John Barbazon in front of his current project, a dome clock, which he works on about six hours a day. It is expected to be finished sometime during the summer.
The U.S. Government sent John Barbazon’s next of kin two separate telegraphs in 1966. The first regretted to inform them that their son had been killed in action. The second said he was improving.
A member of the 101st Airborne Recon unit, Barbazon, who now sports a ‘Sr.’ after his name, was part of a squad that spent most of their time on the move, up and down mountains, and rarely in the company of other units.
“We just got orders and kept going from one place to another,” he said sitting behind a workbench in a shop at the back of his four-acre property. In front of him there is a raised rotating table that holds an intricate, under-construction dome clock that stands more than three feet high. Even sitting here Barbazon isn’t entirely still – he continues to move from one place to the next as he recalls his experience in Vietnam.
“We were ordered to go back, which we didn’t like to do, when we were attacked.”
Getting hit seven times, Barbazon believes he was the only one of his company to survive.
“I got shot and I was lying on the ground, my right arm mostly gone, and my right leg and I stick this finger in a sucking chest wound right here to stop the bleeding.” Barbazon holds up a thick index finger and jams it into a space just below his right shoulder. Each time he repeats the motion, the finger hits the same spot as if there is a muscle memory leading it back.
“I was on the ground and my cousin called out to me, told me to crawl to him. I crawled thirty to forty feet to a medic. I found out later my cousin had died in a car wreck – he wasn’t even there, but if I hadn’t seen him call to me, I would have died right there – bled to death.”
Soon after reaching the medic he was placed in a body bag being mistaken as having been killed in action, but the medics carrying him dropped him. Later, one of the medics would visit Barbazon in the field hospital.
“He said that if I would have died, I’d have to go to Hell because I called him things he’d never heard of, in Cajun. I was cussing him out for dropping me.”
Barbazon laughs at the memory now, but he spent a month in the field hospital before being shipped to California where surgeries saved his arm and leg. Now he walks with a slight limp, but he doesn’t let it do more than slow his walking speed.
Unasked, Barbazon launches into what has brought him here – to a place where he is happy and busy.
“I haven’t talked about it (Vietnam) until oh, eight or ten years ago. I was in Ocala (Florida) at the VA hospital, and I was talking to a doctor I’d been seeing when she said, ‘John, I need you to talk to a friend of mine’.” Barbazon laughs again and continues, “she takes me to a psychiatrist. And I’m glad. A lot of Veterans need to do this. I found out things I was doing that I was doing in Vietnam – carrying a knife in my pocket for protection; going to the top row in a movie theater with my back against the wall. I was on guard too much and need to relax. I think (talking to the psychiatrist) was the best thing I’ve done, and I talked to him for about four years. Now I know I was really dysfunctional and didn’t realize it. Veterans today, they need to get out and find out – they need to talk to somebody, and they have to listen.
“He told me, you’re not cured, I’m not going to cure you, I’m just going to make you aware of what you’re doing so you can be more relaxed. That’s why I enjoy doing this (woodworking) now and that’s why I say Veterans need to talk to somebody and they need to get a hobby. If they are sitting home disabled, there’s something they can do – I don’t care if it’s going fishing – you’ve got to do something.”
Today, Barbazon’s sister has the telegrams and he has a house full of delicately cut artwork that will soon include a dome clock that he’s spent the last six months working on for six hours a day.
“I’m very lucky. I’ve been a lucky person.”
- Submitted by Rosaire Bushey, Salem VA HCS Public Affairs Officer