Resilience in tough times: An interview with a Vietnam Veteran

August 05, 2022
by Gina Gafford

Last week, I went to visit The Wall That Heals. I was impressed and saddened to see all the names on the granite panels. It also gave me a chance to reflect upon how someone can be resilient in tough times.

I don’t have any current family members serving our country right now. My youngest brother served in the Army National Guard, and my great-uncle, H. Thomas Biel was a fighter pilot that served in World War II. When I was a child, I remember my grandma, Theresa Karlen, becoming tearful when she talked about the war and the tragic loss of her brother.

My grandma was a strong and resilient woman. When I was at The Wall That Heals, I met a Vietnam veteran who was also strong, resilient, and wise.

Randy “Hook” Eberling was visiting the wall with his wife, Kerri. People call him “Hook,” his former fire captain name and biker nickname.

Eberling was in the Army Infantry from 1969 to1982. He is a combat wounded vet and experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the 1990s, he became the Minnesota chairman of Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA).

Right away, at the beginning of our conversation, Eberling said everyone who has served this country deserves a big thank you. Eberling’s mission is to talk to veterans and help them get support from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Eberling said that sometimes vets feel abandoned by their government. He remembers how Vietnam vets were treated not only by their friends but worse by the government.

“And Vietnam vets did nothing different from any other veteran from any other war,” Eberling said.

Eberling defines resilience as bouncing back. “After surviving Vietnam or any war, you can survive anything,” says Eberling.

The famous Serenity Prayer reminds us to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Eberling said as far as being resilient — this prayer is the biggest thing to remember.

According to the Boston University School of Public Health’s article, “Focus on Resilience Protects Veterans, New Study Finds” (December 2014), resilient factors such as emotional hardiness and social support appear to protect returning military troops. Eberling disagrees with this statement.

“I think the best support that there is for resilience is veterans talking to veterans,” Eberling said. “Because veterans understand veterans.”

Eberling continued to say if people have no experience of being in a war, then they don’t understand.

Eberling does agree that social support and family support are essential. He said that if Vietnam vets had support when they came home, they wouldn’t have so many problems.

“And that is why my generation says to the younger generation — we will never let them be treated the way we were,” Eberling said. “We will always, always, support them.”

Eberling continues to say to vets, “Never, ever, be ashamed to ask for help because you’ve earned it. It is not something they’re giving you. It is something you earned.”

I interviewed several people during my visit to The Wall That Heals. Every person that I spoke with mentioned the unrest in the world. Most people brought up Ukraine, controversies in the government, and social and racial tension. I asked Eberling how we could help people deal with the unrest in our country.

“First of all, they should get involved — don’t just sit back and just take everything that’s being put on CNN or whatever,” Eberling said. “And look into the facts themselves, talk with others and tell people how you feel.”

Stressful events, even traumatic events, can create opportunities for growth. Eberling says that traumatic events, unfortunately, are burned into the psyche.

“And if you can learn to handle it, or it can handle you,” Eberling says. “You need to deal with it and talk it out with somebody with the same experience.”

Faith can also help build resilience. Eberling says religion and God will help with everything. He said God is the healer of all.

“And like I always tell people, in my combat experience, there are no atheists in a foxhole,” Eberling said. “We all talk to God.”

Eberling is an excellent example of someone resilient. He has endured a lot, especially during the Vietnam War. But over the years, he has gained strength and insight.

“I learned a long time ago that you have to help yourself first because you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself,” Eberling said. “And bouncing back is a big part of that.”

If you have any questions or to get more information about Eberling’s POW/MIA events, please email randyeberling@gmail.com.

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