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Vietnam vet goes from ‘tunnel rat’ to ‘point man’

ENID, Okla. (BP)–Soldiers came upon the tunnel while looking for Viet Cong soldiers. It was one of many crisscrossing the Vietnamese countryside.
During the 16 years the United States was involved in the Vietnam War, American soldiers noticed that Viet Cong soldiers would attack them and then seemingly disappear in the jungles. Soon, they discovered an intricate tunnel system.
The tunnels were used for supplying food and weapons to, and as an escape route for, Viet Cong soldiers. There were often two or three different levels.
When a unit came upon one of these tunnels, the American soldiers were unsure whether Viet Cong soldiers were hiding in it, or if it was simply an abandoned route; so the unit needed someone to check it out.
Enter the “tunnel rat.” Only 19 years old, John Daily’s small stature and weight of 120 pounds made him an ideal “tunnel rat.” Armed only with a .45-caliber pistol, a flashlight and a rope, Daily dropped into the tunnel, never knowing what to expect. He might come face-to-face with an enemy soldier, or he might find that the tunnel was booby-trapped.
One day, Daily recalled dropping down into a tunnel. As his flashlight lit up his surroundings, he saw a Viet Cong man with a hammer, hitting the fuse of an artillery projectile to make it go off. Daily shot the man in self-defense.
As if the fear of dropping into enemy tunnels were not enough, Daily also faced the everyday dangers all soldiers had to endure: enemy soldiers firing out of the jungle and “punji pits.”
Punji pits were holes dug in the jungle floor. The bottom of the hole was lined with sharpened bamboo poles that would impale anyone unlucky enough to fall on them.
Punji poles were also fastened to a six-foot-square platform that was attached to saplings. The saplings were fastened to a trip wire; anyone setting the trip wire would be hit with what the soldiers called a “fly swatter.”
Each unit had a “point man” who led the way, watching for enemy soldiers, booby traps and tunnels. Those following the point man entrusted their lives to him.
For two years, Daily served his country in this fashion, always on the alert, ready to kill or be killed at any moment. Then, he went home and was expected to go back into the mainstream of society.
“When we got back, we went about our daily routines like nothing ever happened,” Daily said. “I was messed up, but didn’t know it.”
Daily stayed in the Army for 20 years, retiring in 1990. The routine of the Army helped him cope better, but he said many young men went directly from the jungles of Vietnam to Main Street, U.S.A., with no time to readjust.
Haunted by the demons of Vietnam, many committed suicide. Of the 8.5 million who served in the armed forces during the war, 700,000 faced direct combat. Of those, 58,000 American men and women were killed; since the war ended, though, an estimated 200,000 have committed suicide, Daily said.
The suicide rate among Vietnam vets is 33 percent higher than the general population and 86 percent higher than their peer group. A fourth of them earn less than $7,000 per year and homelessness is rampant, with an estimated 110,000 Vietnam vets homeless, 46,000 in Florida alone.
A study of one city’s homeless population showed that 87 percent of all runaways and homeless children were children of Vietnam vets.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, affects many Vietnam vets. It is similar to the “shellshock” suffered by soldiers in earlier wars. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, survivor’s guilt, hyper-alertness, suicidal feelings, cynicism, alienation, negative self image and denial.
Daily said he coped by drinking and smoking a lot. After he retired, he didn’t have anything to do, so he began looking for another job. He wanted to be a police officer, but was too old, so he became a truck driver for a company in Tulsa. He enjoyed that job, but after two and a half years he met a woman in Oklahoma City.
She was transferred to Enid, Okla., so Daily applied at Vance Air Force Base, where he now works as a senior aircraft mechanic.
Even though things were looking up for him, Daily rejected God.
“While in the military, I didn’t want anything to do with church,” he said. “I asked, ‘When I was there in the jungle, where was he?’“
The PTSD was also eating at his soul, he said.
“I could sleep three to four hours a night, then be up,” he said. “I was always alert, looking point all the time. I had problems during certain times of the year because of things that happened over there and things that happened at home.
“They told me I had PTSD when I was in the service, but I never went to any of their meetings,” he said. “The doctors would try to get you to talk about it, but they couldn’t relate because they hadn’t been there. I figured I had dealt with it.”
A co-worker, Mike Pittman, saw through the bravado and tried to talk with Daily about it. At first, Daily couldn’t even talk about it, but he did write everything down on a piece of paper.
Pittman introduced Daily to Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid. He said Burleson seemed to understand him, even though Burleson had never been to Vietnam.
Daily always wore a “Vietnam Vet and Proud of It” hat and prisoner of war bracelet. He said Burleson asked him what he would be if they took away his uniform and rank.
“I said, ‘Probably nothing,’“ Daily recalled. “He said, ‘You’re right.’“
Pittman invited Daily to church, and he accepted. Burleson was doing a series on “What happiness is.” Daily said he learned that true happiness was surrendering to God.
“[God] did not care where I had been, what I had done or what I was going through, but he would take me and make me a new person,” Daily recounted. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of drinking, smoking and running around.”
A month after he started attending, Daily became a Christian in August 1997. He was baptized in October.
After becoming a Christian, Daily became involved with Point Man Ministries, a ministry devoted to helping veterans with counseling and ministry.
Point Man has chapters in 41 states and six countries, with a national hotline at 1-800-877-VETS. Many times, Point Man workers help veterans by simply being there to listen to their stories. Daily has become Point Man’s state coordinator and, in Enid, the “Outpost” leader. As an Outpost leader for Point Man, he provides hospital visitation, literature, counseling and referrals. He also coordinates Bible studies and speaks to any organization requesting him.
“A lot of veterans who have PTSD don’t believe in God,” Daily said. “If they do believe in him, they wonder when he is going to work on them.
“We work with veterans and their families to make them better. … I like working with people who are in trouble,” he said, noting he affiliated with Point Man “because I knew that this is the best thing for me to do, since I know veterans and the military. This is a way to pay them back.”

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  • Dave Parker