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Once homeless, Army veteran presented new medals

American Flag (Unsplash/Lucas Sankey)
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Roger D. Berry served the U.S. Army in Germany and Vietnam, driving tanks and being a gunner from 1966 to 1969 before his discharge as a specialist.

He later applied for the military service medals he was supposed to receive.

But his request apparently fell through the cracks. He later spiraled into drug addiction and was homeless for roughly a decade.

On Wednesday morning, the Stark County Veterans Service Commission honored Berry, 69, and presented him with his medals at its offices on Wise Avenue NW. He was later taken in a van to his new home at the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky.

“This soldier that we honor today paid a debt that can never be repaid,” said De Ann M. Covey, executive director of the Stark County Veterans Service Commission. “He faced immeasurable challenges with the utmost bravery and conviction as he wore the cloth of this great nation. Please join me in thanking Roger D. Berry.”

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The audience broke out in applause.

Blue Star Mothers of America, Chapter 2 presented him with a special coin. Kyle Brooks, a constituent services representative for U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, presented Berry with a congressional proclamation honoring Berry’s service.

Chuck Calalesina, the veterans long term care project coordinator for Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities, gave Berry a Vietnam Veterans lapel pin and a cap.

“We just really want him to understand how much we appreciate his service, and everything that he’s been through,” said Wayne Moynihan, a Stark County veterans services officer.

Three years of service

Covey said that Berry served in the Army 1st Cavalry, 4th infantry division, during the year he served in Vietnam from September 1967 to September 1968. After his year in Vietnam, he was discharged in April 1969.

He received the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, for being involved in a major campaign; a Vietnam Service Medal; an Overseas Service Ribbon; a National Defense Service medal for serving during wartime; and a Marksmanship badge.

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Covey said that he first requested the medals about 25 years ago and he made his fifth and last request in 1999. It’s not clear why he never received them.

“Mr. Berry, you are not forgotten,” Covey said, as Berry repeatedly thanked her. “Your service has not gone unnoticed. And you, my comrade, are one of America’s finest. You are an American hero and on behalf of all of us present, we say welcome home.”

“I don’t really know what to say, but just glad to be here,” Berry said after the ceremony.

Life on the streets

Berry’s brother, Steve Berry, said decades after Roger was discharged his brother became trapped in a spiral of drug addiction. He was married twice, had several children and spent much of whatever funds he could get on drugs, straining his relationships with family members. Once a worker at Canton Drop Forge for about five years, he became homeless, often sleeping under the bridge at 19th Street NE and Harrisburg Avenue with others in the same situation.

About three years ago, Roger Berry was found collapsed outside, said his court-appointed guardian John Schuster, who was empowered to make medical decisions on Berry’s behalf. Doctors had to amputate Berry’s infected leg and he underwent heart surgery. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was dealing with depression, Schuster and Calalesina said.

“He served his country. When he got home, he felt forgotten and tumbled. A lot of different things happened to him. And then we’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There are people that appreciate what you do,'” said Calalesina.

Berry got care and treatment and spent time in two nursing homes, most recently McKinley Health Care Center. Service officers at the Veterans Service Commission and Calalesina worked to get Berry a place in the Ohio Veterans Home and get him his medals.

Calalesina is the field coordinator for the Medicaid to Veterans Affairs transition program for his agency where he tries to ensure that veterans getting care under Medicaid are getting all the benefits they’re entitled to and if possible to transition them from Medicaid to veterans’ programs. He said the Ohio Department of Medicaid referred Berry’s case to him.

In addition to Medicaid, Berry is now receiving U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits due to his service in wartime, Moynihan said.

Because Berry left school to enlist in the Army, the Veterans Service Commission is working to obtain Berry a diploma from McKinley High School.

Schuster said Berry never talks about his time in Vietnam, and Schuster said he hopes Berry living with other veterans with the same experiences will spur him to open up about what happened there.

“We hope that will help him heal from the trauma of his Vietnam years,” he said.

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© 2018 The Repository, Canton, Ohio

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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