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Nirek On April - 11 - 2014

English: Two white-tailed deer in a residentia...

Tom Bark (the name has been changed to protect the veteran) served two tours in Vietnam as a marine.  He came home and wanted to reenlist and go back. He said “I like killing”.  Tom spent six months in a mental hospital and was discharged from the Corp.  He returned to Vermont and started work with New England Telephone Company.  This is where I met Tom as we were in the line crew out of Montpelier.

English: A white-tailed deer

Tom is an avid hunter.  He takes off the whole month of November and hunts in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  One Thanksgiving he was in Maine, driving to a special hunting ground early in the morning.  He saw a BIG buck just off the road.  So he pulled over and got out and watched the deer put his head down to eat some grass.  Now it is illegal to shoot a deer before dawn and to shoot from the road.  He leaned on the hood of his truck and shot the deer. His buddy said you “dummy” so he shot again thinking he called him a dummy for missing.  What his buddy was saying is it is a dummy deer (maniacal).  All of a sudden the “Christmas trees” (game wardens in disguise) all got up and walked towards him and game wardens came in their trucks lights flashing from both directions.

The wardens confiscated his gun and  truck and took him off to jail.  He used his “call” to have his wife drive up on Thanksgiving to bail him out.  He lost his license for a couple years.

The next year his gun was going up for auction.  He drove all the way up to Maine to buy it back.

Another time he told all of us that he shoots until he is out of ammo.  Tom is not much of a sportsman.  He also has a drinking problem (comes with being a vet).  One night Tom was driving home with a deer in the back of his pickup, drunk, he ran off the road into a tree. He got out and walked home.  Got his wife to go back and report the accident with her as the driver.  Honesty never was his strong suit. I often wondered if he was a sociopath?

One more story he told us. He liked muzzle loading season. Another way to hunt deer. But he had no problem cheating. He lived in a big log home he built himself. Put out bushels of apples just outside his bedroom window and had it lit up with flood lights. One night he saw a trophy buck eating apples so Tom opened the window just enough to shoot through with the muzzle loader (old fashion single shot black powder gun) and shot the buck. The curtains had caught fire and the room filled with smoke. The smoke detector was wailing and his wife was cursing him while he put the fire out and opened the windows to clear the smoke.

Can you imagine Tom telling us linemen this story a few weeks later and not thinking it was wrong?

Tom was very forthcoming with his stories. He also swore that they were all true. Tom lived for the month of November and hunting season. He channeled his aggression into hunting. It was how he handled the horrors of war. Tom and I got along but had different ways of coping with our experiences.

I guess my point is that war does things to you and to some people it does something different. I did not enjoy killing anyone. Not even the guy who was shooting at me. I did it out of self defense. Tom and some others enjoyed it. He would have gone back again if they had not identified his mental health problem and treated him.

Tom completed his career with the phone company successfully. He found a way to deal with life. It is both sad and funny listening to Tom tell his stories. I respect Tom for his service, but disagree with his ethics.

Written by Nirek

Proud progressive Vietnam Vet against WAR! Can't stomach chickenhawks.

13 Responses so far.

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  1. kesmarn says:

    Nirek, I was away from home much of the time from Friday until today, so this is the first chance I’ve had to comment on this really fascinating character study.

    I have to wonder if you ever felt uncomfortable working with Tom? I think I would have been mulling over the possibility of Tom’s love of killing (combined with stress) randomly re-occuring at any odd moment, on little or no provocation, and myself being the victim, had I been in your shoes!

    It’s so hard to know what makes people like Tom. But I’ve known a few myself who were somewhat like him — maybe not quite to such an extreme degree, though.

    I worked with a nurse who was the same way about guns, hunting and hunting season. He lived for hunting. He used bows and arrows as well as guns. He seemed to particularly love watching the animals die. I know it sounds odd, but even just re-telling the stories (and he did that over and over) seemed to excite him.

    I suspect that he didn’t even use the meat from the deer he killed. For him, it wasn’t about feeding himself or anyone else. It was the killing that he loved. He had never served in the military. I thought that nursing was an odd choice of a profession for him. His mother had also been a nurse, and I had known her (although not very well) as a person who wasn’t particularly compassionate. He didn’t seem to have any feelings for his patients either. He was technically fairly adept, but nursing seemed to be just a job for him — a way to pay for his hunting trips and equipment.

    It’s so strange that the same qualities that get a person classified as a sociopath — love of killing, lack of empathy, etc. — in civilian life, are considered to be almost desirable personality traits in a time of war. Behavior that puts a person behind bars in one situation may — paradoxically — win him a medal in another.

    And some of the scrapes Tom got into were almost comical — if they hadn’t been so pathetic. He seemed never to tire of putting himself and everyone around him at risk in order to kill animals — not to mention breaking the law. And he never learned from experience!

    I can see why you hate war so much, Nirek. How does a country ask a whole group of young men to be “temporary killers” and then revert to “normal” immediately upon return home? That would affect any human being’s state of mind. War truly is madness.

    I have to admire any person who has been through such a traumatizing experience and gone on to have a fulfilling family life and career. That takes a tremendous amount of strength, humility and courage. You and your Dad are really to be commended.

