WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — For many veterans, the fight to manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continues long after the fight on the battlefield. Such is the case for Vietnam veteran James “JR” Franklin.
“I’m just an old country boy. They had me scared,” Franklin said.
Franklin was drafted into the U.S. Army in May 1966. After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Franklin made his way to Fort Riley, where the Ninth Infantry Division deployed to Vietnam in December 1966.
“We got there, and didn’t you know, we had to learn everything. But I had my peers with me,” Franklin said.
Franklin was part of the Mobile Riverine Force: a part of the Ninth Infantry Division that faced some of the toughest conditions in the jungles of South Vietnam.
“We were out in an area called the Rung Sat, which is a big mangrove swamp. Five days out, we’d lose 35% of our men to immersion foot,” Franklin said.
During his time in Vietnam, Franklin was stationed on four different carriers.
“The Henrico, the Montrose, the Beloit, and the Colleton — my first operation was through the Henrico. They weren’t those big, big ships. They were converted LSTs,” Franklin said.
From there, helicopters would sneak Franklin and his unit out to the jungles of Vietnam in the middle of the night.
“Most of the time, we slept in the mud,” Franklin said.
Just six months into his deployment to Vietnam, Franklin would find himself on the fast track as an NCO after his platoon sergeant was wounded on June 19, 1967.
“I was a 20-year-old combat platoon sergeant. I had no business being a combat platoon sergeant at 20 than the man on the moon,” Franklin said.
Despite being wounded, Franklin would complete his tour of Vietnam.
“I catch two bad operations back to back. I had been wounded a couple of times,” Franklin said.
After returning from Vietnam, Franklin was made a platoon sergeant again over a mechanized unit in Fort Hood, Texas.
Franklin was honorably discharged after 22 months of active duty, but his battles were far from over.
“There was no manual to be a civilian,” Franklin said.
In 1969, Franklin would seek help from the VA in Amarillo, Texas. The experience would leave him feeling even more isolated.
“[I] swore I would never grace the doors of a VA again in my life,” Franklin said.
In 1994, a friend would lend Franklin a small book that made a big impact on his life.
“It was no bigger than, oh, a Reader’s Digest, and I started reading that, and I said, man, I got PTSD, but I know what to do about it,” Franklin said.
Franklin would once again step foot into a VA—while learning the system, a VA counselor gave him an idea.
“She told me, ‘why don’t you start sharing what you know about the VA with these guys that are needing to, to go through there?'” Franklin said.
Franklin has since helped countless veterans negotiate the VA.
“I can walk them over and introduce them to the people at the desk, and this individual needs an intake, and that, that speeds the process up tremendously,” Franklin said.
Franklin also connected a VA doctor he was working with to filmmakers. He also appeared in three documentaries working to educate a new audience on the struggles of Vietnam.
“We as Vietnam vets never again on our watch will warriors be treated as we were,” Franklin said. “When all is said and done, I finally figured out why I survived all that, or at least, with something I was comfortable with, and that’s to do what I do today.”
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