Hometown veteran navigates life and the aftermath of war with love

Combat veteran Randy Vest survived Vietnam and now faces terminal cancer, but his high school sweetheart is still by his side.
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 4:37 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -There is a reason combat veterans do not talk about the gore of the war. Not only is it traumatic and serves as a trigger; no one truly benefits from these gruesome descriptions.

In the words of veteran Randy Vest, “I don’t’ talk about blood and guts. If you wanna see that, go watch a movie”.

When asked about his time in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, Vest described what he went through for over a year. “Three days without eating, two days without water, and we drank green stagnant water out of a bomb crater. Being in the rain for six months soaking wet, trying to find an opportunity to take off your socks to let your feet dry out, and the ringworm because of the water. I’ve gotten 20 leaches off of me in one setting, but all of that said, it’s not about me. It’s not about me. It breaks my heart that our young people are going through that same torment today. People understand the blood and the guts of everything, but what they don’t see is the torment that these young men and women are going through day in and day out. They might not have even seen a bullet fired in a year, but they can still come back here with severe PTSD.”

And that’s a condition familiar to Vest. It’s been 52 years since Vietnam, but sifting through old pictures brings it back like it was yesterday. “The thing about combat is that too often you have a split second to make a decision. Then you’ve got a lifetime to think about it,” said Vest.

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Staring in his eyes, you can’t help but wonder the horror he has seen. He’s also witnessed beauty. Specifically in a girl named Linda. They met at 15 years old, married right out of high school, and celebrated their first anniversary just three days before Randy was deployed to Vietnam. In a way, she went with him because he had her name embroidered on his jungle hat. And all these years later, she’s still by his side.

Randy says his wife Linda has always been a strong woman. Maybe she always had to be. And even though Vietnam is over, her strength is needed right now more than ever. Randy has terminal cancer. “I do believe most of my issues come from agent orange.”

He also had cancer all over his face, triple bypass surgery, and multiple stints. Doctors gave him a timeline, but Randy has somehow beat that date. But just like his awards and medals, none of these things on earth define him. It’s been a long road for both Randy and his bride, but at least they’re walking it together!

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