Valley Fire Triggers Memories of Vietnam Trauma for Evacuated Veteran

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A car burns in front of a burning home in Middletown during the Valley Fire earlier this month. The fire is now 90 percent contained. (Stephen Lam/KQED)

Editor's note: For Lake County veterans who fought in Vietnam, the sights and sounds of the Valley Fire two weeks ago immediately stirred images of burning napalm and exploding grenades. As part of our Vital Signs series, reporter April Dembosky interviewed Vietnam veteran Jack Reece. He shares his story, starting with his view of the fire -- just before he fled his home in Hidden Valley. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I was up there on that hillside watching that fire come off of Cobb [in Lake County] and then down and into the valley.

It was like a unit moving forward with tanks and everything, and those canisters, those propane canisters going off, they make a "whooooo... boom!"

I tried to stay there as long as I could, and then I had to drive out through a firestorm. All those houses were on fire and I had to drive through it, about 150 yards. It tripped me, the flashes.

It all flashed back.


I mean, watching people get hit with napalm. Taking a hill and having little children dropping grenades down these things. You run up to them and kill them all -- and find out they’re children. It's horrible. You don’t want to know. I was a squad leader and a hit man.

My whole f***ing leg got blown apart. All the way up to here. And then I got a concussion. I was in a coma for three days.

Ninety-six of us went over in our unit, and only 14 of us came back.

As soon as you go through an experience like that again, you start hearing people screaming and yelling. I don’t need that in my life and so, I self medicated. Night before last -- I like gin and tonic, and I can just, run 'em through. It was okay, for just that night, because I couldn’t get any meds -- because my meds were up the house.

Monday morning, I knew I had to, I knew it. I got my ass over there and got to see the psychiatrist, and she took care of me.

Because with vets, we’re never going to get over it, honey. Never. But, we can learn to manage it. When we realize we’re at those points where we go and we need help and we ask for it. Most guys don’t know that. They freak out on it.

Anyway. I’m so fortunate. I think the guys upstairs, whoever’s watching over, they have to do double time with me.