Military Wife Remembers Deceased Vietnam Vet Husband Memorial Day

US Army Vietnam WarCavalry Division 

My childhood sweetheart Gene Menz was in Officers Candidate Training during his 3 years at Penn State.  The military was an attractive career choice, but he like many Americans of the day, we did not want to support the Vietnam War.    
We got married that August summer between his college Junior and Senior year.  He was taking a summer class for extra credit.  We were so madly in love it was getting too difficult for him to leave my side in Pittsburgh and get back up to school in that fateful season of 1968.

He decided to drop the class so he lost his 2-S student deferment and was no longer exempt from the draft.

I was pregnant I became very ill.  Doctors told me I needed a surgery for my kidney. Gene's brother was an elevator repairman working for the CIA in Washington DC. My brother-in-law knew someone who told him how Gene could appear at the Pentagon to ask if he could stay in the US & not go to Vietnam so I could get this operation allowing my husband to take care of our baby.  We had the hearing but it didn't work out and Gene Menz was ordered to report for active duty.

Military Wife RemembersDeceased Vietnam Vet Husband 

Once Gene was drafted he decided to take the
experience very seriously and
become the best he could be in effort to protect his own life, our families future, and to be a loyal reliable GI that others could depend on to do his job with excellence.  He was that kind of guy, a mindful dedicated young man of strength and beauty.
       Basic training at Fort Jackson Columbia, South Carolina. OJT and jump school at Fort Benning Columbus, GA. We moved on to Jungle training at Fort Polk Leesville Louisiana.  It was all horrible and wonderful.

He was 21 & I was 17, we had a baby that
year in 1969.  It was exciting to be living on our own as adults with our perfect dear little daughter.  He worked in the day time and came home to us at night.
We dreamed and planned how we intended to form our married life together.
We wanted one more child, a boy would be so great but either sex was not the most important.
We prayed for the health and well being of our baby and our next baby yet to come. 
Many young American's plans and dreams died in the rice paddies of Vietnam. Our WWII aged parents lost us and became disillusioned by my generation reaction to our post war reentry into society.  Not all of us died.  But important parts of all of us were forever changed.  I salute and honor those who assimilated back into "The World" and hold compassion with honor for those of us who went into trances.  A dark night of the soul followed great numbers of vets, their spouses, and families.  
We returned to Penn State after his discharge.  Post Traumatic Stress didn't yet have a name that we known to us.  Gene, a former dean's list student now hung around a vet's fraternity house where the common practice was to not make it to class very regularly.  These weren't regular frat boys.  These boys in their 20's looked like old sickly, beat up, broken men. Unkempt facial hair, not necessarily showered, wearing parts of their jungle fatigues that may have been hastily altered by their own hands with sizers.  They drank, smoked some cigarettes and pot.  We knew kids who had war crime hearings coming up.  To compare our return to college with the time when we left for him to be drafted was like this....
          Before the draft we lived a middle class young American life at a good state university.  We felt great, and knew our futures were bright.  We were in love. We loved Joe Paterno and our Nitney Lions football team.  We went to see the Olympic gymnastic team from China practice in our gym on campus.  Political opinions were charged with passion.
          After the draft, deployment, and the war we returned to school as a Vietnam vet and his x-military family.  He wore his hazardous duty in combat all over him. It walked all around him.  I was went into abstinence from drugs and alcohol upon his return but I was burnt out and depressed.  Our daughter who knew the sun to rise and set on her in the eyes of her parents warmed to quickly to her Father.  We all held each other as the most important but our family's Army experience had made us tired and it was all very different.  We were old, where we had been starry eyed youths only 2 years ago. 
          Gene and his Vet friends were guarded and shut down never discussing what they had been through.  They weren't cool anymore.  The cool members of the student body knew we were all weird and out of place.  Drinking increased, drug use increased.  Limping, wearing braces, prosthetic limbs, and mental illness was the norm among our guys.  School went by the wayside, lots dropped out.  Neither one of us wanted to go back to Pittsburgh, too many of our friends were dead.  We didn't want to be around our families too much in fear of not living up to their expectations. 
Young and unskilled I got a job as a cocktail waitress, then worked in a sweatshop factory.  Gene couldn't hold a job and was unwilling or unable to watch our little girl while I worked.  I had to pay for a baby sitter as well as support us. He started his own business for the 2nd time in 2 years when I became pregnant with our son.  Our hope was renewed.  Our expanding family brought us out of the dumps.  I could feel the will to live and succeed present in his life once again.  He had a furniture business and we started checking out apartment buildings to buy.  We got financing then learned we needed to get a fire escape that cost $5000 more than we had.  The city said we could not rent any apartments until after the fire escape was installed and passed inspection.
Gene became overwhelmed and lost all hope.  The bust of life I had seen drained back out of him quickly.  His partner in the store was also an alcoholic.  They drank a good bit, coming home late at night, going out for a minute then staying missing for hours.  I suffered in waiting, we had no cell phones then.  I processed all of this with and in mature traumatized  mind.  My mood vacillated between anger, grief, love, and faith that after the baby was born I would be beautiful again, we'd be making more money, and he'd want to stay home with us.  I planned violent attacks on him while I waited for him to come home at night as I cried.  
I was 21 when I gave birth to my son.  I wasn't very hopeful very often any more. Secretly planning a possible divorce I talked him into selling our house in the country out in Center Hall, PA and moving into town near campus to State College.  I remember telling him, "I am not working because of the pregnancy and new baby.  Please be sure to give me $50 every week and I can buy food, pay bills, and wash clothes for a toddler and a the infant in the pay washing machines."  It got real bad.  This is what I remember.. the $50 a week didn't happen but his business partner made me a metal thing that would start the pay washer without quarters.

