Home of the Brave

In recognition of Veteran’s Day, we share
the intimate stories of three South Bay
servicemen and one servicewoman who honored our country with their active duty
in three wars spanning nearly 70 years.

Bob Brigham

For two and one-half months, Bob and 60 other prisoners of war (POWs) remained imprisoned in a boxcar in Germany. Terribly cold and with little nourishment, the men only had enough room to stand. They even slept standing up. “You’re almost hanging from the ceiling,” he remembers. “We were wishing that something would happen so that we could get out of that environment.” This is how Bob served a portion of his nine-month imprisonment during WWII.

The Allies found and liberated Bob and his fellow POWs while they were staying in basements in Eddinger, Germany. Bob began crying as he related his experience of being saved from the Germans. “We came out of the basements, and we were so glad to see them,” he says, choking up. “That was the happiest day of our lives.” He had been a prisoner from July 1944 to April 1945.

During one of Europe’s coldest winters, Bob and his fellow POWs dug air raid shelters for the Germans. While there, Bob lost 40 pounds–making him a gaunt 120 pounds, and his feet froze from the cold. This led to major foot problems throughout his life. He even had to retire early from Northrop Aircraft Company after 32 years because of severe foot issues. However, Bob says, “You’re dealt something bad, you just have to go along with it the best you can.”

The Army drafted Bob into the service in March 1943. What did he think of being drafted during WWII? “I can’t use the words that I actually used,” he laughs. “I keep those as a military secret.” Despite his original displeasure, Bob knew he had important work ahead of him. “It was just a job that had to be done. And that’s all there was to it. You got to protect the guy on your left and protect the guy on your right,” he explains.

About going through so many near-death situations, Bob repeatedly says, “We were lucky many, many times.” He now has five grandchildren in the service and lives in Palos Verdes. Even though he says WWII was a scary time, his fellow soldiers and he knew that they were fulfilling an obligation to their country. “If we came out of it, that’s fine. And if we didn’t come out of it, well there’s another place for us."

 


 

 

Eric Loyd

Going about their daily business, an unexpected round explodes only 100 feet away. Sergeant Eric Loyd and his fellow soldiers had to be prepared for incoming rounds like this while they served in Iraq. Eric joined the military in 1992 and deployed to Iraq in 2003. He followed a familial tradition of Army service, which led him to expand his horizons and gain a career.

Eric planned to serve a three- to four-year stint in the Army, but the nature of his work compelled him to stay for 19 years and counting. “Look at what I’ve done: I’ve finished my degree, I’ve traveled, I’ve been around the world, I’ve taken my family wherever I’ve been stationed,” he lists. “I thought I would get a 9-to-5 job and that was it. Then I switched to this, and I’ve never looked back. I just kept re-enlisting, and the options just kept getting better and better.”

Growing up in La Puente, California, Eric had limited opportunities and had never even been out of the state. Now Eric has a wealth of experiences and works as a recruiter in the South Bay to inspire others to utilize what the Army has to offer. “When I talk to the young men and women that come into the office, I could give them the stuff they can get off the internet, but I would rather give them my personal story,” he says.

 

William Buchanan

Imagine a sibling choking. You don’t know the Heimlich maneuver. There’s no phone nearby. There’s nothing you can do to help him or her. You’re forced to watch your beloved sibling pass away in your arms.

This is how Specialist William Buchanan tries to share his experience as a medic to his brothers in arms in the Vietnam War. His job entailed giving first aid to soldiers in the field, so he saw firsthand how bloody and ferocious the conflict was. “One of the most dramatic things is you get to know someone, you get acquainted, and then one of those people gets killed in front of you, and you’re unable to assist,” he explains. “It’s extremely depressing.” Eventually these horrifying experiences led William to seek help from the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 1967, William enlisted in the Army at the age of 23, rather than wait for a recruiter to come to him. He knew he would eventually be recruited and wanted to complete his service so he could get on with his life at home.

Sent to Chu Lai, William describes a brutal conflict amidst a gorgeous backdrop. “You’ve got a beautiful coastline, warm water, a mountainous terrain plus agricultural area with folks trying to eke out some kind of a living,” he says. “And they have people running through their front yards and through their cities trying to kill each other. It’s a rather bizarre thing.”

After 10 months in Vietnam, the Army sent William home because he had two injuries that would take months to heal. During his stay in Vietnam, he wanted nothing more than to come home, but his homecoming was far from welcoming. “The political situation was changing in the country. So there was a great deal of resentment toward military. We didn’t really want people to know we were part of the service,” he explains. “When we came back, society didn’t like us. You for your country, and then your country comes back and really spits on you.”

Looking back on the period, William seems bitter about how society and the government handled the conflict. “I didn’t feel like our government was really supporting us. We shouldn’t have been there in the first place. It definitely should have stayed a civil war,” he says.

William feels grateful that the VA helped him cope with his PTSD, caused by all the horrifying situations he went through. He recommends veterans seek the VA’s help if they are feeling depressed or not like themselves. Although his experience hurt him, he feels closer to his country and to other veterans. “I think it is a wonderful experience doing service to your country. It gives you structure in your life and opportunity,” he says. “I believe they should bring the draft back. It gives a person a stronger feeling about this country.”

 


 

Melinda Montanez

As an E-6 in the Navy, Melinda served in Kuwait, Iraq and Diego Garcia consecutively, but it was her time in Guantanamo Bay that haunts her the most. “I was there after Abu Ghraib , and we always had the Red Cross coming over to make sure we weren’t torturing these people. But I felt like we were the ones being tortured,” she says.

Naive to how difficult the situation would be, her time in Guantanamo Bay was especially hard for her to handle. “We’re trying to help them. Because I’m medical, I’m not trying to look for information; I’m trying to fix them,” she insists. “When I came there I thought, `I can help these people; they’re detainees, they’re not prisoners.’ When I left there, I felt like I was a completely different person. I wasn’t the smiley person I had been.”

In 1999 at the age of 19, both a familial relationship with the service and her own patriotic duty brought Melinda to enlist in the Navy. “My dad was a Marine, and it sounds corny, but I think that everybody should give back,” she explains.

As a female in a male-dominated Navy, Melinda found it harder to maintain her authority. “It’s difficult because there are some people who don’t want to follow a female,” she says.

But even after going through so many hardships, she says, “I loved it. There’s a lot of camaraderie. When you’re in horrible places, you share this experience that makes you closer. It’s that sense of family and community.” After her 11-year service in the Navy, Melinda found it difficult adapting to civilian life after she retired. She chose not to re-enlist because she wanted to take care of her 8-year-old daughter.

Now she’s going back to school and eventually wants to become a psychologist for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD. “I can understand and relate with them, because I’ve been through the same experience,” she says. “It’s so sad to me to see these veterans serve their country and then come back and live on the streets.”

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