Rick Rogers

Vietnam's Apocalypse Shadow

In Memory of
Rick Rogers ...

© 1996,
by: Jerry Poss, WS LM-03

84th Combat Engineer Battalion


84th Combat Engineer Battalion, Co. B 4th Platoon, 1969-1970: I was in Vietnam from Sep 1969 to Nov 1970 and served with the 84th Eng. Battalion Co. B 4th Platoon. I extended so I could get an early out when I got home. Later, I was transferred to the 513th Eng Bat who need replacements due to casualties. My good friend Rick Rogers and I were in the 84th together.

For years after I came home from Vietnam, I looked for my best friend Rick Rogers. Every few months I would check telephone-information for his listing in Rocky Mount North Carolina. I even sent for driver's license information to North Carolina, and everything else I could think of, without any luck.

In early 2000, my son Joshua enlisted in the US Navy and served on the USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71.  When his ship was returning to their home-port in Norfolk Virginia, I decided to fly and meet the ship upon arrival. Together, we took in the sights of Civil War battlefields in Virginia and Gettysburg Pennsylvania.

While in Norfolk, I looked on the map to see how far Rocky Mount North Carolina was from Norfolk Virginia.  It was within a day's drive, so I told Joshua I wanted to go there and see if I could find my friend Rick Rogers, either in person or through his parents.  We made the drive to Rocky Mount not knowing if I would be able to locate Rick's family.

When we arrived in Rocky Mount North Carolina, Rick's hometown, I stopped at a phone booth and looked in a local phone directory for the phone number and found a Rev. Richard Rogers, possibly Rick's father.  I decided to call.

The phone rang and a lady answered.  I asked for Rick and she said, "Just a minute." I thought great, at last I've found him.

A man answered the phone and I said, Rick this is JD. The man hesitated then said, "That would be my son, Rich--this is Richard Senior."

I asked to speak with Rick, and the Reverend, hesitating again, said calmly that Rick had come home from Vietnam and was very bitter over the war and the treatment given to Vietnam Veterans by our countrymen and the Government. The Reverend's voice was slowly rising as he continued: Rick became an alcoholic, lost just about everything, and was unable to let go of the war--or it of him. He said Rick wanted nothing to do with the Vietnam Memorial, and felt that the welcome home parade given by North Carolina was twenty years too late. Then the Reverend dropped the blockbuster: Rick had died in a auto accident--drunk, and was very bitter even to his death.

I was shocked, and then asked if I could come by to meet Rick's family and tell them about Rick and what a great friend he was.  Rev. Rogers was silent for a few long-seconds, and I thought we might have lost contact, then he told me that he remembered Rick had tried to find me several times and had known I was from Long Beach, California.

I told Rev. Rogers that I knew contact would have been hard at that time, as it was for me to do for many years.

Rev. Rogers said that Rick has a son [the same age as my daughter, Lori]. I said that I would like to talk to Rick's son and that he could contact me to find out about his dad and what he was like before the war took him.

Rev. Rogers then angrily and emotionally said that Rick's son had lost a father, his wife lost a son, and he lost his only son and namesake--and that I was to blame for his Rick's death by having served in a war Americans did not want; and going to Vietnam supported a war that led to his son's death! He then loudly said that I would not have any dramatic welcome as a friend and fellow comrade in arms with Rick, and that I should have prepared him for dealing with the emotions of war--especially a war that divided America so deeply--and furthermore, I was not welcome in his home, and would not be allowed to contact Rick's son. He then slammed the receiver down hanging up on me.

I held the phone receiver to my ear several stunned-seconds, trying to grasp what had just happened and what Rick's father had said to me--and how I might have provoked him.

On the long drive back to Norfolk Virginia, tears were running down my face: I would not meet Rick this side of The Wall, and contact with his family was an ugly disaster. Joshua tried to console me by saying what had happened on the phone was not my fault. I wanted so very much to tell Rick's parents and his son just how strong the bond between war veterans is, and what Rick had meant to me. To tell his family about the man I knew, respected, and loved.  Wanting them to know that he was not alone in war and that we had even said goodnight to each other whether we slept on the ground or in our tent.

Time has passed and I understand family's grieve differently, and emotions are sometimes unpredictable. I have also tried to understand the bitterness of Rick's father, but have not been able to. Perhaps it is as simple as wanting someone to blame for a son's death. Maybe they blamed the war all those years, and with my unexpected phone call suddenly had someone physical within reach to blame and strike out at. I also felt the sting of Rev. Rogers' anger, and that he earnestly meant every word said to me.

For those who lost friends and loved ones in Vietnam--time does not heal all wounds. There is a void in one's very soul that will never be filled. I am not sure how I would have reacted differently if my on son Joshua had died in the Gulf War One, in Iran. I hope I would not have the same bitterness towards those fellow warriors who served with him. Nevertheless, for the sake of Rick's memory and my own peace of mind as I too try to deal with Vietnam, I hold no grudge to his family.

I guess Rick will always be "forever young" in my mind. For so many of us, the scars of Vietnam never heal, and the apocalypse shadow of Vietnam grows longer and sadder for those with wounds of the heart and mind. It is true our countrymen turned on us during and after the war for decades, and our government still tries to deny our needs and illnesses from the war. The VA won't even recognize Agent Orange was real and has killed countless Vietnam Veterans since war's end... but it is also true there is solace and back up when someone is willing to walk-point for those who were there.

Perhaps it was destined that Rick and I never got together this side of the war. But as for Rick's son, he has never contacted me. If he does, I want to tell him the truth about his father and hope he understands what a good and decent man Rick was.

Jerry Poss

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