John is a Vietnam veteran who wonders if he has a story to tell.
“I’m one of the lucky ones who came out of combat unscathed, both physically and mentally,” he says. “I thank G-d every day for that.”
Nevertheless, John does have a tale. He helps people and pets find their way, first as a radar installation supervisor in Vietnam and then as a teacher, author, career development consultant and pet parent. Companion pets have always found their way into his life.
Showing the way in wartime
John feels deeply for veterans who haven’t been able to fully reconnect with society and who suffer from invisible wounds like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or serious physical injuries.
“When you go into a Veterans of Foreign Wars, there are so many people there missing something,” he observes. “They haven’t reconnected fully with society. They use the clubs as a refuge. I feel bad going in for a drink because I’m okay.”
The Army veteran reflects a bit more; it bothers him.
“I see similarity in the people no matter what VFW I visit,” he says. “I don’t know where I am because I’m cool with who I am – don’t need to be part of a club to feel respected.”
In 1966, John enlisted in the Army rather than waiting to be drafted, believing that doing so would offer him better opportunities and more choices for training in a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). After basic training at Fort Knox, he went to Fort Monmouth for specialty training in Ground Control Radar Maintenance.
In November 1967, John received his orders to report to Fort Benning, Georgia for a restricted area overseas mission. He knew that meant he would be deployed to South Korea or Vietnam.
“I left Oakland, California by boat to Vietnam. It took 23 days to get there,” he remembers.
John was stationed in Dak To in Vietnam’s Central Highlands as a supervisor of a self-sufficient team of thirteen. They maintained and oversaw radar installations so supply planes could land safely in low-visibility conditions and potential combat situations. He liked being a part of a tightly knit team, providing airfield services to fixed wing and other aircraft in less than ideal conditions.
In April 1968, John’s team received one last repair assignment before shipping home, to nearby Long Binh Airport. Two of his teammates perished while assigned to a hot combat zone during a terrible gunfight to defend and control Landing Zone Oasis.
John soon took advantage of the Army’s “early out” opportunity. Because he had less than six months remaining in his tour, he took a bit more time in country and transitioned into the Army Reserves.
When his tour of duty finally ended, the Vietnam veteran just wanted to return home without having to move, even temporarily. He was content to stay put.
“Dilbert is my hero”
Today John is semi-retired. He provides leadership and career development consulting on a part time basis for mid- and senior-level managers at Fortune 500 companies. He even authored a book drawn from his own experiences in leadership in the hopes that it may help others. The combat veteran feels people are generally in the wrong position at any given corporation.
“Instead of hiring the most effective person, the way to get ahead in corporate America is to be political, to know someone. Once you’re on the fast track it’s difficult to get off because of the powers that be that put you there.”
John then provides a window into his own personal philosophy.
“Dilbert is my hero,” he says, “right next to my Bible.”
A lifetime of adopting pets
In addition to finding ways to help others, John has always helped animals in need find their way to a good home – by bringing them into his own.
The veteran’s love for pets came about when, as a young boy, his mother began feeding a feral cat named Sleepy. As her name implies, she loved to doze in the sun. Another indoor cat soon followed.
The family’s first dog came into their lives when a customer on John’s newspaper route gave him a Cocker Spaniel mix puppy as a Christmas tip. Several rescued dogs and cats followed over the course of his life.
More recently, John and his wife, Lynn, adopted a purring, snuggling, drooling black cat named Sophie. She died from heart failure much too soon, but the couple still has a cat named Bentley. After Sophie’s death, Bentley became lethargic and bored, prompting John and his wife to look for another black cat. They went to their local PETCO for two years, but “nothing clicked” until one day a Calico cat named Tasha reached out to John – literally.
“I saw a crazy looking cat who attacked the PETCO gal when she took him out of his cage. Nope,” he says. “Then I heard meowing and saw a paw sticking out of another cage. It was Tasha, who immediately curled up in my lap, purred and was very happy.”
Tasha was in the care of the Michigan Humane Society, which operates various satellite adoption centers in pet stores, like PETCO. John and his wife put Tasha on a 24-hour hold. After all, Bentley had to be consulted before the couple added another pet to the family.
“I talked to Bentley, but he didn’t have much to say,” John jokes, “so I brought Tasha home.”
Beyond her loving personality, John is struck by the way Tasha is a mosaic of all of the couple’s previous cats.
“Tasha has all the colors of our past cats,” he says. “It’s like she’s a reincarnation of all our cats together.”
A family finds its way
Each night at exactly 8:30, John and Lynn look forward to a 15-minute wrestling match between Bentley and Tasha. The feisty feline loves to run around the house “like a bat out of hell.” Even the banister on their staircase is no match for the agile cat, who can weave herself in and out of the spindles without missing a step.
“Tasha is the sweetest thing,” says John. “She’s just as much adopted us as we adopted her.”
Even Bentley has stepped up his game; John observes that the 14 year-old cat has become quite spritely since Tasha joined the family.
“Tasha makes me laugh and I love her independence,” John says with a smile.
The Vietnam veteran does not remember how he heard about Pets for Patriots, but he saw an opportunity to make pet adoption more affordable and signed up. He carried his membership letter around for a year, waiting for the right connection. When he finally found Tasha it cost him only $10 to adopt her because the Michigan Humane Society offers deeply discounted adoption fees to all Pets for Patriots members.
For John and other veterans, the benefits of adopting a companion pet through Pets for Patriots – financial and otherwise – made joining an easy decision.
“I got a $150 gift card from Wag.com. I loved that!” he exclaims. “It was a no brainer to join.”