The price you pay
After Vietnam, Jerry Wertenberger spent his life defying authority. He atoned for Vietnam by committing slow psychological and physiological suicide. His one of two emotions was rage. After he came home, I never saw him cry and rarely saw him happy unless he had an adrenalin rush going on. This was something new, something I didn't understand.
Where did you go?
After our father died, my brother, who was only 15, became my surrogate father. He took me everywhere. To see the slot cars in action, to Baylands Raceway, to rodeos. Ten years separated us, and I worshipped the ground he walked on. After he was sent home from Vietnam, I missed the brother I had and worried about the one who was so very different.
My brother was either hell-bent on some new venture or living in San Francisco basking in the high. He mellowed as time went on, but it was always there, that secret part of his life he shared with no one and the anger that frightened us all. For all of Jerry’s troubles, his was a gentle soul attempting to create a life out of what was now utter nonsense. His entire belief system died in South East Asia. Vietnam was one tragedy too much for him to take.
The path of fury
Jerry struck out at a world that had damaged him in ways most would find unconscionable. For years he boasted that he could fit everything he owned into a duffel bag so he could bug out whenever he wanted. He always said, "I didn’t ask to serve, I didn’t want to serve, but I did my duty."
His life became a roller coaster and it wasn’t until he lost everything that he opted for clean and sober. Counseling was suggested and that maybe he should get back to work on changing that dishonorable discharge to an honorable one. He had served his country well. He deserved the distinction and needed the benefits.
The government had taken enough
Jerry refused any assistance. He distrusted the government and he was leery of authoritative personalities. For years he refused to pay income taxes. He said the government had taken enough from him and he owed them nothing.
His distrust went so deep he extracted his own teeth instead of going to the dentist. It was only when he had a mouth full of abscessed molars that he gave in and had them all removed. Were his rotten teeth from Agent Orange? Possibly. PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome has been linked to dementia..
Jerry's anger and recklessness, made worse by alcohol, drove a wedge between him and those who loved him. He married, divorced, married, divorced, and married again. He had two children, both of which adored him, but never really understood him. I think Erin has the best insight into her dad, but unless you served in Vietnam, you really can't get it.
In 2008, just one month after he married his third wife, Jerry suffered a stroke. He was a die-hard smoker and no diagnosis was going to get him to stop. He ate what he wanted, when he wanted, and no one would tell him different. It is heartbreaking to watch a loved one refuse to take care of himself. I don't think he took his health seriously. He survived Vietnam, he didn't believe high blood pressure could kill him.
He left the hospital with medication for cholesterol and blood pressure that he refused to take. He had weakness in his left leg but it didn’t bother him. He was still Jerry. He experienced life on the edge. Nothing was off limits.
He lived addicted to the adrenalin high.