"There’s always hope."
I grew up back in the good-ol'-days, in Pittsville, Wisconsin. My dad was a logger and a professional fur trapper. My mother was a nurse. Mom is an angel, and we still talk every day. But my dad and I had a kinda difficult relationship when I was growing up. One thing we bonded over, though, was fur trapping.
My dad and I would get up at four in the morning to trap, and if we had a good day, we wouldn’t get done skinning until midnight. A lot of times, Dad said that after a long day of trappin’ he'd get about halfway to the truck but then he'd have to find me and carry me out, ‘cause I'd already be asleep somewhere.
We did a lot of beaver trapping. I'd put on my old snowsuit, and we'd go out for the day, catching fifteen beavers or so at a time. We'd go to the ponds and set the traps along the bank. To get all the piss-and-vinegar out of us kids, he'd have us pull all the beavers up. We’d drag ‘em out into the snow, clean them up, and make their coats really shine. Beavers brought big money back in those days.
My dad taught me trapping—just like his dad taught him—so when I grew up, I'd have a way to make a living off the land.
I grew up in the time of the Vietnam War. I volunteered every time they were looking for people to go, ‘cause I figured maybe they’d think I was off my rocker and not take me if I volunteered enough! But, I was born on February 20th, and my lottery number was twenty. So I went into the service in August of ’70, when I was twenty years old.
When I got to Vietnam, they needed a radioman, and so I volunteered for that too. My buddy said, “That was the worst thing you could have done. Who do you think they shoot first? The commanding officer and the radio man!”
I was new in Vietnam, only there about a month. The jungle was so thick, we'd go a hundred meters a day, set up camp, and then we'd always have to go back to our old base camps to get water. One night, they sent the squad back. Meanwhile, I'm carrying a radio up to the commanding officer's headquarters.
Suddenly I hear machine-gun fire: “rata-tat-tat-tat." My sergeant was down a ways, writing a letter to his wife, sitting on the ammo can. They shot ‘im. They shot 'im right through.
I turned to try and see where the fire was coming from, and then—”rata-tat-tat-tat”—
I was done. They shot the radio. Then they shot me. My buddy was right.
I admit it; I panicked. I was supposed to be getting another radio, but all I could think of was my natural instinct: go get the M-16! I was shot in the lower half—couldn't walk or run. So I go crawling down the hillside, dragging myself with my arms. I had been shot from my knee to my hip; it was a miracle they didn't hit the big artery.
When things quieted down a bit, I yelled for the medic. It was his first firefight, so he’s shaking like a leaf—sticks me with morphine, but busts the needle off in my arm and has to give me another one. Then the firing started up again. I’m laying on my back and just spraying bullets with the M-16; the jungle’s too thick to see. The medic told me to stop and be still, but I said, “If I stay still, we’re dead.”
The medic knocked the gun out of my hand, and then everything just kinda’ stopped.
I was transferred from the 91st to Da Nang, and then to Camp Zama in Japan, and finally back to the States. I came back home in a full body cast.
I got shot September 9, 1971. I didn’t get out of the hospital until April 25, 1972.
My physical recovery was a long road. I was in seven or eight hospitals in several different countries, for over seven months. I was in traction for most of it. Finally, I recovered enough to get out of the hospital, and I was discharged from my military service.
I came back home to Wisconsin, where my dad offered me a job piling pulpwood. My dad was always hard on me, but this time I think he knew that his approach was good. I said, “Dad, you know I can hardly bend my knee. I can’t bend over.” He just said, “You can try it.” It was hard work; everything in my body was outta’ whack. I fell down a lot. But you know, it was kind of like physical therapy for me. I slowly began to recover.
I went on to do many things in my life: I was a logger, a trapper. I got married, had kids, even lived through a couple rounds of cancer. But my experiences in Vietnam always had a huge impact on me. It left me with some PTSD.
I went on meds for it from the VA, but they left me feeling like a vegetable in la-la-land. I quit taking those meds.
My therapist said the best treatment was to get outside in my orchard. I live on a lot of land and had been growing apples for years. I took their advice, and being outside a lot more did do me good.
I was down at Tomah VA one day after I had retired, thinking about that outdoors therapy, and I said to one of the nurses, “Would you be interested in bringing some vets out to fish in my pond?” She was in recreational therapy, and said, “Boy, that’d be a good idea to get them out.”
So she helped me arrange things, and vets started to come out here to my property to do some fishing. Some of my visitors are full-time residents of the VA—their PTSD or other disabilities are too bad for them to leave—and some are there for maybe a couple months for rehabilitation.
We had one guy here in a wheelchair. He was fishin’ on one of the lakes. He cast a line in; his wheels were locked. He got a nice fish on the line, but I don’t know if he tried to stand up or what—he tipped the wheelchair right over, straight into the water!
Some nurses ran over to help him up, and they got his wheelchair upright. He comes back out of the water and—you'd have to see it to believe it—he had his fishing pole in his hand, still winding! It was unreal.
We had another guy, Chuck, who couldn't talk but had a machine that put words up on a screen. I asked him if he'd ever caught a walleye, and he said no. I usually don't use live bait because the fish can choke on them, but I got a minnow for Chuck. He's right by the dock, and he got one on his line. All of a sudden, he catches his walleye, and he's crying. It's worth a million.
It's therapy for them and for me. I'm thankful that I get to hang out with the vets and go fishin'. Someone's watching over me, I'll tell you that.
-Buck Parker, Arpin, Wisconsin