See the sec­ond part of our Vet­eran’s Story

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - Pete Mecca is a Viet­nam vet­eran, colum­nist and free­lance writer. You can reach him at avet­er­ansstory@gmail.com or avet­er­ansstory.us. PETE MECCA COLUM­NIST

Al­most 50 years later: The new book kept Wayne so cap­ti­vated he paid no at­ten­tion to the heavy rain beat­ing the roof nor the dis­tant rum­bling of things to come. His wife, Linda, slept qui­etly next to him, ex­hausted from the daily never-end­ing farm choirs of English Gap. Un­ex­pect­edly, a bolt of light­ning ex­ploded be­side the farm­house as if an NVA 122mm rocket had found its mark.

Wayne grabbed his wife with one hand; a shot­gun with the other. “Get down! Get down!” he screamed, drag­ging his stunned spouse half­way down the stairs. Linda English had been through th­ese episodes be­fore, not know­ing if her hus­band would re­cover, shoot up the farm­house, or pos­si­bly shoot her.

Ex­pe­ri­ence and em­pa­thy usu­ally saved the day. Linda calmly said to her hus­band, “Wayne, I don’t know where you’re go­ing but you may want to put on your clothes first.” Naked, on a stair­case with a shot­gun in one hand, his spouse in the other, smoothed his pas­sage from flash­back to re­al­ity. Linda un­der­stood: be­fore they mar­ried, Wayne had in­sisted she at­tend his PTSD meet­ings so his fu­ture wife would com­pre­hend what she was get­ting into.

Pick your war: The Civil War to WWI to WWII. Korea to Nam, the Gulf War to the siz­zling sands of Iraq to the cold moun­tains of Afghanistan, all noth­ing more than val­ue­less real es­tate of rocks or jun­gle or sand or snow. Acreage ob­tained by blood then aban­doned, paid for with lives, body parts, psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age, and a life­time of un­pleas­ant vi­sions. Politi­cians fail; swords are rat­tled; the young pay the price. He­roes are buried; the sur­vivors come home. The af­flic­tion has been de­scribed in eerie if not droll ax­ioms: trench dis­ease, shell shock, battle or com­bat fa­tigue, ner­vous dis­ease, Ir­ri­ta­ble Heart, ex­haus­tion, nos­tal­gia, stress re­sponse syn­drome, es­tar roto (to be bro­ken), and the now ac­cepted catch­phrase: Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der.

Pick your la­bel, but the symptoms are the same: anger, de­pres­sion, a sur­vivor’s guilt, in­abil­ity to cope with ‘nor­mal’ life, fear of crowds, fear of com­mit­ment, a fear of living. The claim has been made if a per­son is not some­what crazy af­ter sur­viv­ing con­tin­u­ous com­bat then san­ity may have been an is­sue be­fore en­ter­ing the mil­i­tary.

Not so with Wayne English. He said, “I grew up hunt­ing fox and coon, so I knew how to get around in the woods, ref­er­ence points and such. The jun­gle is dif­fer­ent, but my back­ground as a woods­man did help so that’s how I got stuck with a ra­dio on my back. My first 6 months was bad enough, but in my last 6 months l lost 4 FOs (For­ward Ob­servers) and 2 RTOs while serv­ing as FO for re­con.”

Ex­cerpt from his book: ‘The last few months I spent with re­con I served with Lt. Carnes and Sgt. Pow­ell. I was left in the jun­gle on an op­er­a­tion 14 days past the date I was to go home. The Bat­tal­ion Com­man­der gave me pa­pers to clear the post so I could catch the Free­dom Bird home.’

Wayne English sur­vived over 20 search and de­stroy op­er­a­tions with the 173rd, rocket and mor­tar at­tacks, booby traps, and chop­pers pep­pered with AK-47 rounds. He did his duty; that duty was over, now be­gan the battle at home against a rigid gov­ern­men­tal bu­reau­cracy, an ap­a­thetic na­tion, and him­self.

