He is a compassionate man with a special place in his heart for suffering Veterans. He is a caring individual who deeply loves his family and devotes his time as an advocate for veterans. Rendon shares his concerns for his country by expressing them through public speaking and writing. He loves his country and he has shown his love through the heroic sacrifices he has made for his country. Still with his busy schedule, he still finds time to participate in local political events and volunteer work.
Fred Rendon Jr. was born in Dallas Texas and served in the United States Marine Corps as a Lance Corporal. E-3. He served in Camp Pendleton California, Camp Lejune North Carolina, Camp Butler Okinawa, and DaNang Vietnam.
Stacey Chillemi: So tell me about yourself.
Fred Rendon: I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 16 years of age to report to training on my 17th birthday. My father had recently moved us to California and I was not doing well in school due to all of the moving around we were doing. I knew the Marine Corps had a very difficult boot camp and I wanted to get into good shape, I wanted to fight for my country and I liked the Dress Blues.
My arrival at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot was like the beginning of a long nightmare. Boot camp is a very intense training program where the recruits are in the presence of a Drill Instructor every waking hour. The exercise is almost ever whelming. Just when you think, you cannot go any further you, exceed your own limits. There is no time to think about what you did or what you wish you had done, your focus is getting through the moment. The Drill Instructors in the sixties were very physical with the recruits. Yes, they would beat us. If you were not liked and you messed up, they would beat you even more. For punishment, the Drill Instructors would sometimes wake us up at 3:00 am and have us get into our tennis shoes and go out and run. We would run for a while and then we would head back to our barracks all of us thinking we were finally going back to sleep but the Drill Instructor would run us right by our barracks and keep going. That was very upsetting to say the least. I thought it would never end but if you just do what you are told and push your self to your limits you can do anything. On completion of the course, I was probably in the best shape I had ever been in my life. I remember one instructor in particular Sgt. Salter, he was the only one of them to be half way human.
Stacey Chillemi: I heard you just wrote a book. What is it about and what motivated you to want to write the book?
Fred Rendon: Yes, I wrote a book about my experiences with life after my time in Vietnam. I had a very difficult time trying to adjust back to my life, as I knew it before. I could no longer fit in with any sector, I felt very uncomfortable at home as well as the Marine Corps. I felt like everyone could see what I had done in Vietnam by looking in my eyes. I began wanting to be alone at home or at base I felt out of touch. I started having thoughts of worthlessness and desperation. I began hating being alive, I knew there was something wrong with me but I did not know what. After many years of problems, I started to check with the Veterans Hospital in Dallas Texas and they had a combat veterans group. Veterans would describe their problems and when I heard their problems, I knew the same thing was wrong with me. However, I was not like those Veterans because they had done real scary things and been out in the jungles I did not do that, I had killed perhaps three people and that was the only combat I was involved in. I was scared quite often. I had a few friends killed one from my boot camp platoon Hawkins and one I met there in Vietnam Wayne Reece. The public does is unaware about PTSD. They need to learn about it. There have been many movies about Vietnam the war, but not about Vietnam after math of what it does for veterans. I have seen a few movies about Vietnam and only one with Charlie Sheen called “Coming Home”, but it deals mostly with flash backs to the war. I want the public to see what PTSD is on a daily basis and how it evolves aver a period making the Veteran a hopeless victim where no one can see the scars. I wanted to show the ramifications of how the alcohol induced problems could tear a life apart. To this very day, I have not read a book about daily living with PTSD.
Stacey Chillemi: What is PTSD?
Fred Rendon: Posttraumatic stress disorder is the human minds reaction of witnessing death and destruction of life that is not a normal part of life. Often the events are so overwhelming that the human mind refuses to accept the event going on and it erases the memory so that the veteran cannot recall the event. Sometimes it starts many years after the trauma or many years later after a reunion of friends from the war, the death of a loved one, exposure to a similar stimulant. I get a strange feeling when I smell diesel fuel because we sued to use it on the roads to keep the dust down. The sound of a helicopter is also a trigger for many veterans. Isolation is a symptom that seems to be prevalent to PTSD, I began to hate being in a crowd. I felt like a looser and a coward, I hated that I could not control my emotions. I would often cry for no reason. I hated being alive, I did not deserve to be alive when the real heroes had died over there. Why had I came back I did not deserve it, I did not fit anymore why was I being punished. Death would have been many times better than living this way.
Stacey Chillemi: Did you have PTSD?
Fred Rendon: I knew while I was still in Vietnam waiting for the jet that would take me home that I did not feel normal anymore. I was going home but I felt different. After a few months in the States, I began to feel like I was going crazy I began having problems talking to people in the Marines and civilians. I felt like a looser a good for nothing Marine, I asked several times to see the base Psychiatrist while I was stationed in Camp Pendleton and I saw him and he said my problem had nothing to do with Vietnam it was that my parents had separated while I was in Vietnam. Doctors tried to hide the fact that it was the war that caused the PTSD. I went along with, but it was not the case. I only kept thinking that this was going to be a horrible way to live. With destruction and chaos in my mind all, the time and I thought maybe everyone feels this way.
