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Vietnam vet dedicated to helping fellow vets

Dr. Henry Hitchcock | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

Dr. Henry Hitchcock | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

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For more information about Veterans Lifechanging Services, call 979-0900 or visit www.veteranslifechangingservices.org.

Updated: February 9, 2014 6:08AM



“Sam Stone came home,

To his wife and family

After serving in the conflict overseas.

And the time that he served,

Had shattered all his nerves,

And left a little shrapnel in his knee.

But the morphine eased the pain,

And the grass grew round his brain,

And gave him all the confidence he lacked,

With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.”

— John Prine

Dr. Henry Hitchcock was born in Chicago, raised in Lookout, Ark., spent 13 months in Vietnam, and lived in the Bay Area of California for 37 years. Today, Hitchcock, 68, lives in Munster with his wife, Bessie.

Our interview took place at Veterans Life Changing Services, at 501 West Ridge Road in Gary, next to St. Mark Church. He is the founder and executive director there. VLCF is a 501(c)3 organization.

***

Anyone ever tell you that you bear a striking resemblance to the actor Morgan Freeman?

“All the time,” he said.

High school?

“Once I’d reached my teens, I came back to Chicago and graduated from Hyde Park High School. Then, I joined the United States Marine Corps. It was 1964.”

Memories of Chicago?

“Chicago is as fine of memory as anyone could have because that was when America was America. The community was a community. The area I grew up in was a marvelous neighborhood.”

What made you decide to join the Marines?

“I remember when I was 5, sitting in a hollow wagon on the south side of Chicago, a Marine turned the corner wearing a set of dress blues. From that time on, I wanted to be a Marine.”

You arrived in Vietnam in March of ‘65; all hell was about to break loose.

“At that time, we were guarding the Da Nang airstrip. We were not allowed to fire our weapons unless fired upon. The United States was still trying to determine what our representation in Vietnam was going to be. By August of ‘65, we took up an offensive.”

Were you hit?

“I was blown up by a mortar round which left shrapnel in my lower left forearm. I also received a gunshot wound above my right eyelid. I was in numerous fire fights. I am now a 100 percent service-connected disabled veteran.”

Literally, a fraction of an inch and you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me.

“I was very lucky; the bullet just singed the eye.”

The middle class and poor are the ones who fight the wars.

“It has always been that way. The wealthier kids are usually given exceptions. The difference between my era and today is we wanted to be in the armed forces. After high school, you either went into a job at a factory paying you $2.50 an hour or you went into the armed forces.”

Dr. Hitchcock, Hollywood is what it is. If you had to pick one of the more realistic Vietnam-era war films, which would you say was the most realistic.

“‘Platoon.’ That movie depicted the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. I was in 1-9. They called us ‘The Walking Dead.’ That was our symbol and the label we got. A lot of veterans can’t watch war movies.”

Life after the Marine Corps?

“I went back to school and graduated from Chicago Teachers and earned a bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University. I received my master’s degree and Ph.D. in California.

“After climbing the ladder in the corporate world, I made a drastic change in my life and went into the world of psychology. For more than 20 years, I’ve provided rehabilitation services to veterans including program coordinator with the Veterans Administration of Palo Alto, Calif.”

Veterans Life Changing Services?

“We are basically a faith-based agency, but we don’t force anything on any veteran. We let them make their own choices. The whole essence of what we do is balance. We try to direct veterans to all the services that are out there for them.

With young men and women getting sent home from Afghanistan, your organization and others like it across the country will be needed more than ever.

“More than 130,000 of our veterans are homeless on any given night. Almost 70 percent of our veterans suffer from alcohol or drug problems. There are 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in this country.”

Tragic.

“There’s a national moratorium to end homelessness among veterans in 2015. We’re a part of that process. Veterans who qualify may receive transitional housing for six months to one year with evaluations every 30 days. We have 32 beds here, but with that said, we are not a shelter. We are a vocational rehab program allowing a veteran an opportunity to stabilize.

“We’re not concerned about what they were doing before they got here, we’re concerned about what they should be doing.”

***

It’s almost inconceivable, but less than a century ago wounded and unemployed veterans returning from World War I were not only denied promised benefits, they were shot at while protesting on the streets of Washington D.C.

Lest we forget.

But there is a glimmer of hope in Northwest Indiana thanks to Dr. Henry Hitchcock and his humanitarian approach at Veterans Life Changing Services. He and his staff have an outstanding success rate and have provided services for more than 450 vets in less than five years.



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