Back in the theater of war

Published 8:35 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2012

By Therbia U. Parker Sr.

On Tuesday, I got up at daylight to visit my vegetable garden.

I picked red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, red and white onions, and I dug red and white potatoes. I thanked God for the harvest, and I walked back through the field with a smile on my face as I looked down at the two buckets I carried in my hands.

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I placed the buckets full of vegetables at my back door, and I went to the mailbox to get the morning paper, passing by our apple trees ready for harvest on my way back to the house.

I sat on the front steps trying to focus on reading the paper. The news was not good.

On her way to work, my wife came outside, and I told her, “The apples are ready.” She told me to pick some for homemade applesauce.

I picked a five-gallon bucket full, and for some reason got a knife and began to peel them. Before I knew it, I had peeled the entire bucket, and then I went back and picked another bucket full. By then, the sun was hot, and I moved my apple-peeling operation to the shade of the trees at the edge of my yard.

Everything was fine until I heard gunfire.

I panicked, began to sweat and got down on the ground on my knees, crawling to my pickup truck a few feet away. As I lay beneath the truck, the gunfire seemed to get louder and closer, so I called 911 from my cell phone. Giving the dispatcher my name and address, I said my neighbor was firing his weapon, and I was afraid the shots were being fired toward my house and would hit me.

I held the phone out and asked, “Can you hear that?”

“Yes,” she said. “I will send someone out right away.”

This has happened numerous times, but this is the first time I have called 911. A couple of months ago, I heard the same gunfire while I was in my shed. I ran to the house, went into my living room and lay on the floor shaking.

Here’s my story: I am a Vietnam veteran who has been diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Loud noises, gunfire, large crowds or even a dark room can cause a flashback to my war experiences in Vietnam. Nightmares, cold sweats, outbursts of anger and even substance abuse are some of the problems veterans of any war can suffer.

I can relate to how the victims of the Aurora, Colo., shooting must feel, and I am truly sad for them. They were watching a movie, and suddenly, life changed forever. In war, such a surprise attack is called an ambush, and when that happens, your whole life passes before you.

To be blessed to live through such an attack is one thing, but the survivors will never get over the pain. Many people will never understand the pain, anger and fears of those whose lives have been forever changed.

I know how they feel. Every person in that theater has experienced war, having faced an enemy who wanted to destroy them by any means necessary.

On Tuesday, I found myself back in that theater of war, reliving the uncontrollable fear for my life. But no American should have to live in fear.

We have many rights in America, including the right to bear arms. But to my neighbor and others, I say this: If you want to fire your weapons, please go to the firing range.

Therbia U. Parker Sr. lives in Holland with his wife. Email him at drumbeat55@hotmail.com.