A call came in from A Hero, a group of OIF and OEF Marine Corps and Army veterans on the Gulf Coast. They’d been contacted about a vet in crisis in the Southeast. Unable to find someone local, they called Shad and put him in touch with the woman caller. She was able to give Shad the vet’s cell number. The vet was parked in front of his house, locked into his truck with his .38 and he was drinking. He also had pills.
The first two calls Shad made went straight to voice mail: a chipper greeting giving his name and saying he’d get back to you. On the third call, the vet picked up the phone. “Hey,” Shad said, “Is this…” and Shad used his name from the voice mail greeting.
“Yeah. Who’s this?”
“I’m Shad Meshad. I’m a Vietnam vet and I’m OLD. I heard from some people who care about you. I understand you’re having a bad day.”
“Yeah, I reckon I am.”
“You got some good Southern spirits there with you?”
“Yeah, and I got my pills and Betsy right here beside my leg.”
“Well, I work with a team of brother and sister vets and we work with vets. What’s going on?”
“I don’t want to go back into the house. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Tell me a little about yourself.”
And the vet began unspooling his story. He’d served in Desert Storm. After he left the military he went straight into police work. He’d recently retired from that. He was on his third marriage and things weren’t going well.
Shad asked about his service in Iraq and learned that his buddy had been killed in combat. The vet said he was suffering from demons that kept popping up in his mind. Not only from his combat experience, but also a tragic and unforgettable experience with a domestic violence case he’d been involved in as a policeman.
He’d served in two careers and carried trauma from both of them. Shad kept him on the phone. When Shad said he was a Vietnam vet, the vet replied, “You guys were the heroes.” No, Shad said, I’m a survivor like you are…
The vet poured out his life over the next three hours. All that time Shad was sitting in a room of 63 prospective jurors. Sixty of them were called out to serve on panels, leaving only Shad and two others. The vet had a quick nap, and then Shad went back on the phone. Foremost in his mind was a quote from E.M. Forster: “Only connect!”
Later, Shad said, “They have to trust that you’re for real, that you’re really listening, that you can be empathetic.” The vet never knew that Shad was speaking to him from a courthouse while waiting to be called to serve as a juror. Connection was what he needed. In the end he put away his .38.
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The worst part of war should not be coming home.