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Vermont veterans and their loved ones share stories of building community

 A man wearing a black jacket with patches and the phrase "freedom is not free" on it.
Brittany Patterson
Vermont Public
The Vermont National Guard hosted a ceremony in May 2023 to honor soldiers killed while serving in all branches of the military.

In honor of Veterans Day, Vermont Edition invited local veterans to talk about how they built community during their deployment their and when they returned home. The conversation struck a chord -- veterans from around the state and their loved ones called in to share their own stories. Here is a selection of what we heard, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Keith, Westminster Station

My career in the military is different in that I graduated from high school on [a] Friday, and Monday I was in the Air Force, going through basic training and was selected to be a pilot. And then all of a sudden, the war's over. So I did not become a pilot, and I ended up in radar. And where did they station me? In St. Albans, Vermont. So I spent the rest of my career in St. Albans.

There's very few veterans from the Korean War now. I just wanted to reach out and let everyone know how much we're all concerned with our wartime veterans, and the service that they've given us. It's been incredible.

Jeanne, Brattleboro

My husband was a Marine in Vietnam, and was in an area sprayed heavily with Agent Orange. And because of that, he now struggles with Parkinson's, a horrible disease, and cardiac disease as well. I just feel like they had to know. They had to know that they were poisoning people in the area. But in addition to that, I will say that VA has been outstanding.

Rep. Chip Troiano, Stannard

I served a combat tour in Vietnam. I started as an airmobile infantry soldier, and ultimately finished my tour as a helicopter gunship door gunner. I returned in 1967, which was 12 years before post-traumatic stress became a recognized disorder. So 12 years, I kicked around with a lot of anger and a totally emotional flatline before I got some help. Over a 30 year period of time, on and off, I've received some good therapy from some veterans counselors here in the [Northeast] Kingdom. And I feel like I've really recovered from it. But a lot of the issues that have been spoken about on this program have really touched me. And every March 29, Vietnam Veterans Day, I stand in the [Vermont] House of Representatives, and I give a history lesson. It's important that folks know what we experienced.

Rep. Chip Troiano has represented Caledonia County in the state legislature since 2015.

Doris Sumner, Milton

I joined when I was 18. As a tomboy, I wanted to drive big trucks. And I thought, well, the Army could teach me. After my active duty, I returned to Vermont and ended up transitioning into the National Guard, and eventually ended up as the equal opportunity manager and the diversity manager for the Vermont National Guard. Listening to women come in and talk about the disparate treatment and the challenges and the humiliations they were feeling in a job that they wanted to have and that they loved was very disheartening. The predominant cases that I received were sexual harassment.

Yes, we do have women commanders, we do have women sergeant majors, and we've had women generals. But there's not enough of them to change the leadership culture. Prevention, to me, is creating an inclusive environment, where — regardless of your gender identity — you are treated as a true warrior, [and are] validated and respected for what you bring to the team.

Doris Sumner is the author of the book Life At Camp: Combating the Sexism We Tolerate.

Jon Turner, Bristol

A lot of times there's a narrative that the veteran has to be identifiable with their diagnosis. And I strongly disagree with that. The physical injuries are real, the psychological injuries are real, and those should definitely be tended to. But if all you're able to do is identify with the diagnosis, you're really shutting yourself short. I've known so many people who have thrived in war and in stress, and when they come home, emotions get to them. I've been one of those persons as well. But I think that we are capable of doing very difficult things and persevering in times of stress, and being able to adapt to certain circumstances. We can be that leader, we can be that father, that husband, that wife, that caretaker that our community and our family and our friends need us to be.

Jon Turner operates Wild Roots Community Farm in Bristol and is on the board of Veterans Town Hall.

Marlon Fisher, Burlington

I joined [the U.S. Army] when I was 25, and deployed 2010 and 2011 to Afghanistan. So that was a tough time. When we got downrange, it was during a surge. So there were, you know, a lot of attacks around us, around the base that I was at. We were losing soldiers left and right. After some time, I figured out some way to take us away. We started "Live in the Hive" — pretty much a talent show, but that's how I started doing stand up. It took us away for about 15 minutes. That little bit of time allowed us to connect, allowed us to really get to know each other during the most stressful time of our lives.

My kids are five and seven, and I tell them things at an age-appropriate level. So they know that Daddy was in the Army. But when the time comes, they will learn more about my time. But more importantly, what I share with them is the community I've built. I'm teaching the boys how to build community, which has been really important in the healing process, and just having others to lean on. But they will someday know about all of my time in the military.

Marlon Fisher is a local host of The Moth storytelling hour and on staff with the Vermont nonprofit Dad Guild.

Information and resources for veterans:

Broadcast at noon Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m. This episode of Vermont Edition also included a conversation Shira Maguen, mental health director of the Post 9/11 integrated care clinic, and a staff psychologist on the PTSD team at the VA Health Care System in San Francisco. She’s also a professor at the UCSF School of Medicine. Shira’s done research in conjunction with the National Center for PTSD, which is based in White River Junction.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.