I came into the world the usual way, kicking and screaming on Veterans Day, November 11, 1950, to a normal Catholic family. My father was a World War II veteran who drank every day of his life. He beat my three sisters, my brother, and me every day physically or verbally. He was an angry man. He demonstrated one of his ways when I was eight. He got a Zippo cigarette lighter, cherry red, and asked me to give him my arm, which I did. Then, he held my arm and pushed the Zippo into the flesh of my forearm till it sizzled. As I held back tears, I asked, “Why did you do that?” He said, “To see if you were tough.” I know now that he is one of my greatest teachers for being angry, a victim, and not enough. I definitely did not understand that then, if I had I wouldn’t have gone through it.
Growing up, I was taught by my church, school, society, and just about everybody, that it’s a sin to kill. I believed them. Then came the draft lottery in 1969. I was 19. My lottery number was 34 and my best friend, Tony’s, was 35. He came to me and said, “Let’s go in the Marines. They’re the only branch that will take me with my criminal record.” I replied, “I’m waiting till the FBI come and get me. I’m not going anywhere.”
After awhile, I decided I could use hypocrisy to get back at my parents. I told my parents I had decided to go in the Marines, and they looked at me in shock and said, “What do you want to go in for? You don’t believe in killing.” I said, “I want to see what’s it’s like to kill someone. It seems it’s okay with the church.” There was a moment of silence. Then my father looked at me like he knew something I didn’t but wouldn’t say, and my mother cried. That’s when I realized that hurting my mother by joining the Marines wasn’t what I really wanted.
Boot camp was no game. We really were trained to kill people. I still believed it was wrong, and I still had trouble believing we really did this. At my first duty station, I got into an altercation with my commanding officer, in which he said I wasn’t going to win. I then got orders to go to Viet Nam two weeks later. Before I went home on leave, the commander requested to see me in his office. He said, “What do you think of that, Zaleski?” I said, “The only way you’re going to get me over there is if you chain me to a helicopter.” He said, “Is that right?” I said, “That’s right.” Then we talked about his son, who was my age, and he asked if going into the Merchant Marines will make a man out of his son. (He knew I had been in the Merchant Marines.) I said, “If he isn’t one when he goes in, he won’t be one when he gets out.”
When I got home, I didn’t tell my parents about my orders, because I didn’t want to hurt them any more. I got down on my knees and I prayed, “God help me I don’t think I have the courage not to shoot another man. I’m afraid and I want to mir.” I wondered, if I didn’t kill, would I put the men I was to go over with in danger? What should I do? I found peace when I decided that I wasn’t going, and I would suffer the consequences for my actions, whatever that would be, because I wouldn’t run. When I went to staging on the West Coast, the five men that had orders to go directly to Viet Nam with me, went. When it came my turn I said, “I’m not going.” The soldier in charge said, “Don’t worry, you coward, your orders have been changed.” I said, “Thank you God.” A month before my enlistment ended, I met one of the five, and he was limping. I asked, “What happened?” He said, “We all got shot and two are dead.”
Being as angry and arrogant as I was, I decided I didn’t want them to have died and suffered for nothing. They fought for my freedom, so I can do what I want. I didn’t like shoes, so in 1972 I stopped wearing them, period, as a memorial to my friends. However, I never told anybody why. I would just say, “I don’t feel like it. You got a problem with that?” It was more an act of rebellion then a memorial and my attempt to appease my guilt. Was I a coward? If I had gone could I have saved anyone? I blamed every organization and person I felt had lied to me as I grew up.
One day, a child I was teaching swimming lessons to asked me why I didn’t wear shoes. It was as if God was speaking to me through that child and said, “What are you doing?” I hesitated for a moment before I told him, because it had been so long that I almost forgot why. He was the first person I ever told in 33 years. He was the first person I let get past my anger and reach the true reason for my bare feet. I realized that if I did nothing, I was allowing the problem and hypocrisy to continue, and I would be the same as those I had been angry at my whole life.
