A Note from Sugarbear

Former enemies. Hugh S., aka Sugarbear, was a helicopter gunship door gunner in Vietnam. Lam Van Tien was a Vietnamese schoolteacher until American bombs destroyed his village. Then he became a Vietcong. Lam was seriously wounded by a gunship's gunner in 1968 at Rach Kien. Sugarbear was wounded by VC ground fire in the same place, the same year. The two old foes met at a recent international conference, learned what they had in common, and joked that if they had shot each other they were glad they hadn't been better shots.

Had the note below from an old Army buddy today:

“If you view HBO’s ‘Wartorn’ anytime in the next few weeks and would like to help the more than 700 thousand new veterans suffering from PTSD, may I suggest a contribution to Soldier’s Heart. I also know a gift at Christmas in the name of a loved one would be greatly appreciated as well.

“The Soldier’s Heart statement:

” ‘Soldier’s Heart addresses the emotional, spiritual and moral needs of veterans, their families and communities using a unique and comprehensive model of healing. Our goal is to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD by developing a new and honorable warrior identity. We also promote, train and guide community-based efforts to heal the effects of war.’

“Soldier’s Heart, 500 Federal St., Suite 303, Troy, NY 12180, 518-274-0501 Ext 10

“I have worked with this amazing organization for several years now and can tell you their programs are successful. Please help them continue their efforts. Ask your friends and family to help.

“If you want more information, please go to their website at: http://www.soldiersheart.net.

“It takes more than words, a button or a bumper sticker to Support the Troops. Thanks for considering support for this well-deserved organization.”

My buddy ended his note with this quote: “Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.” —Thich Nhat Han

My buddy’s name is Hugh S. He doesn’t want his last name used. We served together in a helicopter gunship platoon in Vietnam in 1967-68. Hugh was wounded twice the year he flew with me. Then he went back for a second tour. He has never been able to remember the last nine months of his second 12-month tour. That’s PTSD.

Hugh has dedicated his life to helping other veterans with PTSD, which doesn’t surprise me. Hugh’s nickname in Vietnam was Sugarbear because of his size and sweet nature. He’s 6’3” and as a kid in Vietnam he weighed 230 pounds. As an adult, he’s one of those guys who has had to work at keeping his weight below 300. The thing is, Sugarbear’s heart has always weighed about ten times more than that.

Hugh has another animal nickname—matocante, which is Sioux Indian. It means Bear Heart. A couple of Sioux kids from South Dakota nicknamed him that after he persuaded them to sober up and helped put them through college.

Anyway, because the U.S. government is failing so utterly at helping its combat veterans deal with the trauma of their experience, Hugh is concerned that a perfect storm of PTSD now threatens America. Sugarbear isn’t about to stand by and let that happen. Matocante thinks 700 thousand traumatized veterans could make a pretty bright candle. What do you think?

Here’s a poem Sugarbear wrote that he recently read to some 500 attendees of the International Peace and War Summit at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Message from the Dead

I marched in straight lines…wore uniforms fine.

I died for this country’s cause.

Years later I see…that it just wasn’t me

who knew there were policy flaws.

When you’re dead…there’s a dread

that the lesson is lost… on those who never did fight.

And as I lie in the ground…with my pals all around

I realize that I’m probably right.

Politicians take a stand over some foreign land…hell, there will

always be young ones to fight it.

But bring those souls here…..let them come near.

We’ll tell the truth…we won’t hide it.

2 Comments

Filed under Vietnam Veterans

2 responses to “A Note from Sugarbear

  1. Larry, Thanks so much for posting this. I can tell you firsthand that Soldier’s Heart is receiving more and more requests from young returning vets who are seeking healing and for whom traditional means are not working. They want to attend our retreats but don’t have the funds. We are committed to providing what it takes to help them get there, but our scholarship fund is very low at the moment. Through creative means we hope that soon retreats will be free to veterans. In the meantime, this is a wonderful way for the civilian community to step up to the plate and help to share the burden of healing the wounds of war.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Paula, and thank you for your efforts on behalf of Soldier’s Heart. I hope people will share this message and consider contributing to your wonderful organization, realizing that they can save lives in more ways than one. Sugarbear and I and our brothers continue to loose our other brothers to Vietnam’s combat. Google the name John Frasso and read his story. “Fraz” was the ultimate Mustang, which was the name of our gunship platoon. He was like a tough, street smart character out of a movie, and he set an example for us all. His story is silently repeated God only knows how many times. By contributing to Soldier’s Heart people can help prevent tragedies like his. Godspeed.

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