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Local veteran reflects on healing process after Vietnam

Stones Casino partner and veteran Kermit Schayltz poses for a photo in front of several flags outside the gambling hall. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
In Vietnam, the cratered landscape from the war has healed, but scars still remain for many veterans who have returned from conflicts overseas.

Those emotional scars often take decades to heal, said Kermit Schayltz an Army veteran who served in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division, 1/27th Wolfhounds. Now an ownership partner with Stones Casino, Schayltz served from 1968 through 1970 and reflected back on his service as he looks forward to seeing a replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall built in Citrus Heights.

“I don’t typically tell war stories,” Schayltz said. “How can you relate? How can somebody relate that’s not been there, been through the s*** that you go through, what you’re exposed to as a young man?”

Spending time with other veterans has helped, Schayltz said, as did a 2018 trip back to the country where he served. He has also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. to reflect on those who served with him.

“It’s changed so much in 55 years,” he said of Vietnam. “It’s a spectacular country and the wounds of war, you don’t see them. When you fly in, the landscape is not B-52 bomb craters everywhere. So the scars on the land have gone away. That was a healing process.”

Schayltz said he volunteered for several different duties during his time in the service, looking forward to returning home to a hero’s welcome.

“That was probably a rude awakening upon returning home, that wasn’t the case,” he said.

Seeing more appreciation for today’s returning veterans, even when public opinions differ on the reasons behind the conflict, also gives Schayltz hope that they won’t face the same public reaction that he did.

“The way the country treated us when we got back, they no longer do that,” he said. “They have great respect and admiration for the young men and women that serve in the military.”

Schayltz proudly wears a hat and clothing identifying him as a veteran, saying he has a deep appreciation for people who thank him for his service.

“I so very much appreciate your support,” he said. “It means more to me than any medals they’ve ever given me. And it’s not just me that appreciates it, other veterans do as well.”

Although Schayltz values the gesture of thanks from others, he said the realities of war leave a lasting impression that some veterans find difficult to overcome.

“The experience, it can make you very, very hard or it can make you very, very weak kneed and emotional,” he said, recalling families who sent their children to thank him for his service “God bless the children. Part of the experience that you are exposed to in battle, it’s the innocent ones that get caught up in the middle, and it’s such a tragedy that stays with you for the rest of your life.”

Not wanting to be called a hero, and cautious of the media, Schayltz said he is telling his story in hopes that it might help other veterans in their journey toward healing.

“If there’s a benefit of my stories helping other veterans, I’m more than willing,” he said.

Now, Schayltz is working with organizations such as American Legion Post 637 of Citrus Heights and The Wall That Heals to build a permanent scale replica of the Washington D.C. monument in Citrus Heights. The effort is still in the early stages, and Schayltz and Paul Reyes of Post 637 are looking for the right location.

One possibility is the vacant land across from Rusch Park that was once slated to become the home of Pioneer Baptist Church, Schayltz said. The land became available after the church found another property amid rising construction costs, The Sentinel previously reported.

“If it somehow, someway makes a difference to other veterans, then sign me up,” he said. “But I want to make sure people understand it’s not about me. I’m no hero. But I did walk beside some real heroes.”

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