Joseph L. Fox Sr.
United States Marine Corps. SGT. E-5
Years of Service: 1967 through 1970
Wounded Hero: Vietnam War
I was shot in a cross fire during the Battle of Dong Ha in North Central Vietnam while trying to get across a ravine. That’s how my ordeal began. As one of the first casualties in a battle which would last all day and well into the night, I found myself injured and on the ground after being shot through the right forearm and in the back. Unfortunately, I had to stay behind until someone could rescue me – the time was around 1PM, the clock was ticking, and my condition was worsening by the minute. After laying there for roughly 9 hours, I woke up to the sound of a medivac helicopter at 10:30pm, and was later told at the Dong Ha base hospital that I almost bled to death in the field and might never walk again as bullets had hit my spinal cord. As if that was not enough bad news, I was also informed I could possibly lose my right arm below the elbow.
My return to the US was not a good experience as I never imagined my ordeal would continue back home. Fueled by strong antiwar sentiments, the news media had painted servicemen as killers and ‘crazy people’ who killed babies. It was hard to seek transportation or get any type of ride, and we resorted to not going anywhere in uniform or speaking about ourselves to anyone other than our military friends. Feeling like a social outcast in ways which were strongly compounded by my disabilities, I wanted to stay somewhere where I could feel safe – my house. I would go out at night and never venture far from home, and it would eventually take me 6 months before I could go to the store for the first time and not feel like people were staring at me. My inner fears ran wild and I would live each day as it came.
Eventually, I started to reflect and realize there was a life for me out there; a life that was mine as a person – a disabled person. However, it would not be easy. You see, back then the only thing that would (could) help me cope with my memories of what I saw and did in Vietnam were alcohol and drugs, but even that did not take them away! It was then that I decided to go back to the VA hospital in Long Beach and begin putting my life back together.
After a grueling year of physical therapy while also mentally adjusting to the harsh realization that I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, I began talking to other vets and eventually joined the California Paralyzed Veterans Chapter. This therapeutic move not only helped me realize and understand there were others like me and I was not alone, but also that I could live my life with normalcy…a life I once had. In terms of adjusting to my disability, you never really adjust; you adapt, achieve, overcome and live life each day to the fullest.
Never giving up on myself, my optimism would come to full fruition. I met General Randy West in 2003 when I was Chairmen of the Paralyzed Veterans Association (PVA) Outdoor Recreation Program, and he became a member of that Organization. He shared with me his idea for P4 but recognized that he needed the right location that would work for his vision to help Veterans who served this Country… a place where he could build wheelchair accessible cabins, offer recreational services such as hunting for disabled veterans, and a general store. That vision would soon become a reality. In 2013 Randy called me and said he had found the perfect place and wanted me to come and see it. In November of that year I drove to West Virginia and stayed in the newly constructed Semper Fi cabin. I was very impressed with Patriots 4 (P4) and what the organization had to offer. Randy and his son Patrick took me hunting on the land. Being in a wheelchair I did not know how I would be able to hunt, but the land owners donated a four runner for me to use during my stay, and this is how I met Wendell Cantrell – the Onsite Supervisor and volunteer at P4. Hunting was great and so was the fishing as my wife and me both caught our limit in trout. P4 general store provided the food and that was also great.
I have been coming to P4 for about 5 years, and each year gets better than the previous one as I leave relaxed and rested. The greatest value of P4 is the people: caring and friendly, and willing to help make your stay good for you and others. P4 provides many opportunities, access, accessibility, fishing, and kayaking, camping and good food. A place you can come to and just relax and forget about the busy city life and noisy traffic.
For those vets from 9-11, it’s hard to come back and forget, and I get that. But living is what you try and make of it, something family and friends who have never been in war do not always understand. We may not look injured on the outside but inside there is a lot going on. We cannot change the past but we can build a better tomorrow. This 9-11 war was different than Vietnam, but the outcome is the same, and we struggle more to deal with the after effects. P4 provides a tranquil, relaxing area surrounded by a natural forest and running water; a place for you to forget about therapy and problems and enjoy yourself with your family. It’s about changing lives and making a difference for those who struggle every day to survive. We take it one day at a time.
On the mountain high above the P4 General Store lays a cemetery of the settlers who built this area; a place of beauty and comfort. You can see over the valley and imagine who they might have been and why they came here. The first time I was there I said this is the closet place to heaven I want to get. So, for those who are looking for a comfortable and relaxing area for you and your family, come check out P4. You will ALWAYS feel welcomed!