Part One

Life isn't easy

I had no idea Vascular Dementia existed. Now I do. It took my brother, Jerry, one stroke at a time. It is an insidious disease and it’s so slow you won’t know your loved one is gone until it’s too late.

The United States at war

Jerry Wertenberger served our country by committing himself to two tours of duty in Vietnam. He was an MP (Military Police) and on his last tour was stationed at the Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base. This was not an easy time to serve in the military. Not only did one have to watch out for the Viet Cong, but the riots in the United States were nightly news causing soldiers to abandon their posts.

In my brother’s last days in country, they had multiple incidents of soldiers refusing to serve and hundreds of incidences of fragging, a deliberate attempt to kill a superior soldier by another soldier with a fragmentation grenade.

In 1971, my brother’s outfit conducted an operation at Cam Ranh Bay against soldiers who refused to leave their bunkers. It was an ongoing push pull between soldiers and the militarypolice that didn’t stop until the war ended. Imagine the quagmire of emotion when faced with the choice of obeying your superiors or supporting the soldiers that were there to die for you.

When the mind breaks

Jerry spent time elsewhere while in Vietnam, Da Nang comes to mind, and he was in Cambodia though we did not discuss it.

Cam Ranh Bay stands out because it broke him.My brother had a soft spot for dogs. He switched from being a paratrooper to dog handling when given the opportunity. It was a skill he’d carry with him throughout his life.

When he told me that he’d had to leave his dog, Prince, behind in Vietnam, I hurt for him.

He told me that several thousand dogs had served the military and they had saved many lives. My brother’s was one of them. He loved Prince more than life itself and, I am told, the affection was returned.

War games

When Jerry talked about Vietnam, he spoke of his dog, the weather, and general details like the fact that you could tell the difference between the GIs and the Viet Cong by the color of their projectiles.

Each side used tracers, which is ammunition filled with a special colored charge.

At night, the Russians and Chinese used green, while the GIs used red. He once told me that it made war look like a game and nothing about killing was a game.

When asked, he told me he hated the jungle, the heat, and sticky humidity. There was a constant state of anticipatory anxiety no matter where you went. You never knew who was a friend or an enemy. He said he’d lost himself over there and would never find his way back, but he was never specific about the unseen baggage he carried.

Dogs of war

The first of my brother’s dogs was killed and other than a letter informing us about the death, he never spoke another word about the experience.

His second dog, Prince, stayed with him the rest of his time. They relied on each other for everything including their lives. Prince was a sentry dog and together they patrolled the perimeter of the Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base.

As beautiful and sweet as Prince looked on the outside, he was designed to kill and when released, it was to inflict great bodily harm. Prince stayed in Vietnam. Sadly, most sentry dogs were considered too dangerous to bring home, so they were either killed or left behind.

Going home

After his service in Vietnam, and breaking out of the VA version of drug rehabilitation twice after his return, the army decided my brother wasn’t fit for service and discharged him without honor.He didn’t trust the United States government and refused to take advantage of the clemency offered him no matter how hard we tried to get him to do so.

When he came back to the states, he came home to riots, sit-ins, and political unrest. He said it didn’t affect him, but he had a hard time adjusting to civilian life. He seethed with anger and he took it out on everyone around him, but most of all, he took it out on himself.

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