“I was raised in that sense where the spirit of service was engrained in us,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Roger Donlon.
Donlon is one of 10 children from a small town in upstate New York.
His father served in WWI. His brothers served. His uncle served.
“When my turn came, I enlisted in the air force, and I was dreaming about flying but that dream wasn't to be, so my next life I'll do that,” Donlon said. “In the interim, instead of flying planes, I learned how to jump out of them.”
He would go on to serve nearly 33 years in the armed forces -- including Vietnam.
“I was on a mission to special forces, help equip Vietnamese, so that they could stand on their own,” Donlon said.
He is a Medal of Honor recipient, the highest honor bestowed for responding above and beyond the call of duty.
“With that comes great responsibility,” Donlon said. “I feel my responsibility is to conduct my life in a way that will bring respect, love and honor in memory of those people who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Unlike many who returned home from Vietnam, Donlon received a warm welcome from thousands that flocked to his small town when he returned.
But he said after his homecoming, that all changed.
“Our society was imploding at that time,” Donlon said.
Shortly after, he said it was his wife who first noticed he was marked with what he calls the "invisible scars" of war.
“Nobody knows me better than Norma. She was treated worse than I was,” Donlon said. “Her first husband was killed in Vietnam, she told me to the story when she went to the airport to receive his body, she was spit upon and jeered – told he 'got what he deserved.'”
He said back then, many fellow servicemen suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, but wouldn't seek help because it could've impacted things like security clearance.
“I've had serious problems, personally, with questions of guilt, survival guilt, and anybody that's been in combat, or a plane wreck or car wreck, where death occurs,” Donlon said. “You ask yourself and ask God why them, not me? That's something you wrestle with your whole life.”
He's dedicated his life to erasing those invisible scars for others.
“The enemy didn't defeat you on the battlefields, don't let them defeat you at home,” Donlon said.
Donlon is now a national spokesperson for PTSD. He helps fellow veterans reach the resources available to them.
“There are resources – have been in existence for a long time – to help people hand this emotionally, but there was a stigma in the past,” Donlon said.
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