RAW MAN

Click below to listen to Freds interview on the Mid Day edition of KPBS

Raw Man The Book

Fred and Herman

Raw Man cover Dec 1

Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: A Word withYou Press; First Edition edition (January 15, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0988464632
ISBN-13: 978-0988464636
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars

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Epilogue

On August 2nd 1964, I was a sophomore at Montebello High School, driving over the old wooden bridge on Bluff Road to visit my best friend, Scott. As I reached the center of the bridge, a newsflash came over the car radio that the North Vietnamese had just attacked the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. The first thought that entered my mind was: I’m going to war. I forgot about it by the time I pulled into Scott’s driveway.

Five years later I found myself a soldier in the United States Army in the jungles of Vietnam. What came out of that experience defined my existence. I went there a boy and came back a raw man. Aged beyond my 21 years and unprepared for the troubled years to come.  I was witness to death, cruelty, and a war so brutal that I was scarred from the time I first searched a dead body to the day I discovered that our military managed to kill 430,000 South Vietnamese civilians.

In 1970, it was no surprise that 65 percent of American servicemen abused drugs. We were sent there alone, and returned home alone, 58,000 of us in body bags.  Those of us who survived carried back a collective shame to a nation that hated us. Yes, it is true: I was spat upon and called a baby killer at the San Francisco Airport.

My time in the field left me with deep, chronic back pain and PTSD so severe that I have had episodes where I have actually felt like I was back in the Nam. Like so many combat veterans, I found myself continuing to self-medicate upon my return to civilian life. There was nobody that I felt I could talk to about my experiences. Who could possibly understand? I found my way back into the music business and none of my new, or old friends ever heard me speak a word about Vietnam. It was a shameful secret that I kept to myself. I became a Winter Warrior. First came the heavy drinking and eventually the hard drugs arrived. I sank lower and lower into the depths of alcoholism.

In 1974 I was given my first miracle. I met and married the most beautiful, caring, and sympathetic woman, Lynda Gomez, without whose unconditional love and support, I doubt that I would be alive today. She breathed fresh hope into me and stood by my side through the darkest days of my life, always doing her best to love a broken man. She gave me the precious gift of three wonderful children. Always running through my mind was the thought that God would take one back to settle the debt of taking that boy’s life in the Nam. After years of replaying the events of that fateful day in my mind, I am certain it was me, and not Benson, who fired that fatal round.

There were problems with the births of all three of our children. We lost a fourth. Did God collect my toll? My daughter was born with a 50 percent chance of survival. A doctor asked me if I was ever exposed to Agent Orange. I thought of that old crop duster flying over us and nodded my head. Our youngest son, Nathan, was in neo-natal intensive care for close to two months. He fought for his little life and still, I could not get sober. At the time of this writing, he is a healthy young man of 27.

Twenty-seven is a big number for me. Having thrown all of my medals, ribbons, and awards into that coffin at the peace rally in Griffith Park in 1970, I realized that the war was over for me and now I had children. I wanted to have something to leave them to remember me by. The year was 1987. I was driving down Beverly Boulevard with a beer between my legs when I saw a building with a sign that said: “Vet Center.” I had driven on that road hundreds of times and never noticed it before. The thought crossed my mind that maybe they could help me recover my medals.

I walked in the front door and was greeted by a friendly woman. I explained my dilemma and she straightaway told me that yes, yes she could get them from St. Louis. I was pleased and slightly buzzed. She searched my face and saw right through me.

“I have no problem helping you with your wish, but are you willing to do something for me?” she asked.

“Anything.”

“We are a separate entity from the VA. We receive our funding solely on the amount of traffic we can generate. We are an outreach program and as long as you’re here, would you mind filling out a small questionnaire?” she maintained that trusty smile and I told her I would be happy to do it. 

What could it hurt? I asked myself.  We sat across from each other at her desk, and she pulled a form from her top drawer. She handed it to me along with a pen. I opened it up and saw the standard questions: Name, rank, years served, marital status, all innocuous questions that I quickly answered and turned the page. The first question on the next page made me break into a cold sweat.

