GM: Hi I’m Greg McIntyre and this is lunch with a veteran. I’m here with veteran Gene Ramsey. Gene is the head of the VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) and has some very interesting stories.
Gene really is an advocate for veterans. He’s out there pursuing veteran’s disability issues, and a few weeks ago, we were at the VFW and you had a representative there from Senator Thom Tillis’ office.’
We did, and it was a good meeting and I had good feedback from some of the veterans who are from the Vietnam era, and I’m going to formally tell you about my journey for the last 50 years in the service. This week, being a reflection of 50 years ago, I was in a fire fight. We were running a convoy down there on Khe Pass or Highway 19, and about 2 o’clock in the afternoon we took fire, and the wrecker I was riding shotgun on got hit. That day we had 14 casualties of the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, and we engaged the NVA in a fire fight. I ended up saving a guy’s life and trying to save a couple of other people’s lives that got into a fire fight ambush.
That day 50 years ago, it was a different time frame here in Shelby. My dad was a world war two vet and my two brothers served, and about thirty days after this incident, I got a letter from my mom who said she woke up in the late morning hours at the same time praying for my life, a sixth sense if you will. And I brought the commendation letter from my senior officer to recognize that god answers prayers. He took care of me that day, and the other 300 days plus that I served in Vietnam.
It’s about the third highest medal you can get in service, so I was blessed to have comrades and everybody else involved with that commendation letter that we got.
I’m telling this story because I didn’t realize at the time, with the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, we experienced a thing called Agent Orange. As we went into a hot LZ they would spray that, and we didn’t know what it was. I was pulling latrine duty and other things, and I didn’t realize some of that was burning the fuel from Agent Orange to get rid of things we needed to get rid of. I didn’t have a problem with it, so, I came back and within a week went into Gardner Webb for 4 year’s education right out of the jungles of Vietnam, and spent 4 years that the government paid for.
GM: The GI bill?
The GI bill, one of the best things that ever happened to me. Sometime around 1986 I got a letter from Senator Roy Hill telling me a little about Agent Orange. I went ahead and applied to the VA, and it took a time to get a response from them, but I started to realize I was having a bit of a problem with diabetes. So, I went on working my business as a district manager at Western Southern which I worked at for about 40 years. I had the top agency at Western Southern and got along extremely well other than I developed a diabetic condition related to Agent Orange. That’s when I became involved in thinking about myself and my comrades that had been exposed to this.
I did some research and during that time I contacted my congressman explaining that we were probably going to have problems down the road, and I wanted to make sure I was looked after, as well as my family. So anyway, I became commander of the VFW post and the Am Vets for a number of years, a life member there, and the DAB as well as the American Legion. I got out of that as I was trying to move my insurance business to get ready for retirement.
This past year I had an incident with one of my veterans I knew with the VFW post, and they raised about $1100 for this individual, and I said, man I need to be a part of that again because I’m retired now. So, I took over as commander of the VFW. Since that point in time, I’ve had letters from Tom Tillis, Patrick McHenry, Senator Burr all helping with these veterans. I became 100% compensated for my disability from Agent Orange, and some Post Traumatic Stress which most of us who had been in combat had.
So, then I started working with veterans at the VFW post going down the line to see how we can help these veterans. Since then, I’ve had a folder put together at the VFW, that helps us with our local veteran affairs officer Debra Conn. I’ve worked with you on a case, and I’m working right now on 7 cases where Debra and myself are hoping these vets will get paid for Post Traumatic Stress, because they were in the same situation, or similar situation as I was. Also, there’s a national Amvets out of Winston Salem, that’s another route we can go to help these veterans.
So, I’m trying to pay back for the things that I’ve been blessed to receive. That’s been the journey now. As I dig into this more, I’m finding there is a lot of veterans who don’t want to ask for benefits that are due compensation. I was interviewed by the Shelby Star about 15 years ago, in regards to, how does it feel, and how did it feel, and I realized my dad was probably exposed to Post Traumatic Stress due to his world war 2 experiences. He also received the Bronze Star. My goal is to work with you and the VFW for these individuals to help them get what they deserve.
GM: Absolutely, and there is compensation out there for disability, Agent Orange and other service connected disabilities. That’s a veteran benefit that you work on first hand all the time.
Yes, I’m pretty much involved. I’ve got some other people involved, I’ve even got a letter from Senator McCain and a Senator from Georgia who was over the VA services.
GM: There’s also veterans ‘Aid and Attendance’, which is something we do here at McIntyre Elder law on a regular basis. This can help seniors who are veterans, or the spouse of a veteran receive monthly pension benefits for the rest of their lives.
I think I worked with you on a case. I recommended they come to you, and that compensation has already started with that individual. Her husband was world war 2. I didn’t realize until you brought it up at a VFW benefit, and talked about the Ladybird Deed and Powers of Attorney and things like that how effective they are. Since that point in time, I’ve become involved with you and making these things happen. When I do something, I kind of get involved and I walk the walk, I just don’t talk about it.
GM: I see that. I was impressed coming over the VFW a couple of weeks ago. A good group of veterans there and Senator Thom Tillis’ representative was there from his office, and he was very professional, couldn’t have asked for a more professional young man.
Yeah, it was kind of fun to get involved with this, because I was getting a little bored playing golf 5 days a week. This has given me an outlet to pay back some of my benefits that I’ve received through the government.
