Having fulfilled his duties in Vietnam, Cary “Rhody” Rhodomoyer returns to America in the first part of his story. War, however, has changed him …
SCOTT TWP. — When his sister Sheri died in 2004, a grieving Cary Rhodomoyer began having nightmares about the day he was wounded during the Vietnam War.
In his dreams, shrapnel hit him in the left knee again. Terror overwhelmed Rhodomoyer, once a young soldier who felt invincible.
Waking up in a cold sweat, he wondered where he was.
For four decades, Rhodomoyer tried not to think about the war. He lost touch with good friends from Vietnam.
But his sister’s death exacerbated his anxieties around crowds and noises at night, signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. At wife Barbara’s order, he finally sought therapy.
He also reached out to his comrades, flying to Kansas for a recent reunion.
The anxiety — like grief — will never go away, Rhodomoyer said. “When you lose your loved one, you miss them the rest of your life.”
But you deal with it and keep living, he said.
‘Tears in your eyes’
During the war, Rhodomoyer tried not to form close friendships. He wanted to avoid the pain of losing a friend.
But he did make friends. And he did lose a friend. One night, they were drinking beers and chatting; next day, the friend was killed in a gunship crash. Rhodomoyer believes it was during combat.
“Even if you have tears in your eyes, you continue on,” he said.
The greatest time you share with someone is in war, he added.
One day, his gunship was guarding a chopper as it extracted a ground patrol. Suddenly, the gunship took fire; Rhodomoyer was wounded.
He was bandaged and given a day’s rest in the barracks. Later, he received a Purple Heart, his military record states.
Avoided Bloom Fair
After coming home, Rhodomoyer kept quiet about his service in the unpopular war. He heard some people were calling veterans “baby killers.”
His family noticed a changed man. He seemed unhappy and sometimes irritable. He cursed at the dinner table, a habit from wartime.
He avoided crowds and skipped the Bloomsburg Fair, telling himself it was overpriced.
At restaurants, he refused to sit with his back facing others.
When he heard noises at night, he had to check if his windows and doors were locked.
He worked as a mechanic for a vending machine company in Williamsport, then as a part-timer at Bloomsburg’s post office. In 2004, he retired after his asthma got worse.
‘The women deal with it’
Mrs. Rhodomoyer saw a television ad about PTSD and recognized the signs in her husband. She told him to get help.
A doctor explained the loss of his sister had triggered the nightmares. Rhodomoyer started going to therapy at the VA Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.
He declined to elaborate, except that he watched a video of night combat during a group session.
Two men left, unable to finish watching; they had friends who died in their arms.
Asked how he deals with his anxieties, Rhodomoyer replied, “The women deal with it.” His wife deserves a medal for her love and understanding, he noted.
War buddy made it big
In January, Rhodomoyer got a message from a long-ago friend on Military.com, a website for military personnel and veterans. Larry Graham worked at a military prison.
They met up in Leavenworth, Kan., in June. They had a great time sharing memories of Vietnam. “Those 45 years disappeared,” he said.
Together, they found three friends but learned about the deaths of two others. Rhodomoyer chuckled when he recalled one buddy’s obituary; he never expected the habitual rule-breaker to become a master sergeant.
— GARY PANG, Press Enterprise Writer, Sept. 3, 2012
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