1966 – 1986: The Trou­bled Years: “I came home and worked for Dad, he was a con­trac­tor at the time,” Wayne re­called. “But I was hav­ing a lot of prob­lems read­just­ing, get­ting my head straight. I got a jan­i­to­rial job be­cause it kept me oc­cu­pied but away from peo­ple. I landed a big job with a big J.C. Pen­ney store, $800.00 a week; that was great money back then. I was iso­lated, kept to my­self, no al­ter­ca­tions. Prob­lem was my wife and 2 daugh­ters fell vic­tim to my iso­la­tion, too.”

Reli­gion proved no cure. “I stud­ied the Bi­ble with re­li­gious groups, the Bap­tists, Je­ho­vah Wit­nesses, try­ing to get my faith back. I was seek­ing an un­der­stand­ing of why God al­lowed cer­tain things and needed to get in touch with Him. Things were fall­ing apart. I left my wife and kids. I didn’t see them again for 10 years. A sec­ond mar­riage lasted 9 months. Then I chose to get away.”

1981 - The deep blue sea beck­oned his iso­la­tion. “I ac­quired an off-shore Cap­tain’s li­cense and worked the off­shore oil fields, did some crab­bing and shrimp­ing….it was good work and I was by my­self. God makes you look real small on the ocean; you are only the thick­ness of the hull from ex­tinc­tion.”

Un­der­cover work: “I went un­der­cover with the DEA, fight­ing co­caine, pot…I liked get­ting the bad guys. I worked in Europe for a while, but the peo­ple had no drive, no ini­tia­tive, I couldn’t take it. Bel­gian NATO proved in­ter­est­ing, along with their Se­cret Ser­vice coun­ter­parts, try­ing to stop a Basque Ter­ror­ist coun­ter­feit op­er­a­tion. Did that for eigh­teen months. I fit in well with the ‘hate Amer­ica’ crowd be­cause of my Nam ex­pe­ri­ence and was do­ing great un­der­cover work un­til word got out the Basque Ter­ror­ists had caught on and put me on a hit list. It was time to come home.”

1986, a day of reckoning: Wayne en­ters the VA Hos­pi­tal suf­fer­ing from acute se­vere de­layed PTSD. “I went in with anger is­sues but the more I saw the an­grier I got. What I saw at the VA and the way vet­er­ans were be­ing treated made me gnash my teeth. I was di­ag­nosed and placed on dis­abil­ity, signed the pa­pers and thought that was it. Well, the $42,000 back pay was re­fused be­cause they said I for­got to sign one pa­per. We en­ter for help, not to be­come pro­fi­cient at pa­per­work. This went on for 2 years. Then I met Linda.”

Linda Gar­rard was teach­ing Amer­i­can His­tory at Jack­son High School when Wayne English en­tered her life. She re­called, “I in­structed my stu­dents to write one para­graph about Viet­nam and asked if any­one knew a Viet­nam vet­eran that could talk to us. Well, I’d seen this guy es­cort his daugh­ter at home­com­ing court and on the side­lines dur­ing games. I thought he was good-look­ing. Lo and be­hold, I get a call from this guy Wayne English. He loved his­tory also, so we talked for hours, and I don’t even like to talk much.”

Wayne in­ter­rupted, “Let me say this, she does love to talk, so much so peo­ple think I’m shy.” With about 10 peo­ple sur­round­ing the kitchen ta­ble dur­ing the in­ter­view and even more in the living room, Wayne’s com­ment caused an un­sched­uled five-minute break to re­cover from the hi­lar­ity.

Linda con­tin­ued, “We could sit here for hours dis­cussing the prob­lems at the VA, but I think it’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on English Gap.”

Wayne picked up the story, “Of course Linda and I mar­ried. I found this piece of bot­tom land, flat, high grass and woods, and took Linda to see it. We sat on a big rock and de­cided this piece of God’s green earth had to be the right place to help vet­er­ans get a fresh start.”

The vet­er­ans of English Gap: Even be­fore con­struc­tion com­menced on the farm­house in 1991, Wayne and Linda English re­solved to ded­i­cate their lives to com­bat vet­er­ans in need of a help­ing hand. They met a vet­eran at the VA in need of a ride home, they called the brown wa­ter Navy Viet­nam vet, ‘Swab­bie.’ Wayne re­called, “The guy’s ‘home’ was a card­board box on the streets of At­lanta. Swab­bie was a civil en­gi­neer, living in the streets. We brought him to our home, been bring­ing them home ever since.”