“Did you ever kill anyone?”

I started trembling softly. The questions were all along the same line and when I reached question seven, my heart stopped and a tremendous force screamed within me and I felt the dam about to break.

“DID ANYONE EVER DIE IN YOUR ARMS?” The dam burst with such incredible power that I almost knocked her off her chair. I broke down crying like I had never cried before. Before long I was telling her that I was an alcoholic and cocaine addict. I had never uttered those truthful words before. She stood up and embraced me and I cried some more. All the hurt, guilt, shame, and remorse that I had carried around for the last seventeen years came to the surface simultaneously and like a mass jail break, they broke free together and laid siege to my soul.

Her name is Natalie Matson and on that day in May, she saved my life. She told me that I was suffering from post-traumatic-stress-disorder. She called it PTSD. The words meant nothing to me for I had never heard of such a thing. I just knew that I carried a deep hurt within me and I had been stuffing it back down inside with Jack Daniels for so many years. I wanted to be a good husband. I desperately wanted to be a good father. Some force was holding me down in chains. I have heard that you hit your bottom when you throw the shovel down and quit digging. I threw that shovel all the way back to An Loc.

She told me that the only way I could deal with Vietnam was sober. I had no idea of what she was talking about. We sat and talked for over an hour. I told her of Herman. I told her about Teddy Jones. She listened. We made an appointment for the following week and she asked me if I could go that long without a drink or a drug.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. She told me to try it one day at a time. Today I have close to ten thousand one-days-at-a-time clean and sober. I got hooked into the Vet Center and all of the programs that they offer. I spent the last two years of the 80’s and almost all of 1989 attending de-briefing groups. I did this group and that group and any sponsored event. I found my new platoon in that group of Vietnam Veterans attempting to stay sober and work through PTSD. There were no secrets among us. Some of us made it. Some of us did not. As in Vietnam, some of us died. Our team leader was himself a combat veteran. Ed Carrillo guided us through our trauma. Gradually the demons were replaced with thoughts of hope. We found that in helping each other, we helped ourselves. Within my first three weeks out of the Army, I became a life-member of Vietnam Veterans Against The War. I remain active in VVAW to this day.

I was driving down the street one day and I saw my buddy, Tim, a former medic with the 101st Airborne, walking out of a gun shop with his six-year-old son. I made a U-turn and pulled up next to him and we slapped hands and smiled, and Tim looked like he didn’t have a problem to his name. I left him standing on the curb smiling with his boy and went on my way. The next day they told me that he went straight home and blew his brains out right in front of his son. This is PTSD.

Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day in this country. If this book helps touch one life, it has done its job.

Raw Man cover Dec 1

Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: A Word withYou Press; First Edition edition (January 15, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0988464632
ISBN-13: 978-0988464636
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars

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Raw Mans 1st Review!

Politicians sold us the Vietnam War as a just war, a necessary war.  A massive stack of well researched books has since debunked the blatant lies and warped thinking which led us into that war.

Fred Rivera’s Raw Man, stripped of all the usual machismo and chest-thumping hero worshiping faux patriotism one often finds in personal accounts of soldiering, gives a brutally honest, soul searing glimpse into the reality of that most stupid of wars, and what it did to the bodies and minds of those who were so callously exploited to serve such dubious imperatives.

As an Australian soldier at the time (and therefore ally of the US), I served in Vietnam with the 9th Battalion Royal Australian (Infantry) Regiment,1968-69, first as a machine gunner and later as an instructor with a Mobile Advisory Training Team training ARVN forces.  After reading Raw Man, all I can say is:  “Wow!!! Fred Rivera told it like it was, man!”

~ Gerry Binder

Australian Veterans For Peace

One thought on “RAW MAN

  1. Many blessings and thank you for telling your story. Our country is so deep in killing we have all become numb to the slaughter and take off fpr Disneyland, the beach or WalMart. I hope your book and poignant stories will help us wake up and stop the genocides we so conveniently call national security…!

    Liked by 1 person

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