After I handed Ben his box of frozen pizza crusts on ABC’s Tuesday delivery route, he asked me, “Are you a Marine?” Ben pointed at the Toyota with dirty snow on the tires behind us. The same Toyota with USMC license plates.
I laughed. “That is my fiancé’s.”
“No kidding.” Ben looked at the heating instructions on his box then back to me. “I served in Vietnam.”
I have an image in my head of Vietnam Veterans. It is older gentlemen in dark basements dressed in Carhartt jackets, drinking decaf coffee, and smoking rolled cigarettes. Maybe they own some land in Wyoming with a fleet of farm pigs that they’ve named names like, Old Yeller, or Master P.
Ben is none of those things. He seems to enjoy wearing black turtlenecks, has a garden outside his house that looks like it was painted by Bob Ross, and he is fit like a marathon runner.
I also have a depiction of war heroes returning home to city parades and a white picket fence house with real lemonade sitting on the front porch. This isn’t what Ben experienced.
“I came home wanting to talk, I wanted to talk about it, about what happened. No one would talk to me.”
This, to Ben, was perhaps a colder truth than the one Vietnam had given him. He entered into combat as a 21-year-old boy wearing unstained dress blues.
There were 80 first cousins he left behind, his Irish mother Betty who cooked meat-heavy recipes out of dated Southern Living magazines; his Italian father, also Ben, peddled produce around Utica/New Hartford for the family distribution business.
He left combat as a 22-year-old man wearing the reality of war.
“Nobody knows what war is until you are actually there, and someone is shooting at you and you have to return fire.” Ben remembers.
The person Ben was in Vietnam, to me, does not sound like the person who would be ordering Organic gluten-free pizza crusts from a small online farmers market. However, that is exactly who he is.
While serving, he had to step-in as a Corpsman if there wasn’t one available.
“I had to clean out aircraft of body parts. I can’t stand the smell of dead meat anymore. It was hard for my family to understand this when I came home.”
He left NY to forget the things he had seen. Ben moved to Colorado, lived in a tipii, did Ayahuasca, sweat yoga, and meditation. He became vegetarian and sought out mountain farmers for produce. It was cathartic for Ben to be able to communicate with the farmer who grew his tomato and ask him the right questions.
“Food is what helped bring me back into my body. Working directly with 4th generation farmers helped me learn what I really believe instead of what I was told to believe after war.”
However, the darkness that wedged into the cracks of Ben’s mind after war, it was still there, not as loud, but lingering. He was ready to really let it go.
“I walked into a VA clinic and said, ‘Can I talk to someone.’”
Now Ben lives in Boulder with his beautiful wife. They practice yoga together and enjoy cooking for each other. He runs a successful real-estate business called: Cardamone Realty.
“Where my heart really is though is with the Marines.” Ben confided to me.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I can sense when someone has served and is suffering, or holding things in.”
Ben joined a group called: Warrior Storyfield. It is a place for veterans to come together and connect. Since 2013 this community has been collaborating with the public to create communal art. Ben is a vital part of their growth around Boulder.
For Ben and his fellow veterans, art stimulates the conversation between those who have served and those who haven’t.
“I know they know what I did, and they know I know what they did. We talk about what we went through.”
~Hannah King, Owner
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