Some people tell me when you are ready, the Master will show up. I say when you are ready, you show up. Within months, I closed down my business and walked 2,174 miles on the Appalachian Trail, barefoot over mountains, to raise awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. It was my penance, and I hoped that every step I took would bring me peace. After a few days on the trail, I realized I was in way over my head and had no idea what I was in for. People would say, “You’re doing God’s work.” I would say, “No, I’m joy riding, He’s doing the work.” In A Course In Miracles we read, “Pray that this Second Coming will be soon, but do not rest with that. It needs your eyes and ears and hands and feet. It needs your voice. And most of all it needs your willingness. Let us rejoice that we can do God’s Will and join together in its holy light.” (OrEd.WkBk.300.7)
During my walk, I was in Washington DC speaking at an informal hearing about PTSD. I had learned that people don’t write letters. So, I made a three point petition, and then I walked barefoot across America, getting people to sign it. I was bound and determined to turn my anger and guilt into passion, making it count for something. The Holy Spirit was always eager to give me lessons. I can’t say I was as eager to receive them, and I judged the angels he sent. One of the many lessons the Holy Spirit gave me, on my way, was about judgment and who is in charge. One morning, at around 9 a.m., I stopped in an American Legion, figuring I would get some signatures. I was wearing my sandwich sign that says “18 Vets A Day Commit Suicide.” The bar was packed and noisy. When I stepped in, it was like someone had turned off the radio. No one greeted me. I introduced myself and told them about my mission. No one moved. It was literally a wax museum. Some of them even stopped breathing. No one moved while I talked. Then I slammed down the petition on the bar and said “Look at it and sign it if you want.” When I turned and walked away, I heard them take a collective breath, and when I stepped out the door, it was as if someone turned the radio back on.
I was disappointed and angry. However, while later after thinking about it I realized I forget what an imposing figure I can be, especially to a bar full of men drinking at 9 a.m. I had showed up on their doorstep, barefoot, wrapped in a sandwich sign, with the sun at my back. I laughed to myself and wondered if any of them gave up drinking thinking they were hallucinating that morning? The next morning, I was getting a woman who was drinking coffee in the park on her work break to sign the petition. Behind her, in the back of the park, I heard a lot of noise and saw a bunch of homeless men drinking. I was going to just walk on, thinking, “Why bother with them?” One of them saw me and waved me back, so I went. Half of the men there were Vets. They all signed the petition, joked with me, and accepted me. One, whose brother was a Marine that committed suicide after he got home from Viet Nam, gave me money even though he didn’t have a place to mir. When I went to leave, they all stood up. The one who called me over was a Marine. He said, “You inspired me. I’m going to do something too.” A Course In Miracles tells us, “As you share my inability to tolerate lack of love in yourself and others, you must join the Great Crusade to correct it. The slogan for the Crusade is Listen, learn and do: Listen to my voice, learn to undo error, and do something to correct it.” (OrEd.WkBk.1.31)**1
Walking out of the park, I realized I was on the wrong route and retraced my steps. I found the intersection where I was supposed to turn. I don’t see how I could have missed it because I almost hit it with my head. Then I cried because I saw, I’m never lost I just don’t always know where I am. I asked for forgiveness, because I had judged those men. They were me.
Walking, I had the luxury of plenty of time. Much of it was used to think which was mostly ceaseless chatter to avoid myself, seconds devoted to silence, and seconds of getting revelations. That day after leaving the park, I wondered, “Were they more receptive of me than the American Legion men, because they were more fearless? They seemed to have already lost all?” Maybe it was that they saw themselves in me, a man carrying out a self imposed penance.
People asked me what was the hardest thing that happened to me on the walk. It wasn’t an inch and a half piece of glass that pierced my foot, or the month of 100 degree weather, or the blizzard in Oklahoma, or being cursed and shot at, or spending the nights in that camper with someone who was bipolar and off medication. It was the mothers that would stand in the road and cry as they saw me with my sign. They told me of the child they lost to suicide, after he or she had gotten home safely, then hold me like I was that child and cry. They would all say, “It’s my fault. I should have known. He told me. I didn’t believe him. It’s my fault.” I cried everyday for a year when I saw the guilt and despair in their eyes. In the beginning I thought they would be the driving force behind me, but I realized they were destroyed by guilt and shame. Maybe, the only thing I could do for them was share a little of that weight they carried.
The more I was open, the more I could see the Holy Spirit’s hand in my day. I remember the first time I read A Course In Miracles in the early 1980s, my eyes crossed and I got a migraine headache, because it was alien to me. I was into vengeance, not forgiveness. As time wore on and I finished my walk, I realized it’s not about changing a law, it’s about changing people’s perception. We don’t have a law, yet to come in out of the rain just makes sense. After I finished the walk and went to Washington DC and demirred the petition and a letter why I did it, I realized one of the reasons I did it was to forgive myself. They are turning the petition into legislation as you read this. You can learn more about it on thelongwalkhome.org and sign the petition there as well. A law doesn’t mean anything unless I believe in it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean anything unless I do it. You and I are the same we just appear to have different experiences. You can contact Ron Zaleski at 305.453.6789 or email email@example.com Thank you for letting me be.
Petition to Congress
Last year, I started out on a very unusual 3,400 mile journey across the country. I walked barefoot from Boston, MA, to Santa Monica, CA. The trip took 10 months, and as I walked I wore a sign that said “18 Vets A Day Commit Suicide” to raise awareness about military Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Almost every day on this walk (from June of 2010 to March of this year), I met family members of Vets who had committed suicide, and I cried with them as I shared their grief. I encountered many people who said they felt better knowing somebody cared. Mothers would make a U-turn in the road, get out of their car, and cry as they told me how they lost a loved one to suicide, after they had arrived home safely. They would invite me, a stranger, into their home to give me a donation and pray for me as I walked. I received media coverage in dozens and dozens of newspapers and on TV and the internet.
