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MACHO MADNESS One Of The Good Guys
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One of the aspects of my job as a reporter that I really enjoy is the variety of topics I'm allowed to address, working as I do for a weekly newspaper. While I'm usually assigned to cover the proceedings of various Oakdale city meetings, the Oak Valley Hospital District, and local elections, I'm often able to seek out other stories or events that I think might interest our readers. This includes the occasional sports article and column, or a feature story.

What I like best about my new career, however, are the opportunities I have to meet such remarkable - and decent - people.

Sad but true: after working for over 20 years as a police officer, I didn't see the best of people while on the job. You could say I have a somewhat jaded viewpoint of society; if not for Donnelle's efforts to keep me level, I would have sunk into a pit of cynicism long ago.

But now, while chasing a story, I often run across those who help reestablish my faith in the overall decency of people.

This happened again recently when I was working on a story for Veterans Day.

Earlier this year I wrote a story about a local Army veteran who received a Bronze Star 30 years after earning it in Vietnam. He had received assistance from a local veteran's organization, Vets Helping Vets, which also helped organize a ceremony for the vet at the National Guard Armory in Oakdale. I had briefly met and interviewed the founder of the organization, Richard Hall, for the story back then, so I thought I would call him about an article I wanted to write for Veterans Day.

I'm glad I did. While I enjoyed writing the story - the article ran in the Nov. 12 issue of The Oakdale Leader - the hour or so I spent with Richard really opened my eyes. Conducting research for the article, I had no idea there were so many veterans in the US and Stanislaus/San Joaquin County area. And while we, as a society, like to think we support our veterans - Proposition 12, the Veterans Bond Act, passed by a 63 percent margin statewide - there is so much more we could do as individuals.

Listening to Richard recount some of the individuals his group has assisted - not using names, of course, as there are strict confidentiality guidelines - made me realize how some veterans are still in anguish today.

While only a small percentage of veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it can be totally disabling. It will affect relationships, work, and often cause a person to abuse alcohol or drugs. Richard spoke of individuals who never come out of their house, wasting their life away, still paralyzed by events that had unfolded 30 years ago. Or in the case of Iraq War veterans, a year or two ago.

This is where Vets Helping Vets comes in, providing guidance in wading through the VA bureaucracy, putting the vet in touch with a licensed counselor, and sometimes even providing the ride itself to the veteran's center in Modesto.

Sitting with Richard in his family room, watching his eyes light up as he told me of helping a fellow Vietnam veteran receive help from his group, it struck me how one person can truly make a difference in someone's life. Richard said the rule for Vets Helping Vets is simple:

"Once you get well enough, you help the next guy in line."

My generation has not served in the military with the same regularity as my father's generation did. My dad is a Korean War vet; Donnelle's father was career Navy, but as a corpsman, he did two tours with Marines in Vietnam. My son-in law, Danny, chose to enlist in the Air Force, and is contemplating making that a career. He, too, will be a veteran someday.

My hope is someone like Richard Hall is around then, too ...

Vets Helping Vets is a local group of veterans who help other veterans. If you are a veteran needing assistance, or would like to make a donation to the group, contact Richard Hall at 847-5645 or

Craig Macho is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.