War stories don’t always involve intense combat like you see in the movies. Sometimes, even the veterans who didn’t see any actual combat at all can still share stories that have impacted their lives in multiple ways.
The stories of war veterans are becoming increasingly harder to find in a world where the older generation of veterans from Vietnam and WWII is starting to die. These stories — especially the stories that don’t involve combat that are told less often — need to be told in a way that forever preserves them so they aren’t lost.
Jim Cada is one of these people with a story to tell. As a Vietnam draftee, he didn’t want anything to do with the war and never actually saw any combat.
Cada wasn’t just any normal draftee who was selected to serve the country. He was a combat engineer whose main job was to build bridges, do patrols in the field and perform daily mine sweeps.
“Every morning at five o’clock, you’d get up and grab breakfast and be on the road by six o’clock,” Cada said. “Some days you would be in charge of the mine sweep, some days you’d be in charge of security.”
July 9, 1969, was a day that changed Cada’s life forever, and the memories from that day still haunt him.
“I was in the pickup with the mine sweep on the tailgate and we were going down the highway and jumping off here and there [to] look for mines along the highway or along a bridge,” he said. “As we were approaching another area there was a big bus in front of us with a lot of people who had stopped, and so we were stopped on the highway, and that’s when we got ambushed.”
Cada said he was lucky. He was shot and wounded in the arm and the leg but otherwise escaped unscathed. He managed to get down into a nearby rice paddy and hide in the dirt and water as the bullets were flying around him.
“The guys on either side of me were killed; my friends were killed,” Cada said. “I go to Washington D.C. a couple times a year and I always go see them and thank them for saving my life. They’re on the [Vietnam Veterans Memorial] wall, side by side.”
Cada spoke about how even though he didn’t see any combat, events like the ambush still cause him a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder that haunts him to this day.
“PTSD is a big, big deal and it really bothers me and it bothers a lot of people and it’s really sad that we have this kind of brain injury that goes on and a lot of people will ignore it, deny it,” he said.
Memories of the day he survived the mine sweep attack provide a lot of fuel for the PTSD that he still often struggles with today.
“I think it’s a very serious problem that many veterans have and it never really goes away,” he said. “You may be able to handle it better. I thought I was handling it better till I have interviews like this.”
After coming back from Vietnam, Cada struggled with alcoholism to help himself cope with the memories that he didn’t want to relive. He said he often looks back on those days and realizes that there were better ways he could’ve dealt with his pain.
“There’s counseling things you can go through that I think help some people and I’ve really never done that,” he said. “I probably should, but it’s getting kind of late in my life to bother with it. I’ve survived and made it.”
One of the things that was extremely helpful in him getting over the worst of his PTSD was the movie “Platoon” (1986). He said that he didn’t want to even relate to his time in the service, let alone talk about it, and that movie really helped him.
“Platoon was something that brought me out,” he said. “I cried and cried, drank and drank to get through all that, the many, many times that I watched it.”
Twenty years after he got out of the service, he was asked to join the Purple Heart group for those who were wounded in action. That process really helped him open up after talking to people who had had similar experiences and that inspired him to want to help in any way he could.
“Little by little, they put me into more organizations and do more things to help veterans,” Cada said. “I try now as hard as I can to help as much as I can.”
Since becoming involved in a plethora of different veteran’s affairs, Cada said that it has helped him deal with his PTSD tremendously and inspires him to continue to help others from his law office — Cada Cada & Jewson — in Lincoln.
“I have such a need to help people,” he said. “You know, when I went to law school, that wasn’t my goal, but it has become my goal to help people as much as I can, particularly veterans who need help.”