As a former Marine, I am deeply disappointed that Vets are not receiving the care they need from our government. I am asking for a nationwide plan to offer mandatory stress counseling for all military personnel prior to discharge.
The facts are overwhelming:
18 veterans a day in the U.S. commit suicide.
40 percent of the homeless are Veterans
Drug and alcohol abuse, family disintegration, and incarceration are rampant among Veterans.
I am attaching a copy of a petition addressed to the White House and Congress, which is supported by scores of Veteran and family organizations across the country. Your office may have already received emails from constituents regarding this petition. I humbly ask that you read and sign the petition, which can also be found on our website, thelongwalkhome.org. All three points on the petition have been practiced successfully or are currently in use in our military today. The only difference is that this plan asks that these approaches be made mandatory, standard procedure for all military personnel to address root causes as well as to erase the perceived stigma of PTSD.
I will be speaking before the Committee for Veteran Affairs shortly. This meeting is being organized by Congressman Philip Roe. You may call his office at 202.226.8079 for more details.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely Ronald Zaleski
Over 10,000 Hand Signed Petitions
Dear ___________________ ,
I______________________________ want to ensure these programs are instituted for our military personnel.
GOAL: 1) To institute mandatory grief counseling for all military personnel as an integral part of the boot camp program. It would be similar to that which the police and fire personnel receive so as to enable them to more effectively cope with the emotions that are associated with the trauma of loss of life and limb.
A) Our troops go into combat totally unprepared for the trauma to come.
B) This preparation would pave the way for making treatment for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) more acceptable. And more effective.
C) Troops would be more effective and efficient in accomplishing assigned tasks.
GOAL: 2) Establishment of a mandatory civilian re-entry program for all military personnel prior to discharge. This could be accomplished efficiently in large groups.
A) This will give personnel tools and skills to assist them in dealing with the transition to civilian life.
B) It ensures more effective screening of those who are severely affected but who neither recognize nor admit it.
C) Making the program mandatory as well as calling it a Civilian Reentry Program removes the stigma and acknowledges that it is a human condition; the personnel are not broken or weak.
D) Making the program mandatory prior to discharge also enables those who receive a Section 8 or conditional discharge to get attention they would likewise never get due to the loss of benefits.
E) This program ensures that no one slips through the cracks.
GOAL: 3) Making support groups available after discharge similar to a 12-step program to enable separated personnel to continue to lead productive mirs.
Such a program would foster more trust among veterans, the government, and civilians through concrete evidence that the nation they served cares enough to do something both practical and effective. These programs could come under the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act **2 or as an expansion of Transition Assistance Program.
(**1) The quotation in the article is from the Original Edition. The editor thinks that students may be interested in the full quotation as it appears in the Urtext before it was edited by Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford and became what we call the Hugh Lynn Cayce Edition. “You now share MY inability to tolerate the lack of love in yourself & in everyone else, and MUST join the GREAT CRUSADE to correct it. The slogan for this Crusade is ‘Listen, Learn, and DO.’ This means Listen to my Voice, Learn to undo error, and DO something to correct it. The first two are not enough. The real members of MY party are ACTIVE workers.” (Ur.T.1.B.23h) It is obvious to this ACIM teacher’s perception that Ron Zaleski is what the Urtext quotation is calling for, an “active worker” in the “Great Crusade.” – Rev. Tony Ponticello
(**2) “Joshua Omvig was a 22 year old veteran Army specialist from Gillette, Wyoming, who served an eleven-month tour of duty in northern Iraq with the 339th Military Police Company. Omvig returned from Iraq in 2005, less than a week before Thanksgiving. While his family members celebrated the holiday and shared stories of the year’s events, Omvig – “Josh” to his family – kept his thoughts on his experience overseas to himself. He soon began to show signs of depression, suffering from flashbacks and nightmares, and he ultimately confided to his family that he believed he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While his parents encouraged him to seek help, Josh never sought professional counseling because he worried that doing so would damage his career. In December 2005, finally, over-whelmed by his pain, Josh told his mother he had felt “dead ever since [he] left Iraq,” sat in his truck in his parents’ driveway, and shot himself. Although he was only one of many veterans who have experienced debilitating mental health problems and whom the system of care has somehow neglected, Josh has become the human face behind a legislative attempt to address the growing problem of suicide among veterans. (Harvard Journal of Legislation Vol. 45, 2008) Y
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This article appeared in the November 2011 (Vol. 25 No.9) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members,Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.