Since becoming the south metro editor for Colorado Community Media, I do not get out into the communities as much as I’d like. In fact, it feels like my desk is where I am permanently attached some weeks.

However, once in a while a story catches my attention that I want to write myself. It takes me back to those glory days as a journalist covering a variety of topics and loving it.

One of those stories came up last week. I was invited to talk to the new veteran services officer hired by Dougals County. The grant-funded position will provide one-on-one services to our veterans, with a focus on mental health.

This covered two areas I am particularly passionate about — veterans and mental health.

I drove to Castle Rock and met with Gary Weston, who had an impact on me beyond just writing a story that will come out next week. He gave me a bit more insight into understanding my dad.

I have written here several times about my close relationship with my dad. I am proud that he is a Vietnam veteran but could never understand what happened there.

What Gary gave me in this interview was a true blessing. You see, he talked about a veteran wearing a hat or T-shirt that says where they served. In his case — in my father’s case — it says “Vietnam veteran.”

Gary explained that the war in Vietnam was like no other our country has ever fought, and that the way it affected our soldiers cannot be understood by anyone other than the veterans who were there. He explains that wearing a hat or T-shirt is not about getting recognition from the general public, but instead, about finding others who served in the war and knowing that they are the ones who understand.

I bought my dad a Vietnam veteran hat from a guy on the side of the road selling merchandise out of a truck. When I gave it to him I was surprised by his excitement. I was also surprised at how often he wears it.

Interviewing Gary gave me that insight. Now I also understand why my dad seems to feel more comfortable and at ease when we are at the VA. He is with others who understand.

Gary talked about the need for family and spouses to try and understand what a veteran who fought in a war is going through. I believe we should try to be supportive, but in listening to him, I am not sure we can ever truly understand.

My dad rarely talks about what happened to him at a young age in the jungles of Vietnam.

I am glad he is one of the lucky ones who seems to have dealt with it in his own ways and does not have it impacting his life.

For me, I just thank Gary for the insight he gave me last week. When I see my dad with that hat — I now know it means it means more than making some statement that he served.

However, our soldiers coming home from war, especially Vietnam, were often told to bury the past and move on. They weren’t allowed to share what they were going through and they could not dare talk about mental health.

I hope that people like Gary continue to be hired by counties to serve our men and women who served. I hope they help them through the bad days into finding better weeks, months and years.

Thelma Grimes is the south metro editor for Colorado Community Media.

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