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HONORING VETERANS

Army veteran talks about life after war, raising awareness for PTSD

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DALTON, GA (WRCB) -

For Richard Stephens, serving the United States runs in the family.            

So much so that there is a memorial to the Stephens family in their hometown in Kentucky.

It's a tradition Stephens was inspired to continue because of his father.

"I see my father, you know. I see the makings of dad," Stephens said as he reflected on pictures from his time in Vietnam. Stephens served in the United States Army.

For him, the decision to serve was never a question, especially when he thinks about the family members that served before him.

"They served in every branch you can name," he recalled.

On his 20th birthday he volunteered for the Army.

"I thought it was, you know, a good thing to do," Stephens said.   

Sometimes it's hard for him to remember details, but when he sees the pictures and old artifacts spread across his table the stories started flowing.

He talked about the calendar he used during the three tours he served.

"Each day was important and you marked off each day,” he explained. "Counting down to come home."

There was also a knife from his grandfather that he used at camp. "I used that to cut down bamboo,” he explained.

He talked about the men he worked with, though he doesn't remember their names.

"Something you didn't do over there was learn their first names because they would be replaced," Stephens explained. "They would leave so soon."

Stephens was an operator, a job that earned him a bronze star.

It’s something he is proud of now, but when he left the war he said being proud wasn't so easy.

"They would say you're a baby killer, you know," Stephens recalled.

It was that reaction that made life after war a battle in itself.        

"Very lonely, ya know, it's very lonely," Stephens said about life on the battlefield.

Decades later, life as a veteran is still hard. However, he found solace in his family and started talking with kids about his experiences.

He also said one of the best moves he made as a veteran was calling Dalton, GA his new home.

"Down south I find it so much better, being a veteran," he explained.

Stephens also had a son serve in the United States Navy, Sgt. Mike Stephens.

His son died about six months ago at 41 years old. Stephens said he committed suicide as a result of his PTSD. He wants veterans to know they can get help.

In the Tennessee Valley area you can get help at the Chattanooga Veteran Center and the American Legion in Dalton.

The Chattanooga Veteran Center officer one-on-one and group counseling to combat veterans and veterans who were sexually assaulted while on active duty.  

It also offers counseling to the families of combat veterans, and grief counseling for family members of service men and women killed on active duty.

You can reach the Chattanooga Veteran Center at 423-855-6570.

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