The viewpoints of six veterans from our various wars were forged as they experienced vivid and terrible moments, injuries and — in some cases — PTSD.
They are six veterans of our various wars. Some saw combat, some not.
They sat together recently at the Veterans Resource Center at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood. And even though some had met for the first time, there was an easy camaraderie.
They told of their most vivid experiences in the military — the kind that come back in the middle of the night — and some told how the Fourth of July is always a rough day for them.
Some told of the smell of war. You never forget it. They gave advice to those thinking about joining the military.
Veterans Day events Friday
Here are a few Veterans Day events happening in the area. Find more listings and freebies for veterans on Page 32 of Weekend Plus and at seattletimes.com
National Park Service free admission for all Friday (nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm); free admission, no Discover Pass required, at all Washington State Parks Friday (parks.state.wa.us/167/Discover-Pass-Fees).
Museum of Flight: Fly-in of U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, patriotic music by Boeing Employees Stage Band, 11 a.m. Friday; ceremony with Washington Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Bruce C. Kinton, noon; program about the Grumman A-6 Intruder aircraft and its operation during the Vietnam and Desert Storm conflicts, 2 p.m. Friday; free admission for U.S. veterans and current military; Museum of Flight, 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle; $13-$23 (206-764-5720 or museumofflight.org).
Woodland Park Zoo: Free admission to all active, retired, and veteran U.S. military personnel and their spouses with valid service identification, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, Woodland Park Zoo, 5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle (206-548-2500 or zoo.org).
Veterans Day in Shoreline: All veterans of any U.S. military service and all who want to honor their service invited for short program, recognition event, refreshments, 2 p.m. Friday, Shoreline City Hall, 17500 Midvale Ave. N., Shoreline (shorelinewa.gov).
Tahoma National Cemetery: Program to celebrate and honor all military members, theme “Saluting our World War II Veterans, The Greatest Generation,” fly over, speakers, 11 a.m. Friday, Tahoma National Cemetery, 18600 S.E. 240th St., Kent (425-413-9614).
The veterans are:
Tommy Darnell, 63, of Lakewood. He spent 39-plus years in the Army, serving in Korea, Kosovo, Croatia, Germany, El Salvador and Iraq. Twenty-six of those years were in the infantry. He retired in 2010 on 90 percent medical disability due to various injuries.
Merle “Bob” Clapper, 89, of Gig Harbor. He enlisted in the Navy at 17. His service in World War II included Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, clearing water runways of debris for flying boats.
Alicia Johnson, 42, of Yelm. She joined the Army in 1993 and served in the military police. She got out in 1999 and returned after 9/11. Her assignments included Iraq, South Korea and Guantánamo. She medically retired in 2015 due to hip and back injuries.
Notrip Ticey III, 63, of Frederickson, Pierce County. He was in the Army from 1972 to 1994. Now retired, he works at Clover Park, helping ex-military personnel.
Scot Pondelick, 32, of Lakewood. He joined the Army in 2003 and got out in 2011. He served three deployments in Iraq with the bomb squad, defusing explosives and investigating assassination attempts on the police and politicians. He is now on 100 percent disability due to various injuries and walks with a cane after hip surgery.
Angel Gonzalez, 54, of Renton. She served six years in the Air Force beginning in 1985 then was in the reserves during Desert Storm, working medical logistics. She now works as a contractor for Vet Corps, helping vets transition to civilian life.
Here are the veterans’ answers to our questions, edited for space.
Tell of one searing memory
“Memories? In Bosnia I guarded a mass grave for a week and a half.
“Too many, way too many from Iraq. I was divisional safety over there, and I had to investigate accidents, not combat deaths. Joy riding, overspeeding, a Humvee rolling over and the gunner getting cut in half. … It was the Wild, Wild West. It was preventable.
“They figured they could do whatever they want, not following procedure. They’re too close to the edge of a sand dune, the vehicle tips over and rolls. The gunner is stuck between the gun and the vehicle, and they don’t have a chance.”
“On occasion when nothing was coming in, we’d go swimming. The water was nice and warm. I was just pulling my foot out of the water when an 18-foot shark with its jaw open was coming up. I didn’t go swimming for two or three weeks after that.”
