeds of his sales of Echoes of PTSD go to the organization, and will fund other soldiers` opportunities to get treatment. His book is available for purchase on his web site, www.fredrendon.com.
"I met one guy, he was out on the street as I was driving by, and he had a military cap on," Rendon said. I noticed he only had one leg. I stopped and we started talking about our experiences, and I said, "So are they going to get you a new leg?` He said he applied for it two years ago, but it hadn`t arrived."
Rendon felt compelled to take action. He made calls to the Veteran Administration, to the VA Hospital in Dallas, to his contacts in Kansas, and finally, a few weeks later, a prosthetic leg arrived for his new friend, Paco Juarez. Currently, he is fighting to get a Purple Heart commendation for another veteran, Steve Garcia, who recently had part of his leg amputated due to a long-ago Vietnam wound exacerbated by a recent injury. It was thanks in part to Rendon that Garcia was able to secure a motorized wheel chair by filing a benefits claim. These are just two of many veterans whose benefits Rendon has fought for, alongside other Harlingen veterans, in an attempt, he said, to give back just a little of what he got.
For Veteran`s Day, Rendon will be celebrating with fellow veterans at the opening of the Veteran`s Memorial at Pendleton Park in Harlingen. The memorial includes a rock wall, and a brick walkway. Each brick is inscribed with the name of a local veteran, and bricks are available for purchase to commemorate a friend or a loved one lost in a war. The park has been under construction since March, and it will have its dedication ceremony today at 9:30 a.m. This success is just one milestone in a long and continuing road for Rendon. He is grateful to have found help, and wants to send a message to other veterans that they are not alone.
"I think the most important thing to me, is I want (other veterans) to learn what the symptoms (of PTSD) are, and if you have them, don`t be embarrassed. Ask for help. Call me, write to me. This is just my story, and I`m lucky I`m still here to tell it."
Echoes of PTSD is available for purchase at www.fredrendon.com. All proceeds will benefit his non-profit organization, SAVE. You can also contact Rendon if you or someone you know is a struggling veteran in need of help.
by Madeleine Smither
Madeleine Smither covers features and entertainment at The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.