The next event that came to mind was it was Valentine's Day and he bought me a scale saying I needed to lose weight from having the baby.  Still nursing with a 2 month old baby I got a job to save money so I could leave.  He started yet another business, an insurance office, with another even worse alcoholic partner.  A beautiful office that took all of the money and I had to ask my parents to pay our rent.  I told my Mum & Daddy that I wanted a divorce.  They said the kids and I could move in with them while I went back to a local college and lived at home.  
I had gotten involved with drugs while my husband was overseas.  I had been living married at Penn State then on the Army bases while my hometown friends were becoming hippies and experimenting in 'getting high', expanding their minds with pot & LSD.  When my husband got drafted I followed him, when he went to Vietnam I went  home to my Mum.  We watched the war on TV every night.  I closely studied the pictures of body bags and shootings looking for my beloved.  I wrote him love letters and he wrote to me.  It took weeks to send and receive.  I was 19 the 7 months he was over there.  He wrote to me that he looked at this time as like being in jail.  He sent me a picture of himself sitting in the bush with his M-16.  He was an E-6 Sergeant 3rd Cavalry. The patch was a horse with a line through it.  My letters had cut out holes in them.  He called me twice and we cried.  I stopped watching the news.  I stopped.  LSD took over my existence and I pushed the war onto another planet far away from me.

I was young and petty. Neither one of us knew how to act or cope under such tremendous pressure.  I have lived with much sorrow for the way I acted, for how it all went down. This is just a report of how it was for me and some other people of that time.  The war, the drinking, the drugs, the immaturity, children and not enough money, not enough faith.
In no way am I  claiming to be a victim.
Today, as a recovering addict seeing myself as a victim is not an option. 
I have come to find a resurrection for myself.  Technical Sergeant Gene Menz died in his 50's of a brain aneurism.  I have often wondered if it was from his exposure to Agent Orange.  I have been told everybody blames agent orange for the Vietnam Vets deaths.  After we divorced Gene went out of the road and hitchhiked around the country for several years.  His Mother told me she reported him as a missing person.  I know other vets who fall into the abyss for some years.  He remarried, adopted and fathered 4 daughters, they were all athletes just like him.  My son and daughter went to visit him when my son was 19 he said he took joy in being apart of his daughters sports.  He was very, very quiet and my kids didn't know what to make of him.
Our daughter is tender hearted and quickly withdraws from uncomfortable emotions, she received him but did not pursue his company.  Our son is a fearless guy and reached out to his Father in a big way.  We don't know what happened but Gene withdrew from our kids.  Just faded away and stopped taking my son's calls.  Later we heard he was again divorced and lost his second family too.
My most precious 2 kids ended up being raised by my parents.  Overwhelmed in grief and drug addiction I let my ever so controlling Mother take over caring for the kids more & more until eventually my addiction got worse and Mum told me to leave.  I took off to California and made every attempt to stay to high to let my abandoned children into my mind.  
I forgive myself at long last and declare peace on the past.  I accept and embrace my whole life just as it is & just as it is not.  We can survive and thrive in the here and now.  There are those who don't forgive or understand the casualties of my generation.  We are the love generation and I embody that now more than ever as I know we are much more than the sum of our experiences. 
With love, respect, and remembrance I bless the soul of Gene Menz and all of those whose lives intersected with with his.  My Vietnam Vet husband lives on in my life life and the lives of his children, his children's children, and generations yet to be born.

Vets Addiction and Recovery
We are forgiven, I forgive everyone I forgive myself.  I forgive all past experience. I am free.
I am free. 

Loriann Witte CAC