Monday, July 25, 2005

The Steve Bentley article July 25th

While my stuttering work on my book continues, I've decided I've ignored Slapinions for far too long.  Here's a sample of some of my old work: expect some new stuff (relatively) soon.

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I wrote this in or around 1994 while enrolled in a journalism class at UWM. The instructor, a longtime sports reporter named Gregg Hoffman, graded on a simple scale: an A indicated work that could be printed as-is at a newspaper with minimal tweaking, a B meant it was in need of at least one solid rewrite, etc. As I recall A's were few and far between from the man.

This article earned me an A and a "Great Job!" in the margins. Naturally a yahoo who earned a C (in need of major revision) managed to get his version printed, courtesy of some connection at a campus paper.

Ain't that just the way life goes . .

 

Like most of the 2.8 million American's who served in Vietnam, Steve Bentley looked much the same when he returned home in 1969.

He had no wheelchair, no physical wounds, no Purple Heart. The wounds he carried home were buried inside, but their effects were just as long lasting.

"I used to use (rape) as an analogy for (what happened to) Vietnam Vets," Bentley said in a speech Thursday at the UW-Milwaukee Lutheran Campus Ministry.

It has been a quarter century since Bentley left Vietnam. Middle-aged, with a graying beard and soft spoken manner, it is easier to picture him as an uncle or father than a young man at war. Upon hearing of his accomplishments, it is just as hard to imagine what negative effect the war had on him:

- Masters in Education in Rehabilitation Counseling

- Recipient of the 25th Gamaliel Chair, a Lutheran award for community activism

- author, television producer, lecturer

That is, until you hear him speak about what his biography doesn’t mention.

"When I got home I went through a litany of drug addictions, alcohol addictions, and hospitalization," Bentley said. "I went through 16 to 20 different jobs, I slashed my wrists, I overdosed . . "

"I felt I failed the manhood test (in Vietnam)," Bentley said.

Bentley volunteered for the Army in 1967. He served two tours in Vietnam as a Rome plow operator in the 599th Combat Engineers, 1967-69. It was, even for Vietnam, a dangerous occupation.

Sent out alone to clear jungle for future Special Forces camps, the plow operators often were easy targets. "You can’t tiptoe through the jungle on a 25 ton bulldozer," Bentley said, "and they know where you are everyday."

"In one . . . four month period I lost three assistant operators. One was blown apart by a rocket propelled grenade, one was blown apart by an anti-tank mine, and one was captured," Bentley said.

It wasn’t long before he realized the myth of his father "singlehandedly winning WWII" was an illusion.

"The ground was pulled out from under me," Bentley said. One of the reasons he volunteered for a second tour was his realization of how deep the war had affected him.

"There was no delayed stress. I went cuckoo real fast," Bentley said.

It wasn’t until years after his return that he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to Bentley, some 480,000 Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with the disease.

Unfortunately, according to Bentley, for too long the government has denied vets treatment on the basis of pre-war problems.

"If (that’s true) then they should be obligated for stamping us A-OK and sending us there," Bentley said.

A half a lifetime away from the war Bentley has spent years speaking to high school and college students about his experiences. "(Kids respond) really, really well. That’s why I keep doing it."

"You can’t take 45 years of experience and in an hour give that to a 16 year old, but what’s incredible is how many connect," Bentley said.

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2 comments:

bayareamurielle said...

I love this.  This guy is a real hero.

Murielle

slapinions said...

y Date: 2005-07-26 17:16:02

Name: Jeanne
Site Rating: 10
Visitor Comments:
Loved the blog....Do you have any more about him that you have written....Loved the writting.