Stacey Chillemi: How did PTSD affect your life?
Fred Rendon: PTSD affected my life from the time I was 19, in ways that were not visible to everyone. I could not concentrate I could not sit still I could not sleep at night. I was very uncomfortable all the time. I felt like people wanted to get me all the time. I could not feel good about myself. I had no self-esteem and in order to be sociable I had to drink alcohol. I did not drink like other people. I drank to get drunk and I could act like normal people for a while, but then I would get very obnoxious and people did not want to be around me. I could not hold jobs because of the alcoholism, lateness to arrive at a job. I would forget where I was going or I started to feel as though I was loosing my mind. I would have to pull over and cry and get my thoughts together and then try to get to work. No one would believe what was wrong with me and I did not know either so my life was like a roller coaster. I would have bursts of rage and anger that I did not know what to do. I had so much anger that I was afraid I would kill someone. I used to drive around in Mc Allen TX looking for people to shoot, I would have my pistol loaded and I would call to people and then point my gun at them, I wanted to kill some one and then I felt I could relax?????. I had many one-car accidents when I initially returned. I was arrested for DWI many times, which did not help my quest to get jobs with the government or anywhere else.
Stacey Chillemi: Did you get rid of PTSD?
Stacey the glory has to go to GOD if not for Him I would have committed suicide many years ago. I finally got rid of PTSD when I went through a program my daughter Debbie and Judy went through while getting rid of second hand PTSD. They went through the program and I could not believe the difference in them, so not long after that I decided to go through it also. I cannot get into the details of the program because each individual has to work his own program; the only thing I can tell you is that it worked a miracle for my daughters and me. When you hit rock bottom you become aware that the life you are living is unhealthy and change has to occur. Once you accept it then it is up to you if you want to walk the right path to a road of recovery that leads to a healthy, happy and productive life. The one thing I can definitely tell you is that I am rid of all of the symptoms, no more anxiety attacks, no more nightmares no more feelings of worthlessness, or thoughts of death. My mind cleared up and I am able to think more clearly my self-esteem came back and made me proud of myself for the first time in my life. I suffered from PTSD symptoms for 39 years, if I can get rid of it any one can get rid of it.
Stacey Chillemi: What are your strengths?
Fred Rendon: My strength is my ability to think things out and look for the best solution in situations I believe I can handle. Another part of my strength is being able to say I do not know when I do not know how to resolve a certain problem. I am level headed and an optimist and very kind hearted.
Stacey Chillemi: What are your weaknesses?
Fred Rendon: My weaknesses are that I have a very giving heart; I try to buy love and friendship. I wish I could help everyone and sometimes I neglect my family when helping some one. I constantly ask someone for his or her opinion of a decision I have to make.
Stacey Chillemi: Which adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
Fred Rendon: Conscientious, loving, big hearted, happy and serving. I am always very conscience of how someone else may be feeling about a certain situation. I have a sister in law who has Alzheimer’s and is getting worse, today when I saw her getting nervous and confused I began to cry at how scared she must feel. I can empathize with her because I used to feel like that when I felt like I was loosing control. I am a very loving father and I tell my children often that I love them so that there will never be a doubt in their mind about my love for them and my wife too. I am big hearted in that I will see a child in the store with the mom or dad and if the child wants a candy and I can see the parent cannot afford the item I will ask the parents permission to buy it for the child. If I see some one pushing a car, either I will use my vehicle to push or I will if I can get out and push. I will usually be very happy to do a friend or a stranger a service like run an errand or do a favor.
Stacey Chillemi: Do you remember arriving in Vietnam and what was it like?
Fred Rendon: When I arrived in Vietnam I got my gear and got the assigned duty station and I got on the back of a passenger carrier and on our way out to my unit were shot at and that is when I knew this was to be a very serious situation, not just an adventure. It was strange that men walked down the street and held hands and that men and women if they needed to move their bowels they would stop on the side of the road and take care of business. I had been in Okinawa for several months so I was used to the Oriental part of the country.
Stacey Chillemi: Did you see combat?
Fred Rendon: I saw combat on hill 357 and engaged in combat. I never knew what reaction I would have until that afternoon.
Stacey Chillemi: Did you see combat? Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences. Were you a prisoner of war? Tell me about your experiences in captivity and when freed. Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?
Fred Rendon: My most memorable experience in Vietnam was not a bad memory; it was the Bob Hope Christmas show in 1966. Mr. Hope brought his entourage of stars including Joey Heatherton and singers, beautiful women, comedian Phyllis Diller, singer Vic Damone and I think my all time favorite was Anita Bryant’s version of Silent Night. For me as well as for many others it was our first Christmas away from home and still for others this would be their last Christmas. The crowd arrived early in the sprinkling rain and waited for several hours for the arrival. What a great show Mr. Hope put on for us, the entire cast will live in the hearts forever.
