It’s May, and on Memorial Day we will pay tribute to those military members who died in service to this Nation. It’s also my anniversary month in the Air Force, and by the end of it, I will have served 29 years. A long career serving, but not “heroic” in any way; however, between the holiday and my anniversary date, I’m reminded of a lesson I learned a long time ago that I would like to share with those Veterans who continue to serve this nation in VA.

Gerald SonnenbergMy father, an Air Force and Korean War Veteran, lied to me when I was a kid. Well, it was more of an exaggeration of the facts. Maybe he was trying to be funny. He had a fun sense of humor. Or maybe he was a little embarrassed at the time. I was probably in second grade when I asked my dad what his job had been in the war. I had seen black and white photos of him posing in the middle of a wintry U.S. compound in Korea in his long overcoat and helmet as he shouldered an M-1 rifle. It all looked pretty cool to me. His reply was that he was a “Remington Raider.” I didn’t know what that meant. He didn’t go into any detail. I just knew Remington was a brand of weapon, and a raider was one of those guys in the movies who were always part of a smaller unit swiftly attacking an enemy.

I bragged to my friends about this. They thought it sounded just as cool as I did. Then, when I was about 12 years old, I came across his old ribbons and decorations. There were a few, but not as many as I expected for a Remington Raider who went to war and spent 9 years on active duty and in the Air Force Reserve. I finally asked him to be more specific about his service. Then he broke it to me: he was a clerk typist. Remington was also a brand of typewriter. That was the job the Air Force gave him.

I didn’t really know what to say. I just said OK, and we both laughed about it. It was kind of funny and clever, but for the rest of my younger years, I would only say, with pride, that my dad served in the Korean War. Thinking hard about it, he didn’t lie to me at all. I think he didn’t tell me the whole story at first because he wanted me to be proud of him, so he gave his job what he thought might be a cool name. I don’t think I was any less proud of him. He was always my hero in a lot of ways.

As I got older, we had our times of separation. My parents divorced, and my dad and I didn’t see each other as much. It wasn’t until I had my own family that we became even closer than before. In September 2002, I was in my hometown in Oklahoma for my grandfather’s funeral. My grandpa was my mother’s father, and I was very close to him, so I was down. I visited my dad, too, with all that was going on. We spent the day together talking and watching TV. He shared his pork and kraut recipe with me, and we talked about a lot of things, including the Remington Raider story, and I remember telling him I was proud of him regardless of what he did in the Air Force.

It was almost a month to the day that I frantically flew back to my hometown to go to an intensive care unit where my dad was lying. He was suddenly having complications from an illness, and his body was starting to fail. He couldn’t talk because of an air tube down his throat, and he was also on a ventilator to help him breathe. He wouldn’t let anything be done until I got there. He slept most of the time for the next 2 days, but there was a period of about 30 minutes when the rest of my family was out of the room that he was awake. We had hope, but I think we all knew what was coming. I stood by his bed and held his hand and asked him if he was scared. He shook his head no. In his eyes I could see how brave he really was. That’s how he remained until the end.

I have the lesson of my father to know that I could call my active duty and Reserve days as a public affairs specialist and historian something cool. However, I know that the millions of Veterans past and present sacrificed to serve this nation, no matter what their jobs were. We “Remington Raiders” should be proud because we served. I don’t equate my military career even closely to that of those combat Veterans and wounded warriors out there, but I do hope that when my career comes to an end that my sons will be as proud of me as I remain proud of my dad.

Jerry SonnenbergGerald Sonnenberg is a senior marketing and communication specialist for VA’s Employee Education System and a U.S. Air Force Veteran.

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Published on May. 21, 2015

Estimated reading time is 4.6 min.

