Mike Pence shares story about the psychological impact war had on his father in speech to veterans

Pence's story about his father resonated with several veterans in the audience

Susie Jones
August 30, 2018 - 3:20 pm

Vice President Mike Pence has never served in the military, but when speaking at the 100th American Legion Convention in Minneapolis on Thursday, he shared a somber story about his father and how serving in the Korean War changed him.  He recalled a conversation with his second cousin after his father's death. 

"When I asked him how it changed him, he said 'When I knew your dad growing up on the south side of Chicago, he was a happy-go-lucky guy, but the war changed him, he wasn't quite the same.  I don't think your dad ever got over the guilt of coming home. '"

Later he added: "This son of that veteran under every unfinished sentence, every faraway look at my father's face when the war came up. That's when I began to understand the quiet cost of freedom."

Pence's story resonated with several veterans in the audience. "Because it reminds me of mom, looking back and knowing that it was PTSD for my dad," said Sharon Thiemecke, from Bemidji, Minnesota. Her father was a Korean War veteran and when he came home, no one knew much about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. "So she was 80 before she could express, even apologize, and now she understood."

Even though our understanding of the illness has improved, it is still a heavy burden to bear. Stella Wakonabo has two sons who are Marines and came home from the war in Afghanistan, alive but still suffering from PTSD.

"My eldest was in the Special Forces and saw things that no human being should ever see," she said. They still deal with flashbacks and trouble speaking due to traumatic brain injuries."And both boys have had very close friends who have died there, and that hurts," she said.

Pence talked about improving access to mental health care and catching up on the backlog of cases.

Some in attendance say more work needs to be done, "Progress has been made," said disabled vet Dan Williams, who is from Maple Grove. "When you have a system that is bloated, you have to use outside sources to help with the backlog."

He believes that it's important for those working with veterans to really care for them. "Whether they have served or not, they need to have the bedside manner that will let the veterans know that they care."

Other veterans thought the speech was what they called "tailor-made" for the audience. "I think he was a little more optimistic than I am, I guess," said Nick Lucy, from Dubuque, Iowa.  He wished he would have heard more about challenges we face as a nation with North Korea and Syria.  Pence was applauded when he spoke of getting rid of ISIS, "That's a tough nut to crack," said Lucy. "We are not at war with a country and that's one of the toughest things about terrorism."

Lucy also expressed concern for some of the mannerisms of President Trump, "Our president wasn't elected as the CEO of the United States of America," he said.  

Pence later attended a fundraiser in Bloomington.