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Vietnam War vets find solace in Wounded Warrior Angler program

December 4, 2013
By ED FRANKS (efranks@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

Greg Tabaczynski volunteered to go into the U.S. Army when he was just 18 years old. He served in Vietnam from 1966-1968 in the "Big Red 1."

Like many Vietnam vets Tabaczynski received much of the negative treatment other Vietnam vets received. Soldiers were often met at airports by protestors spitting and shouting obscenities, some families were embarrassed and some even ashamed. And many vets from earlier wars (World War II and Korea) didn't consider Vietnam a "real" war.

When Tabaczynski passed through Hawaii on his way home in uniform as a U.S. service member he was refused service at a local bar. Then when he arrived at the airport in California it was suggested that he change from his uniform into civilian clothes so as not to be assaulted by protestors.

Article Photos

Left to right standing: David Souders, Reggie Allen, Jim Conant, Jay Langlais, Mike Blount, Louisa Blount, Jad Ferrell, Albert Dethlefen,Greg Tabaczynski, Colleen Tabaczynski, Tony Rogers, James Brennan,Antion LaChappelle. Left to right lower: Keith Neal, Stuart Evans, Nick Smith and Guy Lee.

PHOTO PROVIDED

Unlike previous war veterans when Vietnam vets came home life became about facing the war after the war. It's possible that the treatment many Vietnam vets received when they got home did more damage than the war did. In the years and decades that followed Tabaczynski learned not to talk about his experiences in Vietnam. Closing off and isolating that part of his life for the next 45 years.

Colleen Kraepel married Greg Tabaczynski in 1977. Both were raised in Dearborne Michigan. After coming home from Vietnam Greg Tabaczynski worked for Ford Motor Company for awhile and eventually became a police officer. However, because of his duties in the Army, Tabaczynski suffered progressive hearing loss over the years and by the time he retired from the police force he was almost totally deaf. "He just couldn't testify in court any more because he couldn't hear the questions," Colleen said. Eight years ago Tabaczynski retired.

"I do everything for my husband," Colleen said. "Because of the deafness he can't really talk on the telephone, I get information from the doctors and then re-explain. I never realized how isolated we had become Greg because of his deafness and me being his caretaker."

"It's funny how quickly things can change," Colleen said. "I first heard about Wounded Warrior Angler's from the gal across the street. She's a nurse and we were talking one day about Greg's hearing loss. We seldom went out, Greg spent most of his time on the computer, and slowly we became like shut-ins."

"She told me about Judy and David Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers. She thought this organization might be good for Greg and so did I. But Greg had become something of a recluse so I didn't expect anything to come of it. When I mentioned it to my husband he went immediately on the internet and searched them out. I was so surprised when Greg sent them a letter inquiring about becoming a member."

"After a few weeks we heard from Judy that a Wounded Warrior Anglers event was scheduled for October 25th and 26th. I was excited that my husband wanted to do this it was so unlike him. And when he realized Vietnam era vets were welcome we were both so excited and grateful."

"But I was also very worried," Colleen said. "Greg had just recently had a stent put into his heart and I was worried whether he would be able to fish. But he was so intent on doing this that I agreed it would be a good thing."

About 20 vets and caretakers got together on Friday evening for the Captain's meeting. For the first time in many years, especially for the Vietnam vets, these men got to share their experiences with the people that understand it best other Vietnam vets. Greg Tabaczynski and Stuart Evans hit it off immediately sharing their experiences and becoming friends.

The next day (Saturday) while the men went off fishing the ladies gathered together for a day of pampering at Spa 33. "Isolation" sort of creeps over you," Colleen said. "It's such a slow gradual thing that I didn't even realize how bad it was until spa day! All I can say is spa day was overwhelming and a life-changing experience for me."

"As I went through the day having my hair done, manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, makeup and the works," Colleen said. "I cried a lot that day because I didn't realize how much I needed them. I remember laying on the massage table and crying. The whole experience was just mind blowing. And I didn't realize it until that day. I also needed the girl conversation that was missing in my life."

Sometimes it takes just one small event to change your life. "I had been thinking about doing something part time but not really motivated I just kept kicking the can down the road," Colleen said. "After spa day I decided to call about a small part-time job. That day at the spa meant more than I can put into words - it rejuvenated me - I felt like a different person. After spa day I said I know I can do this. I didn't have that confidence until that day."

"Wounded Warrior Anglers just changed everything for both of us," Colleen said. "For the first time in years we've invited company for Thanksgiving dinner. Greg's had so much to share with Stuart that we invited him to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. That's a huge life-changing step for us."

 
 

 

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