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  1. Douglas J Lopez May 26, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    To Whom It May Concern; May 26, 2015
    I am Douglas J Lopez. I am in need of your attention as to a current problem I am experiencing with the local Harry S. Truman VA hospital. I know you are very busy and won’t waste your time or energy, I’ll get right to the point.
    I am a drafted Vietnam Veteran who was honorably discharged after serving my country for two years. I was given shots with airguns and was infected with a bloodborne disease called Hepatitis C prior to going overseas during the Vietnam war forty three years ago. After years and years of living with the deadly and highly contagious Hepatitis C virus I was diagnosed and treated in 2001 by a private physician and the virus went sky high (over 95,000,000.) After completing the treatment of eleven months I was almost dead. I have severe complications due to the adverse reaction of the virus to my body as well as allergic reactions to the combination therapy of interferon and ribiviron. I won’t go into all the extra-hepatic manifestations of the Hep C Virus, such as instant tinnitus on day one of the treatment. I can tell you I deal daily with the pain of neuropathy in both my feet and hands as well as into my legs and arms. I have abdominal pain, itchy skin, and irritable bowel problems. I suffer everyday with encephalopathy, extreme fatigue, myalgia and arthralgia, and my immune system is literally shot.
    I have been in contact with the VA Hospital over the last ten years, I’d like to say I’m currently being treated with the latest cure (Harvoni) to eradicate the deadly virus. However, that is not the case. There is a cure for me and my particular genotype 1a. The VA produces webpages full of information and states that is willing to treat those of us who have the virus…but the local hepatitis nurse says she can’t. “They can’t afford the treatment that for me would be 93-97% successful.” This is not acceptable to me. But, my hands are tied by the same liars that initially infected me. The same ones who had appropriated necessary funds for the Truman VA hospital and then withheld the said funds.
    In 1972 I was lied to by my recruiter. I was lied to by the military personnel who sent me to a training school to build bombs while I had a signed contract with the United States of America to go into the field of air conditioning and refrigeration. I was told during my time overseas to lie to anyone about our mission after the war had officially ended while I was serving in Asia. I don’t trust any representative of our government, just look at the news these days. I’ve been lied to by people at the VA hospital in Columbia, MO. Sadly the latest top leader of the VA is also a liar as seen on a recent clip on the news when he lied and said he was, “Special Services,” to a vet on the street. This culture of lying is past due the time to change, such things in our society and culture are unacceptable.
    I was recently given a battery of blood tests to get an overall understanding of my current health situation so the VA hospital can decide whether or not I would be treated for the virus that is daily killing me. The sick part of all this is that there is a cure…and the VA won’t treat me after the US government has given me this deadly virus. I don’t know if I can even believe the people at any VA, or if you will ever do anything for me or for any of the thousands of VietNam veterans in the same situation. All I know is Uncle Sam won’t treat me for the virus that the U.S. government gave me. Inexcusable! What will the US government do once a cure becomes available for cancer? What excuse will they use for those vets dying from cancer?
    Sadly if I were gay and had AIDS they would do everything they could to treat me! I’m not gay, I don’t have AIDS nor did I get the Hep C virus from intravenous drug use or from rough sex. I have this deadly virus because I was drafted and forced to get shots to keep me from getting a different disease, instead I am infected by the air guns as they distributed the bloodborne disease called Hepatitis C while serving in the VietNam war.
    This month is Hepatitis Awareness month!!! It’s just a publicity stunt…If you really cared, Hepatitis C could be eradicated among the veteran community. Thanks for everything…or should I say for nothing? Or, need I thank you for the Hepatitis C virus?

    Douglas J Lopez

    p.s. You’re welcome for my honorable service to the United States of America!

  2. bruce a. nye May 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    What an interesting and touching story. I to was a Remington Raider in the US Air Force from 5 Jan 51 to 7 Aug 54. I spent my whole time in the service except for 6 months training at Lackland AFB and FE Warren in Wyoming at a AF Base in England, not far from Oxford. I have always honored all of those brave men who was sent to Korea, my saving grace has been knowing that I had no choice as to where I was going to be sent, nor did those brave men who was sent to Korea, we all served with pride and honor, doing as we were ordered to do.

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