Valhalla Project’s Resident “Old Vet” Speaks on Veteran Isolation

“I feel like I’m all by myself, isolated with nobody to talk to. I never talk to my family or civilian friends about my experiences.They don’t understand and never will, so I just avoid the subject.”


Gordon Cucullu, Lt Col (Ret.), says he hears this repeatedly from contemporary vets. So often that he says it’s become a mantra. He wonders why this is such a universal phenomenon?


Korea 1970 Cucullu early service years

Korea 1970 Cucullu early service years

So, we give over WoW, our Words on Wednesdays today to the wisdom of the ‘old vet’ resident at the Valhalla Project. Valhalla is a place where warriors seeking respite, are enjoined to work with their hands in nature. There they find clean air and easier talk of their troubles and their triumphs, with others who understand, even if in just the sounds of side by side work in the wild.

This post continues in Gordon’s own words……   reposted from  the Valhalla website…and based on his real life conversations with participant Vets…
It isn’t just with today’s veterans. This been a common thread at least throughout living memory. My grandfather, a veteran of both the Mexican Expedition to hunt down Pancho Villa and World War I, never spoke of his experiences. I only learned about his history in the most cursory manner by cleaning out his foot locker of military orders, decorations, papers, and memorabilia after his death.
When I was a kid every male adult I knew who was my father’s age had served in the Second World War. None ever discussed their experiences with family save for a few humorous anecdotes. The only times I ever heard about the “real war” was while hanging around them when they were with relatives and friends who had similar experiences. Even then I was cautioned not to repeat anything I heard to my mother or to my friends.
What makes your situation today different – and this trend has been growing in our society since the Korean War – is that fewer and fewer of your friends back home have shared experiences. Compared to WWII with 16 million-plus Americans in uniform,Korea – with far fewer – was treated by the country as a sideshow. No one particularly cared about their experiences and few of their contemporaries shared it.
Vietnam saw a larger uniformed group directly involved in the war, although still a relatively small proportion of society compared to WWII. On return they found a society both hostile and indifferent. Stumbling into people who openly castigated them for a plethora of myths promulgated by hostile elements in the political, academic, entertainment, and media class, they mostly clammed up or even hid their service.
While there was widespread public acclaim for the military after the Gulf War it was short-lived, as was the conflict, and many ascribed the public’s over-reaction as societal guilt over the crappy treatment given to Vietnam vets. Regardless, the war started and ended quickly with relatively few casualties, a characteristic that appealed enormously to short-attention-span Americans.
Now, almost 13 years into a post-9/11 attack series of war, the American public has been neither asked nor required to sacrifice an iota of discomfort. Yet you volunteered to make a sacrifice and that makes you very different in the eyes of your fellow citizens. And your being different makes some people uncomfortable.
With less than 1% of the population having served, many of you will inevitably feel a sense of isolation from your civilian friends, neighbors, and even family members. At times some of you may become overwhelmed by this sense of isolation while at the same time missing the comradeship that came with living and working alongside battle buddies who shared a common purpose far away from home.
Gordon Cucullu Lt. Col (Ret.) staying sharp on the range

Gordon Cucullu Lt. Col (Ret.) staying sharp on the range

This is absolutely normal and understandable – I certainly felt this way myself after leaving the military after two decades. Yet few civilians understand since they have lived under very different circumstances.

For any civilians who are reading this article in a quest to comprehend what our vets are experiencing, try to imagine taking a person out of combat during which he has lived with the most intense emotions (including an indescribable bonding experience with his fellow unit members), place him back in civilian life where he is often viewed with suspicion and morbid curiosity, isolate him from his comrades, then perhaps fill him full of a witch’s brew of prescribed psychotropic drugs.
Pile on a load of additional factors: high unemployment with little chance of finding a profession that affords either the intense emotional experience of combat or the brotherhood that results. A society preoccupied with trivia and entertainment, blissfully ignorant of world affairs and without an inkling of what military service entails or the experiences that it generates. Friends and family who have moved on with their lives while he is deployed and have little interest and less understanding of what happened while he was gone.
And we wonder why the suicide rate is so high?
The Valhalla Project has other articles on this MilSuccessNet site. They cover a book launch on the role of MP’s in the world’s hot spots and the background to Valhalla’s founding entitled Healing our Heroes.
Co-founders Cucullu and his life partner, Chris Fontana invite Veterans who feel they have issues concerning decompression, transition challenges, to maybe stay at Valhalla Project. It can help.
They have invested the significant investment in time, money, and labor to establish the Valhalla Project. In addition, roughly $500,000 was invested over the last two years into the Valhalla Project for property acquisition, feeding and housing Soldier participants, infrastructure and facility improvements, animal purchases and feed, tools and building supplies, forest and pasture management expenses, and much much more.
Resources are running thin. Donations via an option on their site area appreciated to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently. The couple, along with Veteran and community helpers continue to expand and build on the land, the vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat Soldiers and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world.
The Valhalla Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity recognized by the IRS. 

Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck and 100% of donations go directly to program expenses.

Donations in kind are accepted, if you kinda feel like springing instead for a specific like:  new tractor tires, a truckload of straw bales, a pallet of dimension lumber, or even a few dozen 10′ sheets of forest green tin roofing, that would be absolutely wonderful


Prior to this post, Cucullu reported in November 2013.
It was then that his artificial knee chose to give up the ghost of functionality and decided that 22 years of service was sufficient. Out of action for several months Valhalla founders sought medical aid that did not assume amputation. A surgeon in whom they had confidence was found.
Success in the OR led to many months of recovery therapy and constant care.
In the meantime, mil Spouse, co -founder, co-author ‘had the six’ of not only Cucullu’s body and spirit, but also that of Valhalla’s animals, poultry, dogs, cats, emergencies, and daily living.

Quite a few people assist from afar with fundraising, donating items from our critical needs list, and generally spreading the word about what Valhalla Project is all about. The founders express their appreciation for the good will and generosity.

Veterans who are interested in what Valhalla can do for them, and what they can do for Valhalla and their fellow veterans, are encouraged to contact us for more information and application forms if they would like to participate. Fontana and Cucullu hope you do.
Look for more posts in the future with the wisdom of ages and field tested  mettle.
Up next time – direct report from a participant about what a day on the farm looked like for him.
It turned out to be the antidote to the feeling in this Paul Simon song, from a Paris stage in 2000

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