GM: I appreciate all your service that you have given to our country in Vietnam and the Bronze Star, that’s huge.
Well, I just happened to be in the wrong place at the time I was needed, but blessed to be back and have lived a good life.
GM: We don’t know how lucky we are in the safety of our communities and homes, and we’re afforded that by good men like yourself who have gone out there and really helped our country.
There was a nice article in the Shelby Star about how many veterans the VA has taken care of, how many fell in World War 1 and 2, there was almost 60,000 in Vietnam killed, but we don’t know how many have been killed since then because we have a lot of Post Traumatic Stress. I think most people are aware that about 22 veterans every day commit suicide.
GM: And a lot of them are coming back from the Persian Gulf wars, almost every hour on the hour for those soldiers.
They’re probably exposed to more things than we’re aware of, and it doesn’t hit you until later in life. Some of these things just seem to slip back on you.
GM: I had Evan Thompson on last week talking about the American Legion, and the importance of getting involved with groups like the American Legion and the VFW. You are a huge proponent for the VFW, commander of the VFW and that is a great group that is ready made for our veterans coming back from overseas to just go plug in to. To be able to have people there from different war eras, and their own war era to understand what they through.
I’ll put a plug in for the Vietnam War Veterans that you were privileged to sit with in Kings Mountain. I think we’ve got 114 members now. It’s the second Monday of every month at 8:30 in Kings Mountain where Jim Medlin is doing a great job bringing us together. They started out with 5 members, 5 years ago, and now we’re at 114 members. That’s an awesome thing he’s started. Some of these veterans are not part of the VFW, Amvets and those places, but hopefully we can attract them in and help them realize they’ve got some things they may not be aware of.
GM: There are people in these places that understand what veterans are going through. People who can help them and make them feel part of the brotherhood they felt when in the military. That’s why we join, that’s why we do that. You think about coming out of a war zone where there is horrible stuff going on, maybe in the Middle East, and coming back and trying to sit in a college classroom. You did it Gene, I’m sure that was quite an adjustment?
It was a shock actually.
GM: Tell me about that shock. How does that work?
Well, the first thing I remember when I came back from Vietnam, I had about a week before I started in Gardner Webb. I was coming out from the jungles of Vietnam and then into Gardner Webb college which is a Baptist school, and I remember thinking, man how am I going to go about this. It was a goal of mine to finish college, and one of the reasons I volunteered for the draft was to get the GI bill. I remember going into the first class and Paul Stacy was my biology professor. Probably the hardest class I ever took, and I took it in summer school just so I could get that out the way. Thank goodness he understood what being a veteran was, what it meant. He took me aside and mentored me in how to go about studying, how to focus on study for that period of time, to make sure I made the grades to get a college degree. So, it was a shock but I adjusted fairly well.
GM: My thoughts are, you’re in the jungles of Vietnam, or you’re in the deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan, and your mind is racing a mile a minute I’m sure. When you’re in those pressure stress times of a fire fight or similar situation, and you’re with this band of brothers, weaponry is part of your life, fighting is your life for a long time, and then you go sit down beside some other kids who did not have those experiences. You said you came out the jungles of Vietnam and went almost immediately into college. One minute you’re in the jungles in a fire fight, and the next you’re in a college classroom and you are expected to behave much differently, with people who don’t have your experience and who are not used to those situations. I have found myself saying in my mind, this person is full of crap, or they’re babies, they don’t know.
It kind of felt that way when I first came back but I was able to put that a bit behind me. I had a couple of buddies who came back and went to Gardner Webb at the same time, so, we had a kind of a brotherhood as you say. Coming out of Vietnam, we also had the many changes that were going on in America where people weren’t too happy about the Vietnam war. It was hard for us to suck it up and ignore them to some degree but fortunately in a smaller town, we didn’t face as much adversity as we did at Fort Washington where we came back to debrief for a couple of days. There was a lot of protests and things going on, but we put that aside and made some friends.
GM: So, you’re not moving to Canada?
No, but I’ve got a good story to tell you. I had a younger brother who went to Germany, I recommended he go in the service for the discipline, and he ended up getting in the National Guard, and one day he came to my dad and said, I think I’m just going to Canada. My dad looked at him and said, why don’t you look in that mirror right there, my brother said, what do you mean, and my dad said, you want to see a coward looking in that mirror? You go to Canada, you don’t come home. So, he went on and joined the National Guard and finished his 6 years.
There was a lot of different opinions at that time, as there is today, but it is a big change today as it was 50 years ago. The military has changed tremendously. In fact, one of my goals this year is to go back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where I took my basic training for 10 weeks, and then go back to Fort Jackson because I haven’t been back since I got out. It’s on my bucket list. I want to check it out and see how much they have advanced since I was in there.
GM: Well come back and see me, I would love to hear about the contrast of the military today as of the military then. I imagine it was pretty rough?
Boot camp was 10 weeks at that time out of Fort Bragg. You always heard about volunteering, so I volunteered to be a fireman about the third week in. I thought I would be on the back of a fire truck, I didn’t realize I would be shoveling coal at night on duty for volunteers. So, I learned to not volunteer for a lot of things in basic training.
GM: What does Navy stand for? Never Again Volunteer Yourself.
GM: Thank you Gene for coming by for lunch with the veteran today and talking about veteran stories. You certainly have some brave stories and accomplished some great things in your life. I appreciate everything you’ve done.
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