Vietnam voices: Bobby Muller
Bobby Muller 63, the Great Neck High and Hofstra graduate who went on to cofound Vietnam Veterans of America, was a Marine Corps volunteer and was paralyzed from the chest down in April 1969 when a bullet severed his spine during a battle near the DMZ. He spent the summer of 1969 at Kingsbridge Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx, which Life magazine characterized in a May 1970 cover story, as a "medical slum."
I was incredibly lucky. By all rights I should have died. But there had been other guys who were hit before I was shot, so there were choppers headed our way when I got hit, and I was medevaced within a few minutes. ... They put in the medical notes that if I had arrived a minute later I would have been dead.
I kept being told how good the VA hospitals were. But when the day came for me to be transferred to the VA hospital in the Bronx, the place was completely dilapidated, overcrowded, understaffed and ill equipped. My mother came, looked around, burst into tears and left. That was the first time I ever cried about what had happened to me because it was so depressing. So from the beginning, it was a fight to survive and keep your sanity and recover.
The Life magazine article could never convey the stench of the place and the despair. Eight of the guys in the three spinal-cord injury wards there committed suicide. ... I had to end up pleading for basic things like a wheelchair or water.
I don't remember having a single political conversation at all about whether the war was right or wrong, because it didn't matter. You just do it, and save the analysis for another time because why make yourself crazy. But when you come out on the other end of a medical evacuation as a casualty, and you're in the hospital, and there was always someone screaming ... when they change the dressing on burn victims these guys are screaming and crying for their mother. You realize your mortality.
The summer of '69 was for me the beginning for me trying to figure out what the ... war was all about. And at the same time you had Woodstock going on and everyone is going up there getting high and having a good time and I'm in the hospital. ... I felt completely abandoned and just forgotten.