Point Man Group heals hidden wounds of war

A motorcade made up of veterans and supporters escorts the AV Wall, Mobile Vietnam Memorial, Nov. 7, 2019, as they travel a route on Sierra Highway in Lancaster, Calif., on the way to its temporary home at Marie Kerr Park Amphitheater in Palmdale. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

By Dennis Anderson, special to Aerotech News
Until the COVID-19 pandemic descended ending most in-person meetings across a wide swath of activities, the board room at Antelope Valley College was the meet-and-greet place for a group of veterans who had been to war.

Sometimes it would be a half-dozen, and sometimes the numbers would reach a “baker’s dozen” of more than 12, and most of the time it was somewhere in-between. Mostly, they were Vietnam War combat veterans, but not all of them. Occasionally, a Post 9/11 vet of Iraq or Afghanistan checks in, and that leavens the mix a bit.

“We try not to turn anyone away who served,” said Michael Bertell, President of Point Man Antelope Valley.

The group is an affiliate of Point Man International Ministries, and it opens and closes with a prayer, but the group is ecumenical, and all faiths are welcome.

It is about half-way between a “shoot the breeze” session and a talking out problems therapy group, given that a couple of the veterans are clinical professionals who work with other vets impacted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other service-connected mental challenges.

“We say that what is said in Point Man stays in Point Man,” said Bertell, who served as a combat infantryman with the 25th “Tropic Lightning” and 101st Airborne Divisions during Vietnam.

Bertell has been a staple of the group and helped fill its ranks since the time he recognized, decades after his service, that he had been afflicted by PTSD much of his adult life. He experienced an extreme trauma from a “friendly fire” artillery shell that landed “short” and killed many of his buddies on Christmas Eve 1970.

One of the group’s original mainstays, George Palermo, was a Vietnam combat Marine veteran who realized that “talking it out” really was the treatment, if not the cure, for the PTSD that afflicts so many veterans of all services whose duties — either volunteer or drafted — placed them in a combat zone. When Palermo left the Antelope Valley on a family move, Bertell became the outpost leader. He said he has learned that sharing his own story of combat trauma has helped him to heal, and can help others.

(Courtesy image)

“Trauma is an experience that is so overwhelming that it actually changes the brain,” said Gerry Rice, another Vietnam infantry veteran who also served with the 101st Airborne. “PTSD is a normal response to abnormal experience.”

So, the talking circle happens Tuesday evenings. Because of the COVID-19 situation, Point Man meetings are being held via Facebook Messenger every Tuesday at 6 p.m. If you are a qualifying veteran, email the organization at pmav@avwall.org to receive a meeting link.

Point Man Antelope Valley, an Outpost of Point Man International Ministries, is a non-profit organization with the purpose of addressing and meeting the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of Veterans and their families in the Antelope Valley. All Veterans are welcome to join.

When regular meetings resume each Tuesday, they will reconvene at 6 p.m., at the Board Room (SSV 151) of Antelope Valley College, 3041 West Avenue K, Lancaster, CA 93536. All Veterans are welcome.

If you know of a veteran, family member, or military person suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress, please reach out to us at 661-524-6408.

PMAV is the guardian of The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall. They are responsible for the maintenance, storage, and displaying of the Memorial.  This is an important part of healing for many Vietnam Veterans.

“Point Man members are guardians of what’s known as ‘The AV Wall,’” Bertell said. “Other walls may keep people out. We say our AV Wall brings people together.”

The portable monument is a half-scale tribute of the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The names of the more than 78,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War are on the AV Wall, and it has traveled with its volunteer cohort across Southern California for a decade.

Most often, the AV Wall is on display at the Palmdale Amphitheater at Marie Kerr Park during the Veterans Day period. Tens of thousands of visitors that include veterans, family members, and surviving family members of the deceased named on the wall have come for the “AV Wall experience” during a score of patriotic holidays and other teachable events.

“It’s the volunteers that make the AV Wall happen for so many people,” said Stacia Nemeth, coordinator of AV Wall volunteers.

Linda Willis helped spearhead the grass-roots effort to build the portable memorial at a cost of more than $100,000 raised from community and corporate donors. For her, as a volunteer organizer, the experience has been life-changing, and she has made multiple trips to Vietnam with Point Man group founder George Palermo.

“We are the only one of several of the so-called “Traveling Walls” that was totally done by community donations and volunteers,” she said.

So, Point Man Antelope Valley has a dual purpose. The group helps veterans on an open door, open hand of friendship basis to advance recovery from wartime traumas. And it is the holder of a sacred trust, Bertell said, to present the story of the Vietnam War in a way the entire community can understand.

This year’s presentation of the AV Wall had to be postponed because of the pandemic, prompting the City of Palmdale to launch its presentation of the Field of Healing and Honor — the 2,020 American flags that will be displayed from Nov. 1 through Nov. 11, Veterans Day, at Pelona Vista Park.

Donors who acquire an American flag for $30 through online sales at the City of Palmdale website can dedicate their flag to a veteran, to a member of the armed services, or to first responders in law enforcement and firefighting services, or to a health care hero. At the end of the Veteran’s Day holiday on Nov. 11, the flag can be picked up by the donor.

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