    Thanks once again for sharing stories of what the Viet Nam experience was really like — not a sanitized or Hollywood version. Your articles are the most authentic pieces of writing I’ve ever read on the topic of the Viet Nam war!

    • Nirek says:

      Thanks Kes, your observations are spot on. Tom was sometimes scary to work with.

      Your nurse who hunted sounds a lot like Tom personality wise. I will say though that Tom ate all the meat he was able to save. He did ruin a lot with his shooting until he was out of ammo.

      I added some videos to the “Draftee” story in the comments showing the flights and horrors of war. Also one on the “tunnels of Cu Chi”.

      Peace

  2. Aquarius 1027 says:

    As I read your article, I thought of the movie “The Deer Hunter” which exemplified the traumatic results of experiencing the realities of war. Sadly, far too many veterans have difficulty when coping with what they have experienced. Yet we as a nation do not provide enough care for them. -- Thank you for sharing Tom’s story.

    I agree that those who have served in war are changed forever. And like Tom’s wife in the story, those who are directly with veterans will have their lives changed in some manner as well. -- I remember one time with my Dad, a WWII veteran, that demonstrated the lasting impact of war. My Dad was taking a nap one afternoon. I had removed a small door for access to an attic and propped it against the wall. Somehow it suddenly and quite loudly fell flat on the wooden floor with a tremendous bang. My Dad told me that he woke up trying to dig a foxhole next to his bed . . . over twenty years after he had returned home from the war.

    My hope is for better care for the veterans who have survived to come home yet who remain wounded far beyond any physical scars. It is our duty in return to provide this care after sending them in harm’s way.

    Peace to all.

    • Nirek says:

      Aquarius, I agree with you. So many men and women go to war and are scared mentally. I am. But I had my Dad (also a WWII vet) who made me share my experiences with him. He shared some of his with me. Dads wisdom saved me from so much suffering.

      I don’t think Tom had the proper support from his Dad or from the VA.

      When we ask people to go to war we have to give them all the help they need when they return home. That is the least we can do. In my opinion.

      Peace

      • Aquarius 1027 says:

        Your Dad was indeed a wise man to give you the support you needed when you returned, Nirek. Quite simply a wonderful gift of love and compassion. -- I was one of those who could not look at your videos but I appreciate that you posted them for others to have a better understanding. -- All the best to you and your family.

  3. Kalima says:

    Thank you Nirek for sharing. For me the story is very sad, and six months in a mental health care facility obviously wasn’t enough. It’s a shame he didn’t get further help. As for killing for the sake of killing innocent animals because you have the upper hand, I couldn’t be more against hunting if I tried.

    Thanks again for the post Nirek.

    Peace.

    • Nirek says:

      Kalima, I share your feelings about hunting. I like all animals and live among them here on my 4.3 acres.

      I saw first hand what Tom did and I took a different path. Not to brag but when I killed a man it had a lasting effect on me (I still wonder who is taking care of his family).

      Maybe if Tom had had had the support of a father who had been through similar circumstances he would have done different.

      Kalima, I feel that this post hurt you in some way. I am sorry if it did.

      Peace

      • Kalima says:

        My Dear Nirek, no your post didn’t hurt or upset me, it’s just that I tend to feel suffering whether human or animal, very deeply, and think that it’s not a solution to anything. It’s stain on mankind. Yet as I type this, around the world people are doing the most awful things to each other, and for what?

        You told a story, and in a way I felt sorry for the man, he should have been given more help than he received. All those sent by governments to fight deserve to come home and be treated with respect. That they are not is what hurts me the most.

        I’m glad that you had your father to talk things over with.

        Peace, and goodnight from Tokyo.

  4. escribacat says:

    I’d be interested in knowing what Tom was like before Vietnam. I suspect he was a bit off before he even got there. My brother was always a bit odd and his one year in Vietnam just made it all worse. He’s been a loner and pretty messed up since then but I think there were issues before too. It’s very sad. Tom honestly sounds truly awful to me.

    • Nirek says:

      E’cat, I didn’t know Tom before he was with the phone company. He was moody. His Mom was one very nice lady. She was a waitress at a coffee shop we went to. She also thought the sun rose on Tom.
      I suspect you may be right and he was always different.

  5. Nirek says:

    Ad, war does different things to different people. Tom found a way to get his aggression an outlet that didn’t hurt other people in hunting. I don’t like his methods but I also know he could have done much worse.

    Thanks for your understanding what I tried to convey with some humor.

  6. AdLib says:

    Nirek, this story is so enlightening about the psychological compensation some vets feel driven to make after living through such severe carnage in war.

    There’s a kind of addictive quality to Tom’s need to kill deer at any cost, no matter what laws he has to break or how unprincipled he has to be. He truly appears to need to kill as almost a way to self-medicate the psychological scars he still suffers from.

    And it is daunting to consider how many young men are churned through the military and wars then end up like Tom, living their lives in a way that keeps the demons at bay.

    Thanks for this profile, it helps bring home the invisible psychological damage that subjecting people to war brings.

    • Aquarius 1027 says:

      Agree, AdLib -- quite daunting indeed . . if only there were no more wars. See my post under Nirek’s Life of a Draftee if you’d like, I shared a few more thoughts about veterans. -- Good to see you again!


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