With the farm­house com­pleted in 1992, Wayne got in touch with an old buddy from Texas. “He came to live with us,” Wayne said. “We worked non-stop un­til he re­ceived his so­cial se­cu­rity and 100 per­cent dis­abil­ity. Linda and I thought he would be the last one. We missed that as­sump­tion by a wide mar­gin.”

Army vet­eran Mark Rut­ledge and his lovely daugh­ter Jamie Marie live in a cabin at English Gap. Mark said dur­ing an in­ter­view, “We love English Gap; they saved my life. It’s peace­ful. Strangely, I would go back do­ing what I did in the Army in a heart­beat.”

Josh (not his real name) lives with his girl­friend at English Gap. Josh had over 50 con­firmed kills as a Marine sniper while serv­ing tours in Bos­nia and Afghanistan. His spotter was wounded in Bos­nia. A NATO ally left them be­hind to fend for them­selves. Josh car­ried the wounded spotter on his back for six miles, all the while feel­ing the life slowly drain from his buddy. At­tend­ing church reg­u­larly has helped, some­what.

An­other brown wa­ter Navy vet­eran lives in one of the cab­ins and is a cer­ti­fied medicine man of the Sioux Na­tion. He has en­dured the Sun Dance 4 times. A sweat lodge is nearby.

Norm (not his real name) is the builder. Give him a ham­mer and nails and a few sup­plies: presto, in­stant cabin. Norm served in the Navy on the de­stroyer USS Frank D. Evans. On June 3, 1969, the Evans was off the coast of Viet­nam with an al­lied con­tin­gent when wrong turns and in­ex­pe­ri­ence caused a night col­li­sion with the Aus­tralian air­craft car­rier Mel­bourne. The Evans was sliced in half. Her bow drifted off and sank in less than 5 min­utes, tak­ing 74 men with her, in­clud­ing all the sailors in Norm’s gun crew.

An­other vet­eran at English Gap was di­ag­nosed with PTSD af­ter his first tour in Iraq. He served 4 more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, all on anti-de­pres­sants. A neigh­bor’s son served 2 tours as a sniper. Once home, still suf­fer­ing from brain bleeds, he lived in the woods in a tent be­hind his fa­ther’s house for over 4 years. The fa­ther vis­ited his son of­ten just to hold him. Two of Linda English’s for­mer stu­dents from Jack­son High School live at English Gap.

Dona­tions to keep the farm op­er­a­ble are al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated, but more than any­thing else English Gap needs ma­te­ri­als: The tim­ber, hard­ware of all types, win­dows and doors, elec­tri­cal sup­plies, cab­i­nets, in­su­la­tion, even a sink or two. They have the la­bor: hard-work­ing hon­est vet­er­ans, they just need the sup­port.

Se­cu­rity is not a prob­lem. Wayne said with a grin, “A se­cu­rity com­pany called with a sales pitch. I told them our farm was in­hab­ited by com­bat vet­er­ans; why the heck would we need any se­cu­rity.”

Visit their web­site: en­glish­gapga.com Phone: 770775-1732

March, 1966 - Amended ex­cerpts from ‘ Viet­nam Sky Sol­diers’ by Wayne English. “The Huey crashed nose first into the earth and you could see the door gun­ner brac­ing for im­pact. The en­gine was still run­ning while the chop­per seemed to wal­low around be­fore the ro­tor blades snapped off. Pieces of ro­tor blades were fly­ing through the air. Then we started re­ceiv­ing small arms fire along with ar­tillery and mor­tars all around 2nd Bat­tal­ion’s perime­ter. The noise was thun­der­ous, the loud­est of any battle we had fought so far. Lead was fly­ing ev­ery­where. I took cover be­hind the mas­sive root sys­tem of this huge tree but rounds hit be­side my legs and bark was fly­ing off the trunk. I moved to the other side but con­tin­ued to draw fire. Then I re­al­ized snipers were in the trees.”

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