A Vietnam Veteran's Long Journey

Tom Geerdes with his daughter Hannah Campbell in Murray, Ky.

hide captionTom Geerdes with his daughter Hannah Campbell in Murray, Ky.

StoryCorps
Tom Geerdes during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

hide captionGeerdes during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

Courtesy Tom Geerdes

When Tom Geerdes came home from Vietnam, he was different. As he told his daughter Hannah Campbell recently, it wasn't until 10 years after his return that a chance event allowed him to heal.

After being drafted in 1969, Geerdes served in the 11th Armored Cavalry in Tay Ninh Province and Cambodia as an Army medic.

Geerdes, now 62, returned home from his tour of duty in 1971. And when he got back to America, he recalls, "I was not really worried anymore about being socially acceptable." His long hair and beard alienated him from his family.

So, Geerdes took off on a long bicycle trip, heading north toward Minnesota and then out west, to the coast.

But, Geerdes says, it wasn't until years later that he healed from the war.

Working on a flooring job he was doing at a Sears, Geerdes recalls, there was a movie about the Vietnam War playing on the store's television.

"Something just broke," Geerdes says, "I cried, I just sobbed like a baby for a couple hours" as the memories of his friends, and the devastation and the hurt came back to him.

"I really didn't plan on coming back," Geerdes says.

And when Campbell tells him, "I'm glad you came back," Geerdes' answer is simple: "Me, too."

This piece was produced for 'Morning Edition' by Michael Garofalo, with help from Grant Fuller. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.

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