McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

November 11, 2013

Veterans recount their service

(Continued)

Ada — RICH PUTNAM, 173RD AIRBORNE

     Rich Putnam got in and out of Vietnam just as the war heated up.

     The only reason he got out was because of the shrapnel scattered through his hand and most of the left side of his body.

     “I was in and out of there in six months,” says Putnam, “but I was in Southeat Asia for in Okinawa with the Marines as a paratrooper for two years.”

     He was with a brigade at Bien Hoa that had 153 troops when they went in. A year later, they had 11 men left, and eight of those had been wounded.  

     By the time the October 1965 invasion occurred, Putnam was already wounded.

     He still has shrapnel in the left side of his body and was in Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco at the time of the invasion.

    He received a Purple Heart for his injury and a Medal of Honor for his efforts with the 173rd Division.

     He was injured when the Viet Cong exploded a mine near him. It hit the soldier behind him, cracking his shoulder bone and causing serious injury, but men survived.

     Like Roark, Putnam came out of his Vietnam experience determined to bypass the PTSD syndrome that was crippling so many of their fellow soldiers, but he   admits he wound up having some hard years.

     Putnam did his best to put himself together. The military put him through undergraduate and master's-level work at North Texas, then he paid for his own Ph.D.

     Putnam became a psychologist and, for a while, he counseled other Vietnam veterans. “After a while, I stopped doing that. I was too close to it.”

     In fact, he said he found himself suffering some of the same symptoms he was trying to help his fellow soldiers get past.

     On the day he was injured, he was confronted by Charley Company on the right and Alpha Company on the left. He remembers going into a nearby creek and crawling back to report what was happening.

     What transpired from that report was an 18-hour firefight.

     He still doesn’t have full use of his left hand, and there’s still shrapnel down his left leg.

     He said he got into psychology as a form of self-therapy.

     “It didn’t work,” he said.

     Today, he’s the chaplain at the American Legion. He was formerly a professor in East Central University’s psychology department.

     His father was a Baptist minister. Religion has always been important to him.

     He was getting ready to go to Oklahoma City to speak in behalf of the Veterans Commission when he was  interviewed at the Ada breakfast Monday.

     There are politicians wanting to cut funding. He’ll be there to try to talk them out of it.

     On the surface, he appears to have fully recovered, but he still feels the metal. He still feels the psychological scars. Still, he gains peace from his service to others.

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