“Saddam had buried a lot of anti-air rounds. We found them all the time. They were used as assassination IEDs. Two of them had been under a vehicle. It shredded the guy’s legs; we were able to pull out the rest of him. I remember the smell of burning flesh, hair, plastic. That’s what I think about.”
“It’s a unique smell. Sand, oil, packing material. Some of the weapons had smudges. They still had blood on them.”
— Gonzalez, on sorting through gear brought back from Iraq
Did you experience some form of post-traumatic stress?
“I have severe PTSD. I don’t open up much … Fourth of July, I bury myself in the house. The windows are insulated, everything is insulated. I turn up the music, TV, to cancel out the noise (of fireworks).”
“Being an MP for 18 ½ years, the stuff I had seen. I got a medical discharge in Iraq, after I fell off a vehicle when I was being snipered at. It crushed two of my discs on my lower back.
“And there was sexual trauma. There were three women in my company and one in my platoon. I don’t want to talk about it. I go to a group of women who suffered sexual trauma in the military. We take beads and make bracelets. I’m horrible at it, but it’s being around people I can relate to.
“I was drinking. I’d wake up angry, go to work angry, come home angry.”
“Everybody in my unit told me not do what I did. I went from having a job, to being divorced, broke and no job at 27. I moved back to my parents.
“I tried going back to school at Green River Community College. The first two weeks I almost beat (up) every kid in that college.”
“PTSD. Not during World War II. I don’t remember hearing about it until five, 10 years ago. You had missing arms and legs, and some mental stuff, but they didn’t associate it with a medical reason.
“Just natural results of the war.”
“I didn’t see combat. At the school I see a lot of young guys who’ve been through combat.
“I saw one guy, early 20s, seen combat in Afghanistan. The runaround gets to him.
“Somebody at the school told him ‘No,’ and another place told him, ‘No,’ and he just lost it. He cursed a lot of folks, acting beside himself.
“That was on a Thursday. I talked to him on Friday and he was calm and respectful.
“I said, ‘Let me be your intermediary.’ I was there for him for registration. We have a rapport now. He’s doing quite well.”
Can you relate to veterans of other wars?
“I’m a history buff. I can relate in that way. As far as the actual experience, I don’t think I can. The chance of surviving a mortar round is much better than in World War II. They had massive losses that we didn’t have.”
“In World War II, in Korea, you knew who the enemy was. It was, ‘Let’s win this thing.’
“In the Gulf War you didn’t know what to expect. You don’t know who the enemy is, what to expect. You can have something coming at you from any angle at any time.”
“War in this day and age is so much different. You can’t see and you can’t defend. Your opponent is not visible. You have no warning. You’re sitting in your cab and here comes a rocket.”
What advice would you give a young person thinking about joining the military?
“Even with my broken back and PTSD, I’d do it again. It was worth it. I have so much experience. I really believe I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t gone into the military.”
“The military will give structure to your life. You’ll mature at a lot younger age. One year in the military is worth a minimum of three in the civilian sector.
“If you go beyond one hitch, go all the way, at least 20 years because otherwise you won’t receive the benefits.
“If you get hurt in the civilian sector you’re on your own for the rest of your life. In the military, the VA will take care of you. Just make sure you have a well-documented military record.”
“I have a son, Andre, who’s in the Army, support infantry. Boots on the ground. My son, Marcus, is in the Air Force, a cyber warrior.
“In the conversations I had with them, I told them you need goals going in and have a clear line of understanding and expectations.
“Education was one of the primary reasons I went in (although in raising a family her chance to use the GI Bill elapsed).
“I have no regrets. Most veterans will tell you, ‘Show me the dotted line, and I’ll sign it.’ ”
“Four years in your life is nothing. It’s a great experience that’ll change you as a human being. I’d definitely go back.
“I had to deal with a lot of situations where my job was to think out of the box. I had a lot of free rein as long as you’re good at your job. I’d easily go back to war, back to the unit. It’s the camaraderie.
“It has to do with survivor’s guilt, essentially. If anybody should have died over there it probably should have been me.”