In March I began noticing more on neighborhood walks. And I started taking a little extra time for conversations with neighbors. One snowy morning I chuckled at a yard sign in front of a house along my route. It sat within a collection of three or four others.
A dog was pictured saying, “What have the humans done wrong? Why are they all wearing muzzles?” Another sign had to do with serving in the Marines. I didn’t know what the one about Cadet Bone Spurs meant. I made a mental note to Google it.
Not long after, I saw a plant with a note attached in front of one of the signs. With fewer opportunities to say “hello” in passing, it seemed folks had taken to new ways of staying in touch. One day I also dropped a note off, on the doorstep, curious about the signs and how they connected to their owner’s experiences and viewpoints.
Richard Campos settled in North Denver after growing up in San Antonio, Texas. He served as a Marine in the Vietnam War. His first few years in Colorado were rough: the war took a lot out of its soldiers. Much is known now about the tolls exacted by war—by that war in particular—but for Campos and fellow soldiers, they came to understand combat fatigue and PTSD by living through the mysterious, harrowing, day-by-day intensity. Connecting with one another became a healing salve. And together they never lost a sense of connection with U.S. service members missing in action or captured as prisoners of war.
The evening I sat with Campos, I learned about a collective veteran movement of the 1980’s and 90’s that transformed the way broader society understood the experiences of Vietnam veterans. It ultimately also improved programs supporting veterans’ health and recovery.
The veteran movement coalesced around the music of singer-songwriter-veterans Michael J. Martin and Tim “Doc” Holiday and long-distance marches across the United States organized by Martin and Holiday’s The Last Patrol. Music became anthems for over 40 300-, 900- and 1,600-mile journeys veterans took by foot to call attention to the issues they faced.
Campos’ stories about the marches and the music taught me a few things about what it means to put your time and energy into what matters. And I can’t help but also reflect on the healing power of collective struggle and the music that often accompanies it.
Among other marches, in 1986 Campos completed a 6-week trek of over 900 miles from Denver to his hometown in Texas. He arrived in time for the dedication of San Antonio’s Veterans Memorial Plaza on Nov 9th. That day, “Hill-881 South” was unveiled: a sculpture by Austin Deuel, a Marine Corps combat artist who, like Campos, Martin and Holiday, served in Vietnam.
Today, Campos walks his talk in new ways. His yard signs now total 15; they lean political and to the left, with bits of lefty humor infused. Each is topped with two small flags, mostly the Stars and Stripes, with a few POW/MIA flags sprinkled in.
One day, not too long ago, a newer sign about PTSD gave me pause:
“PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past but the past refusing to let go of the person.”
Campos spends most days now with his teenage grandson supervising online school while his daughter is at work. He knows many of his neighbors; some are even family. One passer-by was angered by the signs, but Campos didn’t take it too seriously. It seems to Campos to be a straightforward form of patriotism, speaking your mind. Even if some people don’t agree with him. Yet.
Kathryn has lived in North Denver since around the time the Mount Carmel High School building was razed and its lot at 3600 Zuni became Anna Marie Sandoval Elementary. She’s raised two children in the neighborhood, worked at several nonprofits, and facilitates a Caregiver Support Group for the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter.
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