Stories, photos and interviews honoring veterans: Main story | The Korean War | The Gulf War | The War on Terror | Peacetime service | Photos: SoCal Veterans

 

James Jay

65

Long Beach

Army

Vietnam

James Jay says there is a tragedy unfolding daily in the United States.

"Every day of this year an active serviceman has chosen suicide; 24-7, vets are deciding to give up on life and that bothers me," the 65-year-old blind Vietnam vet says.

So, while he says it is wonderful that society thanks veterans for their service, he would love to see that care and concern turned to efforts to make life better for surviving veterans.

Jay said there is retinal implant technology, exo-skeletal advancements and other military medical technology that could improve the lives of suffering veterans immeasurably, but isn't being used.

"I'd like to get a national mission (to use the technology) so the blind can see and the lame can walk," Jay said. "Make that a priority instead of the next stealth bomber."

In a sardonic voice, Jay says he doesn't know if politicians will ever take up the cause but adds that after Pandora opened her box and so much evil escaped the last the last thing out was hope.

-Greg Mellen

Click here to see a video interview with James Jay.

A salute to our veterans


Reporting by Josh Dulaney, Greg Mellen, Christina Villacorte

Photos by David Crane, Sean Hiller and Thomas R. Cordova.

Videos shot by Hans Gutknecht, Jeff Gritchen, Rachel Luna
Online production by Robert Meeks

 

 


Lyman Guidry

70

Long Beach

Air Force

Vietnam

Lyman Guidry spent time in Vietnam when the war was ramping up and although most of his time was spent doing clerical work, he did have to man the M-60 machine gun and guard the bomb dump at his base.

He said as long as the bombs didn't come his way, he was content.

There was one time, however, he recalls when a mortar or artillery hit a fuel dump and he watched several comrades "get roasted."

Mostly, though, he says "I lucked out."

Still, Guidry values his service.

"It's a good experience, it will last for a lifetime," Guidry said.

"Service is what you make of it."

-Greg Mellen

Click here to see a video interview with Lyman Guidry.

 

 


John "JJ" Rhodes, Jr.

69

Los Angeles

U.S. Air Force

Vietnam

When asked about his most memorable experience in the military, John "JJ" Rhodes, Jr. smiled and responded, "Watching my planes - my refuelers, the KC-135s; and my bombers, the B-58s and B-52s."

It was not unlike the tone a parent takes when talking about his children, and Rhodes laughed but did not deny it.

"When I was in service, yes, those planes were my babies."

He served as a base police officer at the Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, guarding planes about to be sent into combat in the Vietnam War.

"If there were any saboteurs, we were the people who brought them in for interviews - under armed guard."

He patrolled the flight line where the planes were parked, watching vigilantly for trouble.

"I was kind of a gung-ho guy," Rhodes said. "I was serious about my job."

- Christina Villacorte

See a video interview with John "JJ" Rhodes, Jr. here

 


Gerald Moore

Age: 60

Residence: Long Beach

Branch: Army Green Beret

Conflict: Vietnam

Returning from a second stint in Vietnam, Gerald Moore said a woman called him a baby killer and spat on his shoes.

The terrible tragedy of it: She was right.

"I killed babies, but I had to do it," Moore said.

As a Green Beret, Moore said he was on patrol when his platoon came across a woman in a village trying to hand them her baby.

Moore had heard stories about booby-trapped babies being passed to unsuspecting troops. Suddenly, Moore heard one of his men yell "grenade."

Everyone hit the deck and the woman - who had five hidden grenades - the baby and two members of Moore's platoon were blown to bits.

After Moore returned from two harrowing tours he was treated as if he were "lower than a dog."

Moore said he also brought back horrific memories that can come back at any moment. Memories that cost him three jobs and could leave him banging his head on concrete.

Memories that made him so quick to anger that he estimates he was involved in more than 200 fistfights and landed in jail several times.

Memories so bitter that he refused all the medals offered for his service.

Moore says the worst of the flashbacks have passed, although not a day goes by when he isn't reminded of the war in some way. At times he still wakes up kicking and flailing at the ghosts who will likely travel with him through the rest of his life.

Yet, if called upon once again, Moore would serve.

"I'm not ashamed of what I've done," Moore said. "Everyone should serve their country and pray to God.

- Greg Mellen

See a video interview with Gerald Moore here

 

 

 


Henry Felix

Age: 61

Residence: Riverside

Branch: Army

Conflict: Vietnam War

Henry Felix served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War during 1969-70. He returned to a country he says didn't understand Vietnam veterans. Felix has post-traumatic stress disorder.

"When we got home, no one appreciated us," he said. "I still have anger. I see this new war come out. They're heroes. We weren't heroes when we came out. We were not welcomed back ... I respect them, the young kids. They went through a different war than I did."

Felix said he left his family for more than 15 years. He drifted, became homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Finally, a friend convinced him to visit the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is helping him turn his life around.

These days, Felix hears the thanks and appreciation he never got four decades ago.

"Now, at my age, I see people, they tell me welcome back home, which gets me off guard," he said. "It makes me feel good to be a veteran...

"I turn and I look at them. It's weird, no one ever told me that. Now people tell me that, it feels great. It feels good to be appreciated. It's changing for veterans."

- Josh Dulaney


 

 

John Starzyk

Age: 59

Residence: Riverside

Branch: Air Force

Conflicts: Vietnam War and Afghanistan

John Starzyk's storied 38-year career included flying the first aeromedical evacuation mission into Afghanistan after Sept. 11.

That's a long way from being a self-described "punk kid in high school."

"I had the brains - didn't apply myself," Starzyk said. "And then I got in the service and thought, Oh, my God, it's up to me. Mom and Dad aren't there to take care of it anymore. So if you want to improve yourself, you have to apply yourself."

The Air Force not only taught Starzyk how to handle the enemy, but also life.

"The military taught me that with the right set of tools and (with) God's help, you can pretty much do anything you put your mind to," he said. "You can get over the tough stuff. You just have to want to do it bad enough."

Starzyk says veterans are made of the stuff that a friend or employer would like to have on their team.

"We bring a lot to the table, not just organizational skills. Obviously, technical skills. But we also bring a sense of `I can help you. I can give you that hand up. Maybe I can show you a better way of doing something."'

- Josh Dulaney