The government sent John Barbazon’s next of kin two telegrams in 1966. The first regretted to inform them that their son had been killed in action. The second said he was improving.
A member of the 101st Airborne, Barbazon (pictured above) was part of a squad that spent most of their time on the move, up and down mountains – and rarely in the company of other units.
Barbazon’s carved chess pieces.
“We just got orders and kept going from one place to another,” he said, sitting at a workbench in a shop at the back of his four-acre property.
Barbazon isn’t entirely still. He continues to move from one place to the next as he recalls his experience in Vietnam.
“I got shot and I was lying on the ground, my right arm mostly gone. I stick this finger in a sucking chest wound right here to stop the bleeding,” he said, holding up a thick index finger and jamming it into a space just below his right shoulder.
Each time he repeats the motion, the finger hits the same spot, to the same wound.
“I was on the ground,” he continued. “My cousin called out to me, told me to crawl to him. I crawled thirty to forty feet to a medic. I found out later my cousin had died in a car wreck. He wasn’t even there but if I hadn’t seen him call to me, I would have died right there, bled to death.”
Cussed out medic in Cajun
Soon after reaching the medic, he was placed in a body bag being mistaken as having been killed in action. The medics carrying him dropped him.
Later, one of the medics visited Barbazon in the field hospital.
“He (the medic) said that if I had died, I’d have gone to hell because I called him things he’d never heard of, in Cajun. I was cussing him out for dropping me.”
“I’ve been a very lucky person.”
Barbazon laughs at the memory now, but he spent a month in the field hospital before being shipped to California, where surgeries saved his arm and leg. Now he walks with a slight limp, but he doesn’t let it do more than slow his walking speed.
Happy and busy
“I hadn’t talked about Vietnam until eight or 10 years ago. I was in Ocala, Florida, at the VA hospital, and I was talking to a doctor I’d been seeing. She said, ‘John, I need you to talk to a friend of mine.’ So she takes me to a psychiatrist. And I’m glad.
“A lot of Veterans need to do this. I found out things I was doing that I was doing in Vietnam, like carrying a knife in my pocket for protection and going to the top row in a movie theater with my back against the wall. I was on guard too much and needed to relax.
“Talking to the psychiatrist was the best thing I’ve done, and I talked to him for about four years. Now I know I was really dysfunctional and didn’t realize it. Veterans today, they need to get out and find out. They need to talk to somebody and they have to listen.
“He told me, you’re not cured. I’m not going to cure you. I’m just going to make you aware of what you’re doing so you can be more relaxed. That’s why I enjoy doing this woodworking and that’s why I say Veterans need to talk to somebody – and they need to get a hobby.”
There’s something they can do
“If they are sitting home disabled, there’s something they can do. I don’t care if it’s going fishing. You’ve got to do something,” Barbazon said.
Barbazon’s sister has the telegrams, and he has a house full of delicately cut artwork that will soon include a dome clock that he’s spent the last six months working on for six hours a day.
“I’m very lucky. I’ve been a lucky person.”
Rosaire Bushey is a public affairs officer for the Salem VA Health Care System and a retired U.S. Air Force Veteran.