Vietnam Veteran serves as Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Gary was born and raised in Southern California. He graduated from high school in 1959. Gary didn’t have a plan of what he wanted to do with his life, but he needed a job. He began applying for jobs at every business he came to and was offered a position at an animal hospital. He accepted the position even though he had no real interest in pursuing a career with animals. Within a short period of time, Gary began working as a veterinary assistant and thoughts of becoming a veterinarian crossed his mind.  Gary had not done well in school and felt doubtful that he had the necessary academic abilities. The veterinarian that Gary worked for was less doubtful though, and began encouraging Gary to go to school, eventually Gary agreed.

While at Davis, Gary met Valerie, she was an art major and immediately caught his attention. Gary and Valerie fell in love and were married in 1966. Their first child was born in April of 1968.

By the time Gary graduated U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in June of 1968, the Vietnam War had consumed the country, and there was a draft to enlist soldiers. Because of Gary’s attendance at U.C. Davis, he was able to enlist through a student deferment program. The program allowed him to complete school as a reservist and upon graduation he was immediately enlisted to active duty. In April of 1969 he received his orders to report to Vietnam.

Gary spent one very long year in Vietnam. During that year in Vietnam, he missed the birth of his second child, he witnessed the sickness and dying of soldiers and indigenous people, and fought against loneliness, enemy booby traps and the horrors of the Vietnam War. That year in Vietnam was the single most significant year of his entire life. Gary felt fortunate to exchange letters back and forth with his wife that year and not have to be in combat, but he did not escape unscathed.

 Like most of the other veterinarians in active duty, Gary was assigned to a station to inspect incoming food. After a few months working at the food inspection station, he was offered an option to provide care to the military scout dogs. The scout dogs and their handlers played an essential role in military operations. Before soldiers were sent in to a new area, the dog and handler were sent in first to scout the trail to look for grenades, booby traps, trip wires and other enemy activity. This scouting position was referred to as “walking point”. The scout dogs were well trained, and were tested regularly in an open field near the base. When one of the dogs failed to identify a smoke grenade or other training device, Gary would be called in to examine the dog and treat whatever illness the dog might be suffering from that caused him not to be performing as trained.

The second half of the year in Vietnam, there were more veterinarians than there were positions for them, and Gary was assigned to civic action. He and his interpreter traveled by Jeep into the villages to teach the indigenous people how to care for their farm animals and pets and how to safely butcher livestock to reduce disease.

One of the most prevalent diseases at that time, was rabies. So many dogs had it. If a person had been bitten by an infected dog, they would often die. Gary once encountered a family with an infected puppy who had bitten all three of the young children. All of the children would have died had Gary not been able to help them get treatment.

There were so many orphanages. Almost every different religious group from the United States was operating an orphanage there and the local Buddhists had orphanages also. “It wasn’t all bad, there were some good times there also” recalls Gary as he tells about sneaking ice cream into an orphanage.

In April of 1970, Gary returned from Vietnam. He took the state board exams in June and passed them. Gary moved around a bit, from Southern California to a small practice in Oregon and then back to California.  In 2013, Gary and his wife retired and began looking for a place to live that would allow them to enjoy a slower pace, they found Ukiah.

Gary and his wife were interested in volunteering and so they contacted North Coast Opportunities’ Volunteer Network. They began volunteering through the Schools of Hope reading program, but after a year, Gary decided that the Meals on Wheels program was a better fit. He immediately fell in love with the program. “It’s so nice to see the smiles, and it’s hard to believe that something so simple could bring someone so much joy. They are so grateful. We take the plastic off the meal for one lady because she can’t see, then we tell her what the meal is. She gets so excited when we bring a cupcake or treat” Gary said.

Gary and his wife celebrated 52 years of marriage just a month ago, and he contributes the success of his marriage in part to the year that he spent in Vietnam. That year helped he and his wife learn to rely on each other.

Gary was recognized as Meals on Wheels Volunteer of the Year at the 2018 Plowshares Volunteer Appreciation Event. Over the past year and a half, Gary has selflessly given numerous hours to support the Meals on Wheels program. He has been a server, runner and driver, he has even hand-crafted wooden toys which were sold at the annual Plowshares fundraiser.

Gary is a hero. He was a hero during the time he served in Vietnam and he is a hero today serving through the Meals on Wheels program. Thank you Gary for your service!

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