Old Timers Resisting High Tech


Medal of Honor

Each of us owes a debt of gratitude and honor to America's surviving veterans and many of those veterans are in their 70's and 80's by now. Some are even in their 90's. Many surviving veterans have stories to tell that no one has heard. If you have a story to tell about a veteran, living or having passed on, please post your story with us by e-mailing them to stories@otrht.com. Be sure to include your name and the who, when and where. If you want to remain anonymous, that's OK too. Once again, we only ask that you act in good taste and in good faith. The story should be true and represent actual events and emotions. Here is an example of a tribute to a fallen veteran.

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In A Soldier's Name

Robert C. Copeland
Robert C. Copeland
Beloved Husband, Father,
American Hero and Patriot
Service No. 19 530 060
Died July 4, 2006

Written by his closest friend, Ron Ewart

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I ran into kind of a strange, lonely, muscular young man with a keen intellect and a quick and inquiring mind. He was full of life and future promise. Many nights we would sit in his 1940 coup until well after midnight, discussing philosophy, science, religion, school, cars, women, politics and airplanes. Not necessarily in that order. Sometimes during our talks, he would sketch out cars, free hand. The detail in his drawings was astounding, in both depth and perspective. It was as if he could see every detail of the car he held in his mind and then transferred that detail through his arm and hand, to the paper. This skill he possessed, was indeed a gift but a gift that never blossomed into a full-blown talent.

On many occasions, we went camping and fishing together and thrived on our talks. It was if our minds were one, each searching together for life's truths. On one fishing trip with he and another friend, we arrived late at the trail head and set up a lean-to to sleep, before the climb to the lake the next day. Around 4 AM in the morning, a mouse ran over my friend's outstretched arm, that sent him flying out of his sleeping bag with a curse. Of course that woke up me and our other friend up and so we broke camp and headed up the trail. It was raining and the climb was steep. Around 10:00 AM we stopped for lunch. The three of us ended up eating three days supply of food at that one sitting and decided to Hell with the climb to the lake, hiked out to the car and drove back to town. Later that night we all went to see a late show. All told, we had been up for almost 36 hours. But when you are young, sleep wasn't all that important.

Young men tend to be idealistic, as we were, but it was the beginning of a life-long friendship between my friend and I. This young man was talented by every measure. He could have been anything he wanted to be. Instead his choice lead him down a path he could have never imagined, much less desired.

After high school, we went our separate ways. He joined the Army and my knowledge of his Army life was sparse. Occasionally, I would receive a letter or a post card with a short note. He told me of his relationship with a German girl that had soured and made him ill to the point that he lost his sight and he ended up in San Francisco's Presidio Hospital. I remember thinking at the time that the story was a little strange. I drove all the way from Seattle to San Francisco to visit him in the hospital. I was told later that his sight returned after two holes were bored in his skull to relieve the pressure. His recovery extended into months.

He eventually was discharged from the service, later married and had one child. For some reason I can't, to this day, understand, I did not see or talk to him much after he married. I remember he became quite religious, never suspecting why.

Several years ago I visited him in his home on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He had retired from his job at Boeings and could not work. He was confined to his home, could barely walk and got around mostly with a cane, or in a wheel chair. His legs had ballooned up to nearly three times their normal size. I never asked him about them, not wanting to embarrass him.

In late 2004, I learned that he had been transferred to the VA Hospital in Seattle, so I went to visit him. I finally got up the courage to ask him about his legs. As he sat on his hospital bed, he appeared unshaven, somewhat disheveled, wearing a maroon shirt, an Army ranger hat and shorts, which exposed his legs. They were grotesquely immense and covered with white scales and red blotches. He could only get around in a wheel chair, but still he possessed an uncanny quick wit and humor.

He began his story by telling me that he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for well over two years, prior to the U. S. military build up. Because his mission as an Army Ranger was secret, he maintained his German cover story, at least to me. He explained that as torture, his captors would put him in a cage suspended from a rope and then lower his body in the river, with just his head showing, for days at a time. The river was essentially a human sewer. The VA doctors believed that river fungus attacked his legs, causing the unsightly conditions and the bloating, that lasted the rest of his life.

I asked how he escaped and he said that Army helicopters flew over and blasted the prison camp. He described buildings disintegrating, while trucks and bodies were flying through the air. His two guards were distracted by the attack and one ran off. The other guard looked away for a second, which was my friend's opportunity. He grabbed a shovel and dispatched the second guard with one blow. He then reached down and picked up the guard's automatic weapon and ran into the jungle. He wandered for days with no idea where he was until he found himself somewhere in Thailand. Friendly soldiers took him to safety. Later, he was transferred to Presidio Hospital in San Francisco where his injuries from captivity were treated. That was when I visited him, not having any clue to the real events. For the rest of his life he was plagued by the memories of his ordeal. Even so, he never lost his sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the doctors couldn't do much for him and he was transferred to an old soldiers' home near Port Orchard, WA to live out the rest of his painful life. On July 4, 2006, American Independence Day, this brave man, this patriot, this hero of his country, succumbed to his injuries and indignities suffered at the hands of his captors, while a prisoner of war in Viet Nam. He gave his life for our country and his country spat upon him for that sacrifice.

This man was behind enemy lines in the hands of brutal and cruel Viet Nam captors for well over two years. He wasn't supposed to be there and the NSA came to him after he was repatriated and removed any record from his home of ever having been in Viet Nam. His Army records were lost in a St. Louis archives fire. The only thing available was a DD-214 that listed him being discharged in 1959 as a private. He was in fact, a sergeant. He received no medals even though he was a prisoner of war and escaped. The VA never paid a dime for his final days in the nursing home. That's what our government did for this man.

I wrote letters to senators, congressmen, the head of the VA and to the Special Forces Association. As best I could, I researched his military service. I was told that the hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco was torn down in 2000. No one there seemed to know where his records were. The NSA knows he was in Viet Nam and probably has records of it. The Hospital at the Presidio knows he was at the hospital and the records are somewhere in archives. I know he was at Presidio because I visited him in person, when I learned he had arrived there. He died without ever being recognized by his Country for the sacrifices he was forced to make.

So why is his story relevant? Because he is one of hundreds of thousands of brave men and women that were ordered by our government to sacrifice their lives, limbs and minds in the defense of our Constitutional freedoms, in a foreign land.

On this Memorial Day in the year of our Lord 2009, in his name, I here so dedicate this brief story of Robert Copeland's life and his sacrifices that he gave for his Country. And to all others who have so sacrificed, I hereby dedicate my life to the preservation of liberty here at home, that they so valiantly dedicated their lives to our freedom, abroad.

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