As they slide into their seats at The Fridge, Jack Frey (pictured right) fills his glass with a carefully selected beer from one of the reach-in coolers of the bottle shop. Next to him sits his friend, Jack Yuska. The two of them, along with a group of other Vietnam Veterans, meet at The Fridge every Friday afternoon and greet each other with “welcome home” each time. As simple as the phrase may seem to the average person, we learn that the specific welcoming is said because the military veterans returning from The Vietnam War did not exactly receive the warmest homecoming from people in the States.
Jack Frey grew up in Millersville and had no plans of joining the military. Shortly after a friend was drafted, Frey decided to enlist in the Marines where he completed a tour of duty in Cuba and was then stationed in the Northern part of Southern Vietnam. In January of 1968, on the third day of surprise of attacks called the Tet Offensive, Frey’s company was ambushed while on a sweep through the rice patties. Most of Frey’s fellow men were killed. Frey himself was shot in the temple, with the bullet passing through his head. As fate would have it, the blast turned his body, allowing him to fall face up which prohibited him from drowning in the rice patties.
Frey was unconscious for two weeks at a nearby hospital. He later spent a few weeks at a hospital on an Air Force base in Japan before becoming stable enough to return to the States, where he would continue his slow recovery. A bed in Philadelphia Naval Hospital became his permanent home for the next year. Paralyzed and without therapy, Frey struck the interest of a girl he knew from his brief time at college. She went to visit him and although he could not speak or walk, she continued to visit Frey two times per week and worked with him to regain his strength. Through her patience during the year-long hospital stay, the woman taught him how to read and write again. “During that year’s time, by God I started to like her,” he laughs. “Well the amazing thing is, she started to like me!”
The couple married in 1969 and are still going strong 48 years later despite Frey’s brush with cancer. His Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam led to the cancer removal from his kidney, abdomen, colon, and spleen. With several operations and the help of medication for a year, Frey has now been cancer-free for over a decade. “My wife is my savior,” he says while nodding.
Jack Yuska, a McCaskey graduate, was drafted in 1967. He recalls returning home from training for thirty days, watching the news of Vietnam on the television, and thinking to himself, this is really going to happen. Yuska shipped out with the Army not long after. He was assigned to the 101 Airborne even after trying to explain to them that he was not Airborne qualified. “That doesn’t matter,” they said. “We’re just looking for replacements.” This was definitely not a good thing to hear.
After a couple days of filling sandbags, orders came down that reassigned Yuska to the 82nd home guard, or also known as “America’s Guard of Honor.” He relocated from Southern Vietnam to the Northern part in Phu Bai and was tasked with carrying a radio for a lieutenant in the fields for four months. For the eight months that followed, Yuska carried supplies for a mine company. Thankful to be placed with a platoon led by incredibly efficient officers, Yuska says, “I was lucky to be with them. It was a great opportunity to prove yourself. They were some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life.” He returned home in March of 1969 healthy and alive despite the intensity and hatred he, and many other soldiers, endured from fellow Americans.
You may be wondering how the two Jacks met. Both active runners, Frey (due to the loss of his peripheral vision) literally bumped into Yuska several times on a trail. After exchanging way too many “sorry/no problems,” the two started talking and realized they had a lot to discuss. The dynamic duo now conduct lectures about their experiences at Millersville University as well as a variety of other places. They found that talking about their time in Vietnam has been not only educational, but also a therapeutic way to help relieve PTSD.