Wounded in Vietnam, South Texas native marches on helping others in need

Tomas “Tom” Rendon, a Robstown, Texas native, spent three years serving in the U.S. Army from 1967-1970, before being medically retired.

He enlisted in the Army in 1967 and then attended basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, followed by advanced individual training at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

His job title was a UH-1 helicopter repairman, commonly known as a “crew chief.” He also volunteered for airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, before reporting to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 82nd Airborne Division.

Rendon then volunteered for service in Vietnam, being assigned with the “Casper Aviation Platoon,” 173rd Infantry Brigade (Airborne) “Sky Soldiers.” The helicopter crew he was assigned to during his time deployed was the OH-6 Cayuse, nicknamed “LOACH,” for light-observation helicopter. It was while flying on a mission on this aircraft he was wounded.

“I was medically retired from the Army 10 months after being shot during my deployment,” Rendon said.

Rendon said during a “tree top” observation mission he received hostile enemy fire. During the skirmish, his weapon was hit by at least two to three snipers with automatic weapons, which then ricocheted and hit him in his right forearm, right thigh, along with shrapnel from the damaged weapon hitting his facial area. The physical wounds were severe and Rendon was medically-evacuated to the nearest hospital. He later was awarded the Purple Heart.

“After a short stay at Yokohama Medical Hospital in Japan, I was sent me to Brooke Army Hospital at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio,” Rendon said. “There I had surgeries on my hand and arm, and a few months of physical therapy. The Army then decided to medically retire me in December 1970.”

While that culminated his Army career, Rendon spent the next 31 years working at Corpus Christi Army Depot as an aircraft machinist journeyman, in addition to helping his fellow veterans.

“It was really tough when I first was out of the Army as there just wasn’t a lot of work or help for veterans. It was a while until veterans really started to see the support needed for a lot of the difficulties they faced after leaving the military in that era,” he said.

Rendon, like many other Vietnam veterans, says he suffered through post-traumatic stress disorder and had to deal with it himself.

“I think some veterans feel guilt that they survived, wounded or not, after losing buddies they served with,” Rendon said.

In 1999, Rendon began volunteering with the Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit national charitable organization, and now serves as the Chapter 150 adjutant, treasurer and service officer. He is also the treasurer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 598.

“As a veteran volunteer service officer, I assist veterans with filing for their Veteran Affairs benefits and claims they are entitled to,” Rendon said. “I also help to pick up and deliver medical equipment for those veterans who cannot do those tasks themselves, along with assisting others with getting signed up for their benefits.”

The DAV helps veterans in need of wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers, canes and crutches, among other medical equipment. According to their mission statement, they also provide free, professional assistance to veterans and their families in obtaining benefits and services earned through military service and provided by the Dept. of Veteran Affairs, among many other services offered.

The MOPD also helps veterans with assistance with VA claims and through a variety of other ways. Veterans do not need to be members of the organization in order to seek help from them.

“We really want some of our younger veterans to get involved with us, to get them out of the house and find camaraderie with each other,” Rendon said. “I would like to see more Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans attending meetings and becoming active with veteran’s organizations.”

Rendon has been married to his wife, Lettie, for 26 years. She also volunteers her time to help veterans in need and is the adjutant and treasurer for the Disabled American Veteran Auxiliary local unit 150, a sub-organization of DAV.

Rendon plans to continue to support his fellow veteran as long as he is capable.

For more information about DAV, visit their website at http://www.dav.org and for MOPH, http://www.purpleheart.org.



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