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Richard Parker, 63, of Loves Park, Ill., enlisted in the Navy at 18 and served as a Seabee in the Vietnam War for 22 months between April 1968 and July 1970. He now lives in Da Nang, Vietnam. "I was gung-ho," he says. "I believed in the government. I believed in patriotism." But within six months after arriving in country, Parker's idealism had been dashed. "I realized what a fiasco this whole thing was, what a joke," he says. "It would've been a sad joke, but there was so much killing going on. It was just killing, killing, killing." Parker rotated home after eight months, but returned for a second tour six months later. After his battalion redeployed to the United States, Parker volunteered to stay for an additional six months with another Seabee unit. "It was that combined 14 months that really whacked me out here in Vietnam," he says. "Made me a little crazy." For the next 30 years, Parker never forgot about what he had witnessed in Vietnam, with some images replaying themselves on a constant, endless loop. "And there was so much remorse at having participated in the war," he says. "Because even though I didn't shoot anybody, I didn't kill anybody, I was part of the killing machine." Finally, in 2000, following the advice of his brother, Parker went to a Veterans Administration center in Madison, Wis., and told a counselor, "I think my brain is wounded." Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Parker underwent years of therapy before returning to Vietnam for the first time in 2011. He says he has made peace with his past, and has fallen in love with the country and the generous, forgiving spirit of its people. Parker plans to live the rest of his life in Vietnam. "You're never too old to be healed from old wounds," he says. "That's what therapy taught me." Feb. 13, 2013.
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