Decades later, Vietnam vet finds peace in helping others
MURPHYS (KTXL) -- In the woods of Murphys, on Cedar Vista Drive, lies a piece of American history.
History that, at times, is too difficult, too violent for Vietnam War veteran Al Sickle.
It was the summer of 1966 when Al graduated from high school in San Mateo. He was 17 years old and filled with dreams of becoming a professional baseball player.
Two weeks later, he did get a uniform -- but this one came with sacrifice.
"Let me tell you something. You became a man real fast, real fast. Your childhood ended then," Sickle told FOX40.
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Sickle joined the Navy to avoid the draft and the battlefield. He worked as a flight deck director on an aircraft carrier -- guiding planes carrying bombs.
He served three tours doing the same job, but every time he helped load a plane, he knew death was the target.
"It was tough to grip, come to grips with the fact that we were killing people, just bombing the hell out of them," he said.
Decades later, those memories still haunt him.
"Sometimes I'll sit in a chair and just silently with tears in my face, and I don't know why," Sickle said.
Sickle, like many veterans, struggled with the anti-war protests back home and had a hard time readjusting to everyday life.
From jobs to relationships, his life was in shambles.
"There's guys that are out there that have been running around there, don't know that they have PTSD. I didn't realize it for 30 years, until I got diagnosed with it," he told FOX40.
Al is now vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America in Sonora.
His mission is to help find veterans in need of guidance and treatment, something he wishes he would have known about sooner.
"That's probably what's keeping my head together, is trying to help them because they need it bad," he said.
Al's wife, Tony, is also thankful for all he has worked through.
"If he doesn't take his meds, boy, I can tell, but the center helped him because at least it made him acknowledge, 'I do have an issue,' and he's helped, oh my gosh, I've lost count how many guys from Vietnam that he's helped get their benefits now," she said.
But Al's work is far from over. He continues to fight for veterans' rights every day, even for the fallen.
He's currently in the process of getting more names added to the Sacramento Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
"I volunteer for 15 minutes to read the names and then I get to talk about one of the guys I graduated with," Sickle said.
Honoring the fallen, proud of their service in a war that divided the country.
"I never admitted that I was a Vietnam veteran until 1999," Sickle said. "Why? Because I didn't want to be stigmatized as we all were."
He admits it took him a long time to be proud, too. And it all started with the welcome home he never got from a stranger.
"She said, 'I'm so sorry,' and she made my cry then, too, but that's the very first time I felt proud."