Heroes’ Voices works with veterans at different facilities all around the San Francisco Bay area. One of the great joys of serving multiple groups is encountering so many generous, caring professionals who serve veterans. People who choose to work as therapists or facilitators at VAs or other service organizations are engaged in a labor of love, and are certainly not “in it for the money.”
One of the most dedicated advocates for veterans I have encountered is Ron Perez. Ron is a Vietnam era Army vet with thick mane of salt and pepper hair, pulled back into a pony tail. He often wears some kind regalia indicating that he is a proud veteran. Ron has worked as a veterans’ advocate for decades.
Every Monday I meet with Ron at the San Francisco County Jail, and he escorts me to the “Veterans Pod” where a bunch of guys in orange gather in a small room to sing their hearts out for an hour. Sometimes they share original poetry. Ron is with the COVER Program, (Community of Veterans Engaged in Restoration) of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. He also advocates for incarcerated veterans in many other ways, including at the special San Francisco Veterans’ Court.
It is inspiring to see the level of respect and trust that Ron shares with those veterans at the County Jail. Making music with a group of six to eight inmates in a small room, (having just left their cells), is a lively encounter. Most of the guys are calm, positive individuals who have made some unfortunate choices, and are actively working to change their lives. It is also clear that some who end up in jail should be more reasonably be in a housed in mental health facility. Ron treats every man with patience and respect, but it is also crystal clear that he expects the same in return. Our singing and poetry groups are always warm and positive experiences.
At a recent Veterans Day celebration in the Veterans’ Pod, the inmates got a special meal. There were local guest luminaries who spoke to the vets, and our Heroes’ Voices Singers entertained the group with several songs. Ron was the MC of the event and he ended the celebration by reading a poem that he had written about his experiences as a young soldier in Vietnam.
“Doc” instant doctor
“Doc” Fighter of death
“Doc” able to leap over rice paddies in a single bound
“Doc” faster than the speeding rounds fired from Charley’s A-K47
“Doc” pistol-packing Florence Nightingale of the bush
“Doc” shrink and priest who listened to your troubles and fears
“Doc” known as ‘Boxsah’ in the village
“Doc” Medicine Man for their sick
“Doc” had the cure when you caught the clap
“Doc” stopped the bleeding
“Doc” took away the pain
“Doc” under fire, carried you to the dust-off chopper
“Doc” said, ‘You got a ride on the Freedom Bird, baby; you goin’ home!
Be cool now! You won’t lose it.’ Knowing it was a lie.
“Doc” cried when they died
“Doc” was only twenty years old
— Ron Perez,Combat Medic,Vietnam 1967-1968
The Heroes’ Voices National Poetry Contest offers prizes of $1,000, $750, $500, and $250. All veterans of the US Armed Forces who live in the USA are welcome to submit poems to the contest. If you are a veteran who writes poetry, we encourage you to enter the contest. If you know a veteran who writes poetry, please share this information with them and encourage them to participate. The submission deadline is April 21, 2017.
Full details are available at heroesvoices.org/contest.