Stacey Chillemi: How did you stay in touch with your family?
Fred Rendon: In 1966 we could stay in touch with our family be mail only and it was a wonderful yet sad time when mail came in. I would immediately imagine being at home again, so it was always bittersweet receiving mail.
Stacey Chillemi: Did you feel pressure or stress?
Fred Rendon: For me the stress was the reality of where I was. I was a jeep driver and so I was on the road quite often and especially a lone jeep it was stressful. We had old jeeps and they had bad tie rods and often time due to the bad roads and potholes they got very bad treatment and the tie rods would break down in the middle of nowhere. Many times, I would break down outside the compound and that was a very dangerous place to be alone waiting for a tow truck.
Stacey Chillemi: How did you get through it? Was there something special you did for “good luck”?
Fred Rendon: I have never been one to have “good luck items” but my faith and trust in God was my good luck peace. I did wear a cross around my neck.
Stacey Chillemi: How did people entertain themselves?
Fred Rendon: Drinking beer and playing cards, we had a shed that served as a “bar” but there was nothing to do. We did have a view of a mountainside where often time’s firefights were taking place, napalm would be dropped, and that would be beautiful in the night.
Stacey Chillemi:Were there entertainers?
Fred Rendon: The only time we had entertainers was as I mentioned earlier the Bob Hope Show and then once Nancy Sinatra appeared at our small make shift stage and sang her new release of “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, great song and great lady to go over to entertain the troops.
Stacey Chillemi:Do you recall the day your service ended?
Fred Rendon: After all the trouble I went through after my return to the United States I remember very well the day I got out of the service. It was January 9 1969. The time was about 9:00 am. I got my gear together and was signed out and then I began walking towards the gate until I got a ride. As I was going past the guard, I thought to my self, I hope they do not write saying I forgot something and bring me back. I thought my nightmare was over, so I thought.
Stacey Chillemi:What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
Fred Rendon: I knew right off I was not well mentally. I had problems being around people, the base psychiatrist had told me repeatedly there was nothing wrong with me so I suffered with all of the symptoms of PTSD but I did not know that. I thought that was just the way I was. I would try to work but the depression and my mood swings were overwhelming, I could not sleep at night, I stayed drunk and high on weed.
Stacey Chillemi:Did you work or go back to school?
Fred Rendon: I tried to work I tried to go to school but I could not be around people. When I say I could not be around other people I mean I could not. It was a horrible feeling, which would last me about 20 years. The first ten years were a total… well the best way for me to describe it so that you can understand it is that I was naked for the world to see me all the time. I could not talk to people. It was like being shy a thousand times over. When I was by myself, I would cry because I was sick but I did not know what to do. There was no one in the world I could talk too about the obstacles in my life that I was facing. I did not know anything about talking to a counselor or any one else. I had been to a psychiatrist in the Marine Corps and they dismissed me so I thought I was just in for a very hard time in life. I was always scared to talk to anyone about my problems because I felt like I was nobody.
Stacey Chillemi:Did the G.I. Bill support your education?
Fred Rendon: My schooling was supported for a while but before I knew it my 10 years time limit was gone. I wanted to but I could not do it. I could not concentrate. My hands would shake uncontrollably when I was taking a test and I literally could not write. Please understand there is no exaggeration.
Stacey Chillemi:Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
Fred Rendon: In my mind, I made close friendships but the reality was that I did not. My last two years in the Marine Corps I was in and out of trouble and I was too ill to care about forming friendships.
Stacey Chillemi:Did you join a veteran’s organization?
Fred Rendon: I joined the Disabled American Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of American, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other similar organizations.
Stacey Chillemi:What did you go on to do as a career after the war?
Fred Rendon: After the war, I went on to work in whatever place I could work at. I wish I could have gone to school but I could not because of an illness I did not understand and no one else could help me either.
Stacey Chillemi:Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
Fred Rendon: My military service showed me that the military was not for me it was just Too difficult taking orders from career guys that were not too bright.
Stacey Chillemi:If in a veteran’s organization, what kinds of activities does your post or association have?
Fred Rendon: Most service organization have a bar inside and many guys go there for shooting pool and dancing some have bingo games and then barbeque outings during Veterans day celebration.
Stacey Chillemi:How did your service and experiences affect your life?
Fred Rendon: I want to tell you that I cannot be emphatic enough about the difficult life I lived due to PTSD. I lost my life just as sure as if I had been in prison. I will never recuperate my time. I do not know if I have told you but ever since I learned to cope with PTSD, it is as if I am a new man. The problem now of course is how I fill the empty space left by PTSD. I do not know how to explain it but it is a strange and sometimes a sad feeling. I love life but at the same time, I lament what I lost. I want to share my story with everyone who my life story can help. I will not tire of giving you thanks for the opportunity you are giving me.
This is an interview with Fred Rendon Jr. who served in Vietnam. This interview is by Veteran Journal on the following date: April 22, 2009. The interviewer is Stacey Chillemi.
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