Ronald Wahl served in the infantry for some of the most famed operations of the Vietnam War: Nine Days in May, Operation Francis Marion and others.
“It got pretty dicey at times,” he said.
Now, 50 years later, he still deals with what happened over there.
“It will never leave. It’s always there in some degree,” he said.
Wahl was 19 when he was drafted. He completed nine months of training at Fort Lewis in Washington, then went to Vietnam in September 1966 as part of the Third Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Division.
“It was my time to go, so I went and did the best I could,” said Wahl, who was a squad leader and sometimes would fill in as necessary as a platoon sergeant and lead the 40 or so men.
Was he prepared for that kind of an assignment at 19, 20?
“No choice,” he laughs. “I wanted to do the best I could for the guys.”
Going into the war, Wahl hadn’t formed a full opinion on whether the United States should be in Vietnam. He just knew he was supposed to defend his country and didn’t analyze it too much. But that all changed when he got into combat.
“The minute you lose your first man, your outlook changes,” he said.
Wahl returned to Wing in September 1967, discharged as a staff sergeant E6. Later, he would go to Southern California and join the Iron Workers International Union. He would spend winters there and summers running an excavating and concrete company in Wing.
But five months after he got out, he started looking for help.
“I had trouble adjusting and self medicating,” he said.
Wahl had what is now known as post traumatic stress disorder. There was little help for dealing with the trauma of war back then, he said.
“It was more or less just passed over, because no one wanted to look at it,” he said, referring to it as a “suck-it-up situation.”
With extensive counseling and the support of his family, he got through it. He learned about the importance of working through the issues so they didn’t come back later in life.
“This will come out of you in one form or another if you don’t deal with it,” said Wahl, who advises anyone who comes back from conflict to get help immediately. Find an institution that can help determine the best wind-down process and get checked out.
“Don’t deny it, like most of the Vietnam veterans did,” said Wahl, who continues to find help with frequent reunions with the men he served.
He always learns something new or sees something different than the way he thought it was. The reunions are “soothing for the soul,” but he understands they’re not for everyone.
His two daughters also know about his service, and that helps, too.
“We talked and we hashed through it,” he said. “They need to know. They’re interested in knowing and they want to help me now as much as they can with things that may arise.”
Wahl wants everyone to enjoy their freedom but not become too complacent in it. Do everything you can to maintain it, he said.
“We are privileged to live in the country we live in,” he said. “Enjoy and cherish the freedom.”