Veterans recall lasting effects of war

Patriotism, pride mark Memorial Day remembrances

This Memorial Day, veterans throughout the Peninsula will pause to reflect on their experiences serving the United States and the sacrifices made by fellow soldiers. Among them will be Edward Patton, who fought in Vietnam, and Herbert Hamerslough, a World War II veteran.

Patton, a cook at Avenidas senior center in Palo Alto, will be helping out with a barbecue at the Menlo Park rehabilitation center that helped him overcome his drug problems and gave him vocational training. Hamerslough, a retiree at Palo Alto's Channing House, will head up the Memorial Day activities at his retirement community and will say -- as he always does -- "a few prayers for my buddies that didn't make it back."

Patton is a tall, solidly built man with a graying, wispy mustache and several missing teeth. He speaks softly, his deep voice becoming almost gravelly when he talks of the war.

He is only comfortable mentioning his combat experiences in vague, overarching phrases that paint a dark picture of what happened.

"When the situation came, I did what I had to do. I found ways to deal with it," he said.

He was born in Baltimore, Md., and at the age of 17, enlisted in the military.

"I got my mom to sign," he said.

His reasoning for enlistment was straightforward: He was a handful at home, and his uncle, a man of whom everyone was proud, was already enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He signed on as a private on July 7, 1967.

"It was kid stuff and being patriotic," Patton said. "I (also) had a lot of buddies going."

Patton began in basic training and then graduated from jump school. After the completion of jump school, he trained to become an Army Ranger and graduated into the 173rd Airborne.

He made it out to Vietnam in 1968 just as General Westmoreland, the commanding general in Vietnam, was requesting more troops to fight an expanded ground war. There were 409,111 servicemen in Vietnam by 1969.

When asked about his combat experiences, he said, "I don't talk about the war because I still have nightmares and trouble sleeping."

Patton found that best way to adapt to the horrors of Vietnam was "to play a macho solider."

"I wasn't so much afraid as curious," he added.

Patton served in active combat for most of his two years of service. His memory is scarred by the loss of his friends in combat, although he tries mostly to remember "the unity and the fun things we had there."

Still, he said: "Losing close friends was hard."

He returned home as a sergeant, five ranks above what he had entered the service as.

"I was lucky," he said.

After returning home, Patton said he was involved with the Black Panthers for a couple of years.

During this time he also began to suffer the consequences of serving in Vietnam, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He spent many years homeless, in a home for disabled veterans and as a drug addict.

But with the help of a veteran's rehabilitation center, he said, he has been sober for 14 years.

With the aid of the center's vocational training, he was able to find work as a cook.

Despite all that has happened to him, he said, "I'm more patriotic now than I was."

"I am proud of my service," Patton said.

Hamerslough, born in Washington, enlisted in the Officer Training Corps in the Marines in July 1942. At 22, near the close of the war, he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

He was quickly deployed to the Pacific Theater, where the United States was wrapping up a brutal island-hopping campaign to get close enough to the Japanese mainland to launch an invasion. During the campaign, each island captured was held by heavily entrenched Japanese forces that made U.S forces pay with a massive number of casualties.

Hamerslough arrived in time for the campaign to take Okinawa, one of the last islands before the Japanese mainland.

"It was a series of ridges, and all you could do was keep your head down and hope for the best," he said.

"They could see everything you could do, and it wasn't fun to know that you had to climb up," he added.

In his first week of combat, on May 21, 1945, Hamerslough suffered a devastating injury to his legs from a Japanese mortar shell. It rendered him unable to walk.

"They were targeting officers," he said.

"Mortar shells were attacking the line. I got blown 10 feet back. Any bigger shell and I wouldn't be here," Hamerslough said, adding, "I was lucky that I am still here."

His injury was one of a number of casualties. Of the 60 officers in his unit, 40 were casualties. During the month of May, the casualties on Okinawa totaled 4,000 men per week.

It took him two months and nine days to get back to Seattle for a series of three operations. It was almost a year before he could walk again.

"Not being able to walk for seven or eight months (after the operation), I wondered what the hell my life was going to be," he said.

He was retired out the military due to disability and moved to San Francisco, where he worked as a notary.

Today, Hamerslough makes time to stop by the VA hospital to visit wounded soldiers.

And as for the effect of the war on him, he has an optimistic outlook.

"Live and let live. I look at it as part of the bigger picture of life," he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

We need to make sure that the VA is properly funded so that it can provide the quality of medical and mental health care that our veterans deserve.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on May 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

How many Palo Altans bothered to fly the American flag today? Not many from what I saw this morning. How soon they forget.

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Our military is so unappreciated. They risk their lives for us and I respect that. Most of us are too cowardly and selfish to serve in our military.

1% of Americans may be fighting our wars, but we need 100% of Americans to be supporting our troops and their families. Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden are asking Americans to get involved in any way they can. Find out more and send a message of gratitude: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

@Bob: Unfortunately, the American flag has become a symbol of Republican beliefs. I appreciate our troops but am a Democrat.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Mom states:'Unfortunately, the American flag has become a symbol of Republican beliefs.'

Only if people like Mom give up proudly showing the same flag which our troops fight under and for every day. They are not Republican or Democratic troops - they are Americans and the flag is the American flag.

Like this comment
Posted by patriot
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm

If you really want to show your support for the troops, visit a veterans hospital or veterans cemetery today. Flying a flag without backing that up with action is an empty symbol.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Patriot - as a Vietnam Veteran I disagree - flying the American Flag is NEVER an empty symbol. NOT flying the American flag because you have allowed someone else to claim it for their political ends is the ultimate empty symbol.

And for some flying the American flag is the first step to a much needed greater awareness and appreciation of the sacrifices that our veterans have made over the last two centuries.

Like this comment
Posted by Say-It-Aint-So!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

> Unfortunately, the American flag has become a symbol
> of Republican beliefs

So what is the symbol of "Democratic (Party) beliefs?

Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 30, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Unfortunately,American flags ain't all made in America now.

Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Mountain View
on May 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Hats off to all those who have served, past and present.

Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 30, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Hats off to all those who have served, past and present,and future wars.

Like this comment
Posted by the flag
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The History of the American Flag

Researched by Jayce, Rachel, and Naomi

The American Flag symbolizes many things; it symbolizes our freedom, our dignity, the true meaning of being an American, and many more things. It has fought our country's wars, cried our country's cries, and laughed our country's happiness. It has been with us through our war times, our sad times, but mostly our joyful times. The flag has gone through many transactions and changes before it came to be the flag we all know and love. Actually it took a very long time, from January 1, 1776, till August 21, 1960. There has been a mystery about who designed the